Utilized properly, the Internet has the power to significantly increase the sales of almost any small business – even those with absolutely no online sales.

A low barrier-to-entry combined with the ability to reach a virtually limitless (and highly targeted) audience makes the Internet one of the most powerful and accessible sales tools ever developed. This is a fact that clearly hasn’t escaped the ShopKeep merchant base –  according a recent survey we carried out, the vast majority of you intend to invest more time and money on Social Media, Email Marketing, and Website Development.

Of course, this new zeal for online marketing brings with it its own problem – more competition. With more than 1 billion websites on the Internet, and more than 40,000 search queries on Google every second, small business owners must rise above the noise and distinguish themselves among their target audience. The key to doing this rests in the ability to sell your audience on the unique value of your business.

Some of the ShopKeep team has put together a series of guides to help you do this, including my own, The Small Business Guide to Content Marketing. If you really want to build your online presence you have to think of your business as a funnel where you draw people from all over the web, onto your website or local business listing and, finally, drive people through your doors.

The following are 5 relatively simple ways that small business owners can increase traffic to their websites and increase Internet-based sales.

1. Interact with your target audience on social media websites

Social media can be an incredibly flexible platform for small business to promote themselves. The key to any social media strategy is interacting with your followers on a regular (preferably daily) basis. If you can’t personally spend time responding to customers or prospective customers on a regular basis, designate an employee to do it for you.

Customers appreciate feeling like their input and concerns are valued, and a simple response to a Facebook post or a tweet on Twitter can have a profound impact on customer loyalty. In addition, you can gain valuable insight into what your customers are thinking, and can improve your product or service accordingly.

2. Invest in a paid advertising campaign on social media

Paid advertising on social media can be one of the most cost-effective ways to build brand recognition and generate sales. One particular benefit that social media paid advertising offers is the ability to narrowly target your audience and analyze how effective your advertising campaign is performing in real-time. Facebook paid advertising, for example, allows companies to specify precisely how much they are willing to pay per click, or per 1,000 impressions, and provides robust data on how often each impression or click converts into web traffic and sales. This information helps business owners see precisely how cost-effective their paid advertising campaign is.

Paid advertising also works as a hyper-effective local advertising campaign, much like billboards and television advertisements. Paid advertisements can be focused on a specific demographic, such as your local city or county. From there, you can build brand recognition by focusing the campaign on maximizing impressions instead of clicks or follows. One particularly effective strategy is to offer a “social media deal” for customers who visit your store and mention that they saw the advertisement. 

3. Invest in paid advertising on Google and other search engines

Targeted search advertising is the most powerful marketing tool you have at your disposal.  Why? It’s a question of intention. At no point will a potential customer give a clearer signal of their needs and desires than when typing in a search. Whether it’s ‘best car wash in Portland’ or ‘funny cat gif’, you can work to target that search with relevant content and promotions. Google allows advertisers to target specific keywords and choose specific categories, demographics, and geographic factors to narrow where their ads are targeted to be as cost-effective as possible. While paid Google advertising is not the least expensive way to gain website traffic and sales, it is one of the most effective when utilized properly. If you want advice on how to maximize your initial presence on Google, you can check out my guide: Getting Found on Google.

4. Thought-leadership through on-site blogging

Creating a regular blog on your website serves two incredibly valuable purposes. First, it generates SEO content that will cause your website to appear organically (i.e. free) on Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). Blog posts that show thought-leadership for your industry will also give customers and prospective customers more of a reason to trust your expertise and return to your website, which in turn will improve your SERP ranking and ultimately convert to sales.

Top Tip: Blog posts should encourage readers to call or visit your store to discuss the topic further. Often people are looking for advice, not a purchase.  If you meet the former need, you’re more likely to secure the latter.

5. Find and participate in industry forums

Almost every industry has one or more forums where enthusiasts congregate. Forums are a great place to build a reputation for your company as well as to stay up to date on the latest developments in your industry. Most forums will usually allow users to have a signature that includes social media and company website links. Again, the key here is not bombarding a forum with promotional offers. That will get you barred in record time. It’s about adding value, demonstrating expertise, showcasing your most valuable content, and becoming part of the conversation. If you get that right, the sales will follow.

About the Author

Paul Nugent is a small business advocate, and Head of Marketing at ShopKeep point of sale’s UK headquarters. Paul uses his background in the startup space, along with his POS system expertise, to allow small business owners to make informed decisions within their specific budgets.