If you’re reading this, I assume you’ve heard of the Internet.
Most people have.
At the time of writing this, InternetLiveStats shows that over 3.6 billion people are using the Internet.
That’s a lot of people!
And the user base is steadily growing.
That’s why eMarketer estimates that digital ad spending will grow from $83 billion in 2017 to $129.23 billion by 2021.
In fact, 2017 is the year digital ad spending finally overtakes TV spending.
Mobile is a big part of that.
So are social media and video.
Over half that budget is being spent on Facebook and Google.
What a waste of money!
Don’t get me wrong. Targeted Google and Facebook Ads have their place, but there are plenty of free ways to market online.
If you’re a small business owner trying to compete in the big leagues, this blog is for you.
I’m going to share a list of all the free tools and strategies that can help you compete with major conglomerates through content marketing.
I’ll also explain how to minimize costs and stretch budgets for things you can (or have to) pay for.
It doesn’t take a huge corporate budget to compete online.
Let’s get started.
1. Tighten up your SEO
The first thing you need to do is analyze your current SEO situation.
I have an SEO Analyzer tool on my website because I understand how important this is.
All you have to do is enter your URL to get a deep, page-level SEO analysis.
You can also check how your site compares to the competition.
Enter 3 additional websites for a competitive analysis.
Of course, mine is just one of many SEO tools.
I don’t see SEMRush as a competitor but as a supplementary tool for checking a site’s SEO.
These tools are free, so why not get multiple opinions?
Here’s what SEMRush has to say about NeilPatel.com.
This shows us how many keywords I rank for, along with how many backlinks I’ve earned.
You’ll notice I don’t spend any money on paid Google ads.
The $500k+ cost of my traffic was earned organically for free.
The main components you’re looking for on my SEO analyzer are which keywords you rank for, along with their frequency of usage.
It’s also important to know if the keywords are used in the title tag, description tag, and header tags.
Google gives more weight to these factors.
Once you have a general idea of how you’re ranking against everyone else, you can start to improve.
2. Perform more keyword research
I can’t stress enough how important keyword research is.
Even though I’ve been in the game for a long time, I still perform fresh keyword research several times a week.
That’s how you stay on top of search results!
If you don’t already know, Google Adwords has a great Keyword Planner Tool.
It’s the first place you should go to research relevant keywords that you can rank for.
An easy way to use Keyword Planner is to check for searches related to keywords that show up in your Google Analytics Acquisition reports.
For every search term that already points to your website, you’ll get a handful more.
That opens up a lot of opportunities for you to rank against your competitors!
What it takes to hit all those keyword opportunities is pages with content.
You’ll need to start a blog.
3. Start a blog
According to WordPress, every month, more than 409 million people read over 23.7 billion blog posts on its platform.
That’s a lot of content, so you’re going to need a quality blog to draw attention to your site.
Hiring a content mill to fill pages with overstuffed keywords that provide no value to readers won’t do any good.
Blogs are the 5th most trusted online resource according to recent research.
Creating a blog should be an option within your CMS, but if it’s not, a separate blog hosted on WordPress or Blogspot can prove just as useful.
Just be sure your contact information is readily available.
If you’re wondering how long it takes to write a quality blog post, nearly half of bloggers say they spend 1-3 hours on each post.
A blog is the foundation of a few other tactics I’ll discuss later in this list, so get started today.
4. Join or create a Facebook group
Facebook Groups are underrated by marketers.
These user-administrated public forums within Facebook allow like-minded people to discuss and share ideas.
Keep in mind that most group moderators will remove overly spammy posts and people.
The trick to marketing in Facebook Groups is sharing valuable content (which is why a blog is helpful for your website).
Many groups have memberships that range from 1,000 to 100,000, but some get even bigger.
Search for groups using Facebook’s search bar, or scroll through its suggestions a few times a month to expand your audience.
When you reach advanced status, you can create your own Facebook Group, which is much more effective for audience growth than a business page or profile.
Facebook Groups are a goldmine for small businesses that are looking for an edge over the competition without spending money.
5. Participate in forums
Of course, Facebook isn’t the only online forum where you can participate in discussions.
Getting involved in other forums is a great way to spread the word about your brand (and sprinkle backlinks around the web).
Building your reputation on community forums like these help people see you as an innovative thought leader in your industry.
It’s a great marketing strategy for building trust.
Quora is another platform I recently got attached to.
On Quora, you can answer questions as an expert and gain a level of credibility by showcasing your inside knowledge.
Quora rewards visual content, so format your posts for your specific audience.
6. Comment on relevant content
Once you have some blog posts published, an effective (and free) way to get backlinks on reputable sites is to put them there yourself.
Comment on relevant articles with valuable advice, and provide a link to your blog for more information.
But it can’t be spammy!
Here’s a great blog comment that works for conversions.
Bloggers love generating comments, and the author of the blog post you comment on is likely to read it.
It opens more conversation and networking opportunities.
The more you comment, the more brand awareness you generate. People will start to recognize your name and business.
7. Build an email list
Email lists are often overlooked by startups, entrepreneurs, and small businesses.
A solid email list is worth its weight in gold!
The majority of marketers find that email marketing serves as a top channel for lead generation.
For every $1 spent on an email marketing campaign, companies achieve an average $44 in ROI.
It’s consistently found to be more effective than Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social channels.
Emails are more likely to be read than social media posts, and the clickthrough rates are amazing!
These platforms provide simple templates and automated emails based on triggered events.
It’s not necessary to start off with an email automation platform, but you’ll at least need a list.
Also, be sure there’s an email subscription option on each of your web properties.
The larger your qualified email contact list, the more successful your business will become.
8. Start an eBay store
Think that it’s just an auction site for used goods?
You’ve been asleep for the last decade.
In the past few years, eBay has grown up quite a bit.
Check out Best Buy’s eBay storefront. It looks just like the company’s website.
Everybody is on eBay, and it’s easy to see why.
The gross volume of merchandise sold on the site was $21.5 billion for the second quarter of 2017.
Not only will you benefit from visibility with eBay’s 171 million active monthly users, but you’ll also gain access to a suite of tools from the eBay Partner Network.
The company’s own marketing and sales tools are pretty useful.
You can even have the local post office deliver free boxes to your door and pick up shipments.
The power of eBay doesn’t stop on the site.
Rebuyers is one of many marketing automation platforms that can reach your customers.
If you’re not using eBay, you’re leaving money on the table.
There’s only one e-tailer bigger than eBay that you should target.
9. Use Amazon fulfillment
Amazon is another e-commerce platform you may not realize the marketing benefits of joining.
You’ll have your products and brand featured on a website that’s worth two full Walmarts!
In fact, by some estimates, Amazon’s Prime Day 2017 had a bigger impact on the retail industry than Black Friday.
Being featured in a sale like this would be great for any business. In fact, being featured by Amazon at all is great.FBA (Fulfilled by Amazon) sellers.
This also increases your visibility on Amazon searches.
With over 8 million Echo and Echo Dots on the market, Amazon product searches could bypass Google entirely.
10. Post Craigslist ads
Nearly 600 million people visit Craigslist every month!
That’s a large audience you don’t want to ignore.
Whether you need new customers or employees, Craigslist is a great (free) place to search.
There are over 50 million queries performed on the site every day.
Alexa ranks it as the 14th most popular website in the United States.
Why not use this to your advantage?
Posting a basic Craigslist ad with the right images can help drive sales. It can be renewed after 30 days for an additional 90 days.
At that point, you can repost it.
Because of its separate geographic sites, Craigslist is especially useful for localized marketing efforts.
Because you can anonymize yourself, it’s also a great platform to try new marketing templates and techniques.
Sales made on Craigslist don’t carry the same fees associated with eBay and Amazon sales, so there’s less overhead too.
11. Utilize Facebook Live
Why not add Facebook Live to the mix?
Facebook reports that 20% of its videos are live.
Live-streaming on Facebook is the latest trend that marketers can take advantage of.
Plenty of brands are winning at this, but LuLaRoe stands on top for its unique approach to Facebook Live marketing.
The company’s sales reps use Facebook Live videos to host online parties similar to Tupperware or PartyLite parties.
It doesn’t take a fancy professional studio. Many Facebook Live videos are shot on smartphones.
12. Guest post on industry blogs
Not only should you create your own blog, but once you get good at it, you should post on other influential blogs.
This is a great way to build backlinks and gain a lot of weight with search algorithms.
I spend a lot of time guest posting for this exact reason.
Aside from specialized online marketing blogs and publications, you can find my work in mainstream media outlets like Huffington Post.
I also regularly contribute to Forbes.
I’ve had a regular column on that platform for some time now.
Because I run my own business, I was invited to write for Entrepreneur.
That was truly an honor.
I’ve also been published in Inc.
These are just a few of my guest posting credits.
It wasn’t easy, but it was worth the effort to get my blog on the map.
You can replicate my success by getting published on prestigious platforms.
13. Sign up at HARO as a source
Even if you’re not a great writer, you can still be featured in major media outlets.
Instead of writing the article yourself, you can provide a quote by signing up as a source at HelpAReporterOut.com.
These targeted email lists will keep you updated on the stories that are being written by different outlets.
You can appear on platforms ranging from blogs and podcasts to television and radio shows using HARO.
It’s called earned media, and it’s one of the best ways to pick up loyal customers.
Be sure to respond with the actual answer — not just an offer to provide one.
Journalists hate having their time wasted and are unlikely to respond to click bait teasers.
If you stay persistent, HARO can pay off big.
14. Appeal to a foreign market
Just because you’re a small business doesn’t mean you have to limit your marketing efforts to local markets.
In fact, picking up customers in foreign markets could be the secret sauce that makes your business work.
To do it, you’ll need to start picking up foreign traffic.
To do this, you’ll need to localize your content for foreign markets.
If you wanted to reach people in Russia, for example, you would target VKontakte instead of Facebook.
In China, you’d target RenRen.
Writing in another language helps, as well.
Google’s native translation app does a decent job with the wording, but you’ll need a native speaker to do it right.
The Internet broke down geographic barriers. Take advantage of this fact.
15. Register on freelancing platforms
Freelance platforms like Fiverr are underrated resources for marketing your business services.
Crowdsourcing is a popular method of task completion, and Fiverr is a great place for it.
If your digital marketing company excels at SEO analysis, for example, you can focus on selling that specific task.
While major corporations need complicated SLAs, Fiverr is a fast and efficient marketplace.
Amazon’s Mechanical Turk platform is another great platform for a different type of cheap digital marketing.
Amazon promotes this service as artificial intelligence.
Instead of automating marketing tasks, you can have them completed by a global workforce of thousands.
16. Host your video content on YouTube
Video marketing is a major trend for 2017.
Nearly 75% of all Internet traffic is video these days.
If video rules, YouTube is the king of video.
It’s the second largest search engine online, lagging only behind Google.
By hosting your video content on YouTube, you’ll expose your content to a new audience.
You can also monetize your YouTube videos to open a new revenue stream.
I recently started focusing more efforts on YouTube myself.
Video on your landing page increases conversions by 80%.
Hosting video on your own servers can cripple site speed.
With site speed being a crucial element of search rankings, you can’t afford to self-host.
And remember that YouTube is only one of many social platforms.
17. Stay active on social media
The majority of social media users use their platform of choice at least daily.
These social media sites have hundreds of millions of users, too.
You can’t afford to miss out on these opportunities.
You can’t just randomly spam people, though.
To be successful on social media, you need to provide value to the conversation.
Staying active on social media builds your following and your followers’ trust in you.
That way, when you do post links, your followers will be more likely to click.
18. Automate everything
Marketing automation is the way of the future. For every task that you assign to humans, there might be a machine that can do it faster, more accurately, and cheaper.
More than 11x more companies are using marketing automation these days than back in 2011.
There are plenty of marketing automation tools available for you to use, and I already mentioned a few.
MailChimp, Rebuyers, and ConstantContact are great marketing automation platforms.
They’re not the only ones.
HootSuite is a great social media post automation suite.
Using HootSuite, you can schedule and automate social media posts across multiple platforms.
It’s an invaluable tool for any social media marketing campaign.
Keep an eye out for any repetitive and mundane tasks that can be automated.
19. Respond to online reviews
Online reviews are a major part of business these days.
Search for an Italian restaurant on Google Maps, and you’ll see reviews front and center.
Yelp is consistently used before making purchase decisions, too.
People consistently check online reviews to learn about other people’s experiences with a business, brand, or product.
It’s a matter of trust. We trust consumer reviews online more than any source other than our own friends.
By responding to online reviews, you not only show the customer that you provide great service, but everyone else who researches your company will see it, too.
It’s a win-win situation for everyone!
Just be sure not to respond nastily to negative reviews, or you’ll end up hurting your business more than helping.
Check out my blog for more information on how to get more online reviews.
20. Send free samples to influencers
Free samples are a great way to entice more sales.
It’s used to great effect at Costco, where members are greeted with free food samples every weekend.
It’s an even better bet online, where consumers are 71% more likely to make a purchase based on referrals from social media influencers.
Klout is a great service to help you get your products into the hands of influencers.
Users log in and connect their social accounts and blogs to create a Klout score from 1-100 that shows how influential they are on particular subjects.
All you need to do as a brand is determine what Klout score you want and in which categories. Then you can send your product samples in to be distributed.
Users who receive them are encouraged to share the love on social media, helping create a buzz for your brand.
You don’t have to use Klout to find social influencers, though.
You can simply search for hashtags and see which posts get the most engagement. Contact the owners of those accounts to create marketing relationships.
21. Create a referral program
Since its launch in 2007, Dropbox has quickly become a market leader in cloud storage.
The platform now has over 500 million users, 200,000 of whom actually pay to use the service.
It achieved this milestone through its popular referral program, which offers 500MB – 1GB of free space to anyone who refers a member.
This gamification aspect led to more customers sharing and using the service.
You can replicate this success with a customer referral program of your own.
22. Roll out an affiliate program
On the other side of a referral program is an affiliate program.
With an affiliate program, you incentivize bloggers, YouTubers, and other content creators to post links to your site.
In exchange for posting referral links, affiliates get a percentage of sales as a commission.
Recent research on Black Friday and Cyber Monday 2016 found that affiliate merchants had a 45.7% increase in new customers.
Amazon has a popular affiliate program.
What’s great about these affiliate links is that they create in-feed links within the content.
A recent Forrester survey found that half of American adults actively avoid web ads.
By using an affiliate program, you can still reach these discerning eyes.
It may seem difficult to give away 5-10% of profits, but smaller margins on larger volume make more money in the long run.
Try starting your own affiliate program to encourage micro influencers and influencers to sell your products for you.
23. Keep your business current on maps
Some people will only use a mapping program to find businesses.
This is especially true when traveling.
Wouldn’t it be a shame if they couldn’t find your business?
What if they can’t contact you? What if they show up outside of business hours?
These are the kinds of bush league mistakes that happen when you don’t keep your business information updated on mapping platforms.
At Google My Business, you can claim your business and do exactly that!
Plenty of link aggregators and other platforms mine Google Maps for information, so keeping this listing updated works to your advantage.
It’s the equivalent of being listed in the Yellow Pages back in the 1980s.
If you’re not listed correctly on Google Maps, Foursquare, Apple Maps, and Yelp, now’s the time to fix it.
While more and more companies are spending more and more money on digital marketing, the free methods are still incredibly effective.
Small businesses can take advantage of a ton of free tools to collaborate globally and compete against big businesses.
Marketing buzzwords like CRO, SEO, and content marketing aren’t out of reach of the average person.
You just need to take the time to utilize them.
What digital marketing techniques work best for you?