3 Digital Marketing Strategies That Won’t Cost You a Dime

TImothy Johnson, Small Business Solutions / PPC Team Lead
Digital marketing strategies for small business budgets - Portent

Digital marketing covers a huge range of potential channels, tactics, and occasionally even a dash of strategy. Being an expert in everything is nearly impossible, and a big part of why agencies like Portent have a job. The risk of low return on ad spend, or even low return on your sweat equity is enough to freeze a lot of small business owners and even trained marketers into inaction. That said, there are some channels and tactics that you can tackle at no out of pocket cost, and a decent learning curve, that can really make a difference for your business.

Disclaimer: this post is fairly focused on local businesses. The approaches here are tailored to small businesses with tighter marketing budgets. That said, they apply to nearly any business and most scale up or can be repeated as your business expands its footprint.

Own your local listings

For local businesses, your local listing can often be the primary way people learn about you. Some small businesses don’t even have a website, but instead rely on directories like:

  1. Google My Business
  2. Bing Places
  3. Yelp
  4. Yahoo Local
  5. Facebook
  6. Yellowpages

In addition to these major directories, most industries have more specific communities that are often even more important to your prospective customers than the big platforms. The more focused and relevant, the better.

Showing up on these directories prominently and consistently doesn’t happen on its own, though. You have to claim your business.

Claim your business to get better internet marketing results - Portent

Owning your business means gaining control over the information that is provided by the directory. Many of your potential customers are searching on these directories so being clear, consistent, and accurate can help them find you.

For small business owners and marketers, this is about as easy as it gets in terms of a learning curve.

Local SEO

When a potential customer searches for a florist to buy a bouquet of flowers, how can you ensure that your flower shop shows up first in search engines instead of your competition? Moving out of the small pond of niche directories into the wider ocean of search engines can be daunting. If you weren’t already, you’re suddenly competing with every giant in your industry, local or not.

But there are some basic local SEO things you can do to signify that you’re the most relevant option for a local human being in need of your product or service. Own your listing on all directories (not just Google), be consistent with the information provided, link your listing to your website (if you have one), and get more local links from other sites in the area. Links from local chambers of commerce, local press, businesses in your city, all of these say to both prospective customers and search engines: “I’m a great option in this city.”

And if you do want to spend a little, you can use Moz Local to give you an edge, track progress, and save time finding opportunities to improve. It’s a fairly inexpensive tool and helps with everything here, except for the legwork of building the links themselves.

You should still have a website

No matter how you slice it, it’s still incredibly valuable to the overall health of your business to have a website that people can link to, learn more about you, and share. There are plenty of tools out there to create basic template websites like Wix.com and WebsiteBuilder.com. They cost a bit, but the value of a site is well worth it.

To make this an even easier decision, Google recently created their own free website building tool built with small businesses in mind. It makes the entire site building process easy and free. Translation: we’re all out of excuses not to have a website.

Collect reviews from happy customers

For most businesses, customer testimonials go a long way towards building trust and winning that next sale. This is especially true for local businesses. In the example below, which of the three options are you going to choose if you need to order flowers for your upcoming anniversary?

The impact of not having enough online customer reviews - Digital marketing strategies that don't cost anything - Portent

Not a trick question: the obvious choice is C. Not only does Florist C have the best star rating on Google, but they also have the most reviews. I can take one look at this, see their phone number, and make a call right away. Instant customer at no additional cost to the business.

So how do you model your online presence after the winner here? Just “ask.”

You have customers who know and love you already. There is no shame in finding ways to encourage them to speak out and share about their positive experiences with you. It’s quick and easy to send a follow up email with links asking for them to share or even ask verbally when you know you know you have a happy customer.

While you can’t push people to give you five star reviews, we know of one business that turned this process into a win-win. At the end of a day-long excursion, they prompted users to give a review at a kiosk. Instead of telling them how to rate the business, they prompted with a single question:

We hope you had an amazing time with us. If there was anything about your experience that was less than five star, what was it? We’d love to make it right for you, and improve that for all of our passengers.

Feel the difference? Now get out there and let people show the love. It costs nothing but the time to ask, and hopefully you’ll get the same kind of valuable feedback in the process.

Create great content and share it

Content can mean a lot of things. It may mean the information you have on your website, blog posts, video tutorials, social posts, the list goes on. Having a comprehensive and well considered content strategy is an important part of an effective internet marketing program.

For local businesses this is true as well, but even though great content takes time and effort, it doesn’t have to be a huge financial investment. How’s that you ask?

You know your business better than anyone. Meaning you know your market just as well as anyone, even if that means a specific market in just your city. So who better to show it, and answer prospective customer questions about the right solution to their need, by creating great content? Here are some easy options that everyone can tackle:


If you don’t have a blog on your website, start one. Producing even a blog post or two per month about the things your customers care about isn’t asking much, but it will help people find you. It will also build trust so you have something to back you up when you say you are an industry expert.

One easy way to get started: think about the informational questions your customers ask most often and answer them in posts.

Need help creating interesting ideas about your industry? Try the Portent Content Idea Generator.

Social sharing

As you produce quality content, share it. Most people are on social sites like Facebook so posting about your business and engaging with your customers will help keep people coming back. Social sites are a great place to let your customers know about upcoming deals and events too.

Bonus: Use Google Analytics

Google Analytics is a free tool. It’s also very easy to set up. One small snippet of code in the header across the site and you can have full visibility into how people interact with your website, where they are finding you, how long they interact with your site, where they drop off, whether they convert, etc. This is very powerful information that should inform business and marketing decisions.

Go make it happen

The digital marketing world is vast, but not everything has to cost an arm and leg. What they will cost is some time and effort. If you prioritize what to tackle first and get to work, over time you will build a stronger online presence. And if you need help or have questions, ask us (or read more of the content we produce to help prospective customers). We do this for a living.

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  1. Any suggestions for getting those reviews on Google My Business? I have lots of happy customers who give me reviews which I have posted on my website, but getting them to leave something on Google My Business isn’t easy.

    1. Tarnya,
      Asking is your best bet. There are lots of different ways to ask though. It can be something verbal, a follow-up email with links, or something on your website like on a confirmation (thank you) page. Not everyone is going to be willing to write you a review, but if you make it easy and timely, you will get a percentage and over time that adds up.

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