14 Cheap & Effective Small-Business Marketing Strategies


Looking for a good marketing strategy that won’t break the bank?

Call them strategies or tactics, but here are 14 ways you can promote your business that a) work, b) don’t require a large budget, and c) won’t hurt your brand in the long run.

1. Work with your customers to improve your product/service

Before pouring resources into any promotion strategies, make sure your clients are happy with your product or service. Otherwise, you may end up with the leaky bucket effect.

Leaky funnel effect in marketing

The leaky bucket effect is when you spend resources to bring people to your website, but they don’t perform any action on it and don’t come back.

Usually, it happens when businesses focus only on promotion and forget about the value their offer brings the customer. 

Of course, you’ll never be able to turn 100% of website visitors into customers. However, when you’re starting to notice none of your marketing tactics bring results, you need to introduce changes to either how you drive traffic to the website, your pricing, or even what you offer. 

This is your chance to ask your customers what they like and what can be improved. You can use that data to improve your marketing communications or even your product because, chances are, other people will like/dislike the same things. 

Also, as you start talking with your customers, you may even come across candidates for brand ambassadors. 

How to get started 

Reach for some basic market research tools: 

  • Surveys – Can be performed 100% online for free with tools like Google Forms or Survicate. You can use them for measuring customer satisfaction. 
  • Interviews – Allow for face-to-face discussions. Can be performed even without a predefined structure. Often used for exploratory purposes. 
  • Internal data – Draw conclusions from reported issues and online reviews. If possible, interview your customer-facing employees. 

Recommended reading: How to Achieve Product-Market Fit (5 Steps)  

2. Get a Google Business Profile (and optimize it)

In case you haven’t created/claimed your Google Business Profile yet, make sure you do. It’s one of the most important marketing tools for small businesses operating locally. 

Google Business Profile makes your business visible to potential customers in your vicinity in three ways: 

1. Google Map Pack:

Google Map Pack

2. Google Maps:

Google Business Profiles in Google Maps

3. Local knowledge panel (when the search query includes your brand’s name):

Local knowledge panel

How to get started 

Create or claim (option for already created GBPs) your Google Business Profile for free here.

And to make sure your profile is optimized, you can read our guide on the topic.  

3. List your business in relevant directories 

We’re talking about websites that offer listings of businesses like yours, providing basic information like address, operating hours, contact information, website, etc. 

Some directories are free; others are paid. But you may want to consider even the paid ones because directories give you three significant benefits:

  1. It’s the quickest way to get your business to the first page of Google for competitive keywords. 
  2. Your business will show up in search results of those directories.
  3. Citations (mentions of your business) in local directories can increase your chances of showing up in the Google Map Pack. 
SERP dominated by business directories
SERPs for keywords with local intent are often dominated by local directories.

How to get started 

List your business, starting from:

  • Big data aggregators like Express Update and Neustar Localeze.
  • Core platforms like Facebook, Bing Places, Apple Maps, and Better Business Bureau. 
  • Industry and local sites relevant to your business (e.g., FindLaw for lawyers, Tripadvisor for hotels).

You can list your business manually or use a submission service to manage your citations from one place. You can also see where your competitors got their citations and go after the same ones. 

Two resources that will help you in this process:

4. Manage your online reputation

According to a study by BrightLocal, 91% of people regularly or occasionally read online reviews, and 84% trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation.

And it makes sense when you think about it. When dozens of people have tried a product before you, it’s hard to completely ignore their opinions. 

Moreover, positive reviews can impact rankings in the Google Map Pack. 

How many SEOs think reviews are most important ranking factor

How to get started 

Ask your customers to leave online reviews and try to answer all of them (good or bad). This will show existing and potential customers that you really care.

You can ask for reviews whenever you get a chance to contact your customers (personally, via email, via text message, in a thank-you note after purchase, etc.). But you can also use tools for generating reviews like this one from Google.

"Request reviews" tool by Google

You can easily find online tools for managing your reviews. Some examples are Grade.us, ReviewPush, etc.

5. Tap into search demand with SEO content 

SEO content is any kind of content designed to rank in search engines. 

When your content ranks, it can drive consistent, organic search traffic without any additional costs. That’s when you tap into search demand. 

Organic traffic to one of our articles
One of our blog posts gets an estimated 6.9K traffic from search engines a month. We’d have to spend about $4.7K to get similar traffic through ads.

The basis of this strategy is finding relevant keywords with traffic potential. The more relevant the keywords, the higher the chance that the traffic you get will convert into sales or other forms of engagement you need. 

Organic keywords report
Ahrefs shows us that this article ranks for 104 keywords in the U.S. But we only had to target one keyword when creating that article.

It’s good to keep in mind that even when you rank #1, it’s not forever. You may need to revisit your content and update it when your rankings drop. 

How to get started 

First, determine if SEO content is right for your business. This is the case if the answer to at least one of the below questions is yes:

  • Are people looking online for what you sell or do?
  • Are people looking online for solutions to problems your business helps to solve? 

You can answer that using a keyword tool. You can use our free keyword generator to look up keywords that pop into your mind. You can even check their search demand in different countries and four different search engines. 

Keyword ideas for handmade soap via Ahrefs' free keyword generator

Once you determine that SEO is worth it for you, use our detailed step-by-step guide on creating SEO content. 

6. Encourage user-generated content

Selling something that looks good in a photo or video? 

Ask your customers to share a picture or a short video featuring your product. Happy customers create more happy customers. 

Review with pictures answered by the business owner

How to get started 

Saying something as plain as “share your photo with us” may not be enough. 

You can encourage more user-generated content (UGC) when you make your request more exciting or offer something in return.

For example, brands like Vans or Apple launched an official hashtag for users and fans. Sharing photos under those hashtags creates a feeling of being part of something bigger and gives people a chance to pay attention to them. 

#shotoniphone social media campaign

Brands, such as clothing company Pakker Trousers, launch contests where people can win stuff for sharing a photo of themselves using the product. 

One of the entries for a contest run by Pakker Trousers
One of the entries for a contest run by Pakker Trousers.

7. Create a free resource

Sharing a free resource can attract visitors and give them a taste of your offer. Think ebooks, product samples, online calculators, free courses, free consultations, and so on. 

Fragrance Calculator from Nurture Soap
Fragrance Calculator from Nurture Soap, a small company selling soap-making supplies. One of three free resources on its site (all three bring organic traffic).

If your business relies on direct contact or has a long sales cycle, you can ask for contact information in return for your free resource. This type of marketing tool is called a lead magnet. 

Free consultation lead magnet

How to get started 

Start with choosing a proven topic for your free resource. 

One of the methods is doing keyword research. Not only will you know what actually interests people, but you’ll also have a chance to rank for relevant keywords and drive organic traffic to your resource for free. 

Here’s how you can do it in Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer: 

  1. Plug in a topic or thing relevant to your business 
  2. Go to the Matching terms report
  3. Limit the results to some popular resource types, e.g., a calculator 
  4. Sort and filter results based on provided SEO metrics, such as search volume, Keyword Difficulty (KD), or Traffic Potential (TP)
Matching terms report with applied filter

You can also find proven topics by analyzing your competitors and studying your niche. See this guide for details. 

8. Start a video blog (with SEO in mind) 

Video marketing is especially good for two things: 

  • It helps to attract customers – 70% of viewers bought from a brand after seeing it on YouTube (Google). 
  • It helps to educate your audience – 96% of people have watched an explainer video to learn more about a product or service (Wyzowl). 

And if you combine video blogging with SEO, you get a highly engaging content format with free distribution. 

SERP showing YouTube videos
These videos with matcha cookie recipes show up on the first page for “matcha cookies”—that’s free traffic.

How to get started 

Find video topic ideas with search demand: 

  1. Go to Ahrefs’ Site Explorer and paste “youtube.com” as the URL 
  2. Go to the Organic keywords report 
  3. In the keyword filter, insert relevant keyword(s) for your business and hit “Apply”
YouTube videos about matcha that get organic traffic from Google

From that point, you can adjust the filters and sort the results to fine-tune your research. 

Let’s move one step back because video blogging is not something everybody “feels” like doing. 

Equipment cost, talent, and a language barrier. These are some common objections to doing video marketing. But based on our experience, they are not deal breakers. Here’s what our video marketing master has to say about that:

Recommended viewing: YouTube SEO: How to Rank YouTube Videos #1 

9. Do SEO for your existing content

Sometimes, you don’t need to create new content to get more traffic. 

Your old content may just need an SEO “do-over.” 

Line graph showing updated content experiences spike in organic traffic

How to get started 

You need to find a good candidate for the do-over. Not every page will be a good fit.

To do this, you will need two things:

  • This guide – Go ahead and try everything from this guide, from improving the click-through rate of your top-performing content to going after featured snippets.
  • SEO tools – Data on keywords and backlinks from your and your competitors’ sites can come from a tool like Ahrefs’ Site Audit. And data on your click-through rates from search engines will need to come from a tool specific to the search engine. For Google, this will be Google Search Console. For Bing, it’s Bing Webmaster Tools. 

10. Repurpose your existing content 

Repurposing content is about taking existing content and “repacking” it for other marketing channels. 

This simple technique allows you to reach a wider audience without the need to create new content from scratch. 

So for example, a blog post can become a video, or a course, or a series of social media posts, and so on and vice versa. 

Article repurposed into a video
On the right is the original article. On the left is the article repurposed into a video. 

How to get started 

You can take your best-performing content and repurpose it for other marketing channels. If it worked in one place, it probably would in other places too. 

Sometimes, you can repurpose content that didn’t perform well in the past (but you have reasons to think it will work elsewhere). For example, you can take your unique, quality articles that just didn’t get enough backlinks to challenge fierce competition on the SERPs and share them in a different format on social media platforms. 

Influencer marketing article's SEO metrics
Example: Our guide to influencer marketing gets only 26 organic visits a month due to low rankings on the SERPs (high keyword difficulty).
Influencer marketing video's video metrics
On the other hand, the video repurposed from that article seems to do a lot better on YouTube.

For the above techniques, follow our full guide on content repurposing. 

11. Get in front of other people’s audience 

Chances are, your target audience is similar to other websites’ existing target audience. And that’s a good thing. 

You may reach somebody else’s audience with your message through: 

  • Getting featured in podcasts and newsletters.
  • Guest blogging. 
  • Getting featured in relevant rankings and reviews. 
Home organization businesses ranking

Except for newsletters (without a web format), all of the above are also opportunities for getting a direct link to your website—which may help boost your SEO. And even being featured in a newsletter may indirectly lead to links from newsletter subscribers. 

How to get started 

Method 1. Use Google with search operators to find opportunities 

Helpful operators here are: “AND”, “OR”. You can use them to find websites that meet complex queries instead of just one keyword.

Looking for guest posts using Google
This query with operators means “show me websites that accept a ‘guest post’ or ‘guest article’ and contain the word ‘blockchain.’ ”

Then, click through the results, find websites that look like a good fit for your business, and pitch to them.

Method 2. Use Ahrefs to find opportunities and get instant performance data 

Ahrefs’ SEO Toolbar allows you to see performance data of websites as you Google them. So the Google screenshot from above turns into this: 

Looking for guest posts using Ahrefs' SEO Toolbar
Highlighted parts show SEO data coming from Ahrefs. You can look at site traffic, page traffic, DR, and others as you search on Google.

This way, you can easily filter out websites that don’t get traffic or whose links have the lowest chance of impacting your SEO. 

Another method is to see where other websites, such as your competitors, got their links from. This works for any kind of mentions that leaves a trace of a backlink: reviews, rankings, guest blogging, and PR (more on that in the next chapter). 

  1. Go to Site Explorer and paste a URL you want to screen 
  2. Go to the Backlinks report
  3. Search for the kind of backlinks you want to go after; to illustrate, for guest articles, use “Anchor with surrounding text” filter and type the word “author” 
Looking for guest posts via backlink analysis in Ahrefs

Then you can pitch the same website with a personalized and relevant message.

12. Get free press with digital PR

Public relations is not reserved for big brands with entire PR departments on the payroll. Small businesses can get press too. And they can get it for free. 

One of many quotes from this "love and relationship" coach
One of many quotes from this “love and relationship” coach.

There are basically two ways to get free press. 

One is to do something extraordinary (maybe your business is already doing it?) and issue a press release about it. 

The other is to offer your expert commentary, per the journalist’s request. 

It can take some effort, but it’s usually worth it: 

  • PR increases brand awareness. 
  • News websites and magazines can drive traffic to your website. 
  • Being featured by the press is a great chance to earn a link from a high-authority website (and boost SEO).
Links from magazines with a strong backlink profile (data via Ahrefs)
Links from magazines with a strong backlink profile (DR stands for Domain Rating).

How to get started 

If you feel your business is doing something that can make the headlines, tell the press about it. 

Use this guide to write a press release and send it to the magazines where the story is most relevant. 

An effective tactic may be to start with reputable local media. If your story gets featured, you may use it in your pitch to more prominent media outlets. Additionally, other media may pick up the story organically.

As for monitoring journalist requests, use:

  • A service like HARO, Terkel, or SourceBottle. 
  • #journorequest on Twitter. 

These two free tools from Ahrefs can come in handy too:

  • Our free website authority checker will show you the Domain Rating (DR) for any given website. DR is a good proxy for checking the authority of the website and the possible SEO impact of links from it. 
  • Ahrefs Webmaster Tools will show all backlinks you got from PR efforts, among other features. 

Recommended reading: Digital PR: The Beginner’s Guide to Making Your Brand Unmissable 

13. Let others promote you through affiliate programs 

Affiliate marketing programs allow influencers, bloggers, and other kinds of online content creators to promote your products for a commission from sales.

You can find affiliate marketing examples all over the web. Usually, affiliate marketers include links to products inside reviews or some kind of educational content (recipes, tutorials, etc.). Sometimes, they even run their own shops. 

Shop made mostly out of affiliate links
At loveandlemons.com, of the biggest food blogs, you can shop for kitchen essentials and photography equipment. Makes sense because, at one point, the reader will surely wonder what gear its team uses for such great photos.

Affiliate marketing is designed to be mutually beneficial. The better affiliates promote, the more you sell, and the more they earn in return. 

How to get started 

Depends on the affiliate marketing program.

For example, on ClickBank, you list your product on a public marketplace and wait for affiliates to find you. 

But on platforms like Impact, you can choose affiliates from the platform’s contact list. 

But if you want to spend the least possible time on managing your affiliate program, you can consider a program like GiddyUp. It will even take care of creating banners for you and your affiliates. 

As for the costs, there are usually some small up-front costs paid to the affiliate platform. But other than that, everything is performance-based. 

14. See what works for your competitors 

The oldest advice on the planet, right? Well, it still works. 

While following your competitor’s steps may be harder in the “offline” world, it’s much easier (and cheaper) online. 

By using competitor analysis tools, you can learn things like:

  • What type of content works for your competition. 
  • What do competitors see as a good advertising investment and how they advertise it. 
  • Where they get their backlinks. 
  • Gaps in your content strategy.

How to get started 

Get a competitor analysis tool designed for the type of marketing you want to analyze. Some examples are:

  • Ahrefs – SEO, PPC, and content marketing
  • Moat – Digital ads
  • MailCharts – Email marketing 
  • Brand24 – Brand monitoring in web and social media
  • SparkToro – Audience insight
  • Visualping – Webpage monitoring

So say you want to see which topics you haven’t blogged about yet compared to your competitors. You can check that quickly by pasting your and your competitors’ URLs in Ahrefs’ Content Gap tool.

Content gap analysis
A quick check comparison of three dog behaviorist and training blogs. Our target blog could consider keywords like “what are shock collars” or “second dog syndrome.”

You’ll get keywords your competitors rank for, but you don’t. This way, you’ll save a ton of time on manually going through websites. 

Recommended reading: How to Conduct a Competitive Analysis (Template Included) 

What is the best marketing strategy for a small business? 

The best marketing strategy is the one that brings you results. It’s common to see some strategies working for some and not for others. 

Although it may sound cliche, it’s crucial to take any advice with a grain of salt and simply test things yourself. The best marketing strategy may be the one you haven’t tried yet. 

And when you find a marketing strategy that works for you, double down on it. 

Final thoughts 

As you can see, marketing strategies can be very different from one another. It’s actually kind of mind-boggling to see so many ways of growing a business. 

So a good idea is to prioritize. 

Try the classic “prioritization matrix.” Take a moment to think about marketing strategies you found in this and other guides and put them in one of the categories based on a) the effort they need and b) the value they give. 

Prioritization matrix

So for example, if getting free press may be low effort and high value for you, that will be something to put into action as soon as possible. 

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