Lee Odden

How Small Business Can Get BIG Online with Content Marketing

small business online marketingFor small businesses, looking “big” online isn’t so much about appearing as a large company when they’re not. Its about being a big resource for prospects and customers.  As the popularity of content marketing and brands as publishers heats up with large companies, many small businesses still have the advantage of being nimble and adaptive to new ways of engaging customers.  That ability to experiment and implement quickly as well as creatively can be a big advantage.

Here are a few ways small businesses can use content marketing in combination with some SEO and Social Media Smarts to be a “bigger” resource for their  online customers.

1. Blog – A blog is an easy to use content management system that also offers numerous social and SEO benefits. For example, our client Marketo started a blog as soon as they launched their website and start-up business. That one blog has now grown to 4 blogs and a dominant position in Google and social search results for the solutions their customers are looking for most. In part by using a blog as a useful resource for prospective and current customers, Marketo is attracting business at a faster rate than most of their larger competitors with a 10 year head start.

2. Newsletters & Email Marketing – Email newsletters are great ways to connect directly with prospective customers and stay connected to current customers. Newsletters can be published as blog posts for discovery via search engines and can provide a great segue from social relationships on social networks like Facebook or from a blog to more commercial relationships with prospects. Newsletters provide a way to offer useful and targeted information to nurture leads and provide opportunities to find out more on products and services.

Our client J&O Fabrics has been providing customers with an email newsletter about fabric for many years offering tips, how to articles and information about new products. That newsletter was the inspiration for a very popular fabric blog which led them to implement other social media efforts through Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

3. Media Coverage & Contributed Articles – Word of mouth is priceless for all businesses, especially small businesses. Getting mentioned in the local business media and trade publications can boost awareness, credibility and directly generate new business. Make a list of local business publications, writers and editors as well as popular trades and bloggers. Send them relevant news about your company in a concise and compelling format.

Getting an email directly from the CEO or a VP of a small business creates a direct connection that many time pressed journalists appreciate.  If they blog, make comments that add value, then follow up with more detailed, useful information. Provide “hooks” that give perspectives and insights not normally thought of. Stand out and tell a compelling story. Follow up but don’t stalk! Many of the relationships we have at TopRank Online Marketing with journalists came as a result of sending an email offering 1-3 abstracts for potential contributed articles. Now many of those news sites contact us for quotes.

4. Resource Center – One way small businesses are beating their larger competitors in search and in building authority is to be a better resource for customers through useful content. Common formats for helpful information about buying, using and related information on products and services include articles, videos and podcasts.

5. Social Networks & Media – In the way that customers expect a toll free number, web site and blog, they’re beginning to expect the brands they buy from to be social. That means having a presence in the social networks that are most relevant to customers. It doesn’t need to be a lot of time, but a small amount of time consistently spent on interaction and relationship building can go a long way at developing a community.

The key is picking the right platform. It might be a LinkedIn group, Facebook Fan page, a Forum added to your site or creating a niche social network of your own using a service like Ning.com. Content created on the newsletter, blog and resource center can be cross-promoted with social networking and media sharing. While it’s new and a work in progress, Imagine Lifestyles, a TopRank client that rents exotic cars, luxury homes & yachts does a good job at cross promoting blog content on their Facebook page and YouTube channel.

6. Events – Networking for small businesses is as old as word of mouth marketing itself. Events are a great way to connect with prospective customers, marketing partners, new employees and influentials in your industry. They’re also a great place to create content. We’ve shared many insights into how to get the most out of attending conferences, especially when it comes to content creation.

Liveblogging, interviews via video, audio or text and photos are not only great content to be shared after the event, but more importantly, serve as an excellent ice breaker to connect with others during the event. That content can be used in many of the tactics listed above.

As a small business, should you do all of these things? No, of course not. Wearing many hats and slim resources means all of these tactics won’t be practical. But you can start small and adapt with more or different content according to what’s working vs. what’s not.

What are some creative ways your small business has been able to achieve “big” results with customers on limited resources?

Want to learn more about Content Marketing?

If you’re attending OMS in San Diego next week, be sure to sign up for SES Accelerator on Feb 10th. I’ll be giving a presentation on Content Marketing Strategy that will provide both high level and specific, tactical advice on how companies, large and small, can boost their online marketing results with content.

If you’re attending SES London, I’ll be giving a presentation on Content Marketing & Optimisation Feb 23rd followed by a presentation for OMS London: Integrated Online Marketing: Search, Social & Online PR on Feb 25th.  I hope to see you there.

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Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on B2B marketing topics including content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely running, traveling or cooking up something new.


  1. We do all of those, Lee. Batting 1,000 on your tips. But we could do a bit better on several, I think. Especially media coverage.

    Jeff Ogden
    http://www.findnewcustomers.com (this is my real website, if you or anyone else wants to check me out.

  2. I agree. At my company we use the same approach, adding fresh content on a regular basis. The problem is that most small companies will never have enough traffic to measure results effectively.

    What about e-mail marketing? http://www.site-seeker.com

    • I could have elaborated more on the newsletter tip re: email marketing in general. It’s definitely one of the most effective marketing resources a biz has, especially SMBs.

  3. Lee, Great post. You make a good point about not being able to do it all as a small business person. I do find it difficult to try and have a dialog with the local media and have resorted to PRWeb as a work around. Sometimes we get lazy and stop doing all the things we should. Thanks for the kick in the behind.

    • Thank you Stephen and no problem for the “kick”. They’re free 🙂 As for local media, I’ve found a combination of emailing journalists plus news distribution can provide great effect. Theming news and social content with keywords used in your email pitch work great together. Often times a journalists will go to Google to look you up or the topic you’re pitching and when your brand is on top – it’s great credibility.

  4. Some guy told my about some free traffic thing thats better than google and bing.. I looked it up and huge companies like Forbes, Agora and Boardroom use it.. i am thinking of trying it… any thoughts here’s the link to the video about it http://www.1shoppingcart.com/app/?Clk=4136791

  5. this is a great post Lee with very useful tips… I think Blog and Social media are most effective things among mentioned above… they really help you to reach people globally.

  6. Really good post, but if small companies had the one thing necessary to do all of the above it would be great. However, many small companies don’t have enough “time” to blog, create newsletters, etc. This is what I’ve seen at least from my experience. Good advice though 🙂 all of the above strategies would work very well if implemented

  7. I guess that it falls under social media, but youtube videos are a great way for a small business to get their brand out there.

  8. Avatar Lisa | SEO Brisbane says

    Even the smallest companies can look much bigger than they are with strategic content. The added bonus is the more content you have the more traffic you will have through the search engines as well.

  9. great piece. Just shows how Web 2.0 levels the playing field. Imagination is the key.

  10. Thanks for the concise list of tips. I know that we do some of them well, some not so well, and some not at all. This certainly is our top goal for improvement in 2011

  11. Great list! I especially agree with 3. I think that social proof is one of the biggest factors to both ranking (considering Google’s PageRank system) and offline exposure. We all try to confirm something’s validity by seeking out others who do and getting yourself in the newspaper or business journal is a surefire way to build rapport! Nice list.

    • Thanks Ryan – there are a lot of publications that welcome well written contributed articles that help with content and provide the company editorial exposure.

  12. Hi,
    Great article and i agree with point 3 and i feel that Social media effective option of connecting with potential customers. It is certainly here to stay. We have got many new small business clients who use it.It is important that the business decides before hand what they want to acheive – Branding, Word Of Mouth, or Just Sales…and then take the approach that best matches these goals…

  13. Viewing the list of items as a ‘must do now’ list is daunting, especially it you are unsure how to go about blogging and using social media. It’s best to tackle just one thing, such as blogging, forget about the other items on the list for the time being. Becoming comfortable with one thing will inspire you to progress slowly to other forms of content marketing.

    • It depends on your starting point and if you have someone with deep expertise helping you. If you have limited resources and are doing it yourself, then a crawl, walk, run makes the most sense.

      If you have resources internally and can engage outside expertise to train your team, develop a strategy and help with implementation and analysis, then multiple channels can be reasonably managed.

      Outside of that, identifying where the customers are and what they want should be the first order in deciding where to spend time.

  14. i think i agree with that..its a strategy we use when its not enough to just plug your business through words.big factor when we could plug the business on line..

  15. Lee, I’ve been following you for a long time and always feel motivated and better informed after reading your posts. This one was a particular favorite.

  16. It’s very useful and I get much information about these tips. I still need to learn more about online marketing and I have dropped in here to get this great information, thank you in advance

  17. Avatar drio_rachel says

    Great list, I do think that blogging is the first step to take, but I think the list creation is number one in terms of importance!  Without getting subscribers and keeping them engaged we loose out on potential customers!

  18. Avatar superior marketingllc says

    Its a big marketing but ,I still need to learn more about online marketing

  19. nice blog,you can visit my blog sometime