Identifying the digital marketing skills your business needs - Part 2

Find out how to build your digital marketing activity with email, search engine optimisation and pay-per-click advertising.


11 min read

Part 2 - Building your digital marketing - email, SEO and PPC

In Part 1, we discussed how many businesses are now using digital marketing.

We gave an overview of how to access the knowledge and skills you need to set-up your website and social media presence - considering what you can do yourself, and where you might need some help.

Once you’ve done that, you will want to identify the most appropriate digital marketing channels for your business to acquire and retain customers.

In this article, we look at how to build your capability in:

  • Email marketing
  • Search engine optimisation
  • Pay-per-click advertising

As a quick recap, you can build capability within your business with:

  • Off the shelf tools. Many digital tools are easy to use by those with little experience and can be tried free of charge.
  • Online resources, webinars and short-training courses. If you’re using a digital platform, often the provider will give you access to training. Business Gateway also has content, webinars and 1-2-1 advice.
  • Outsourcing: Even if you have the skills, you may not have the time and may need freelance or agency support.
  • Recruiting: If your business is large enough then you may want to recruit someone to manage all your digital marketing and other promotion. You will still need budget for purchasing advertising space and outsourcing specialist elements as there are very few individuals who will have all the digital marketing skills you need.

1. Email marketing

The main reasons you will use email to communicate with your customers include:

  • Transactions. These will usually relate to fulfilling an order e.g. order confirmation, order updates or delivery dispatch, invitations to feedback and check customer satisfaction. While these will be standardised templates they will often contain information specific to the individual recipient.
  • Promotion. Used to boost awareness of your business and products, build loyalty or increase sales, they will usually be a standard format for a segment of customers (or all your customers) and might include:
    ○ Announcements
    ○ Newsletters
    ○ Promotional offers
    ○ Added value helpful content
    ○ Event invitations

Some digital marketers predicted that with the growth of social media, email marketing would become less valuable, however email marketing has definitely stood the test of time!

Provided you have permission to do so, you can directly communicate with your customers and prospects, straight to their inbox, whereas with social media, even if people actively follow your page, you are reliant on the platform’s algorithm displaying your post for that individual.

But as with everything, it must be done well for your business to see real benefits. If not, it could damage your business - legally or reputationally. So before beginning, be aware of the skills and resources you need.

Capturing and managing customer data and GDPR

You must ensure that you comply with data protection regulations and avoid spamming customers. All customers must give their consent for you to keep their data for marketing and this needs to be managed carefully. However, as an ambitious business, you will want to proactively but ethically encourage customers to give you that consent to build your database - perhaps by incentivising people to sign up by offering them a discount on their next order.

What you can do yourself

If you hold any personal data (which is the vast majority of businesses) you will have to register with the Information Commissioner’s Office and pay an annual fee. You will need to decide who in your business is the nominated Data Protection Officer. In the beginning, this is most likely to be you as founder of the business. The ICO website has a lot of useful information for small businesses and has more detail about email marketing (which they refer to as electronic mail marketing. Simply reading through the information on this website may give you enough to get started. Subscribing to their newsletter will help you stay up to date with your obligations.

When you might need help

If your business grows, you may recruit someone to support marketing and other areas, and you may want them to take on the role of the nominated Data Protection Officer so they can give it the appropriate attention. Other areas you will need to consider are:

  • Cyber security. Part of your obligations relate to cyber security and ensuring customer data is held securely and that you know what to do should there be any kind of data breach, including reporting it within 72 hours. The Scottish Business Resilience Centre can provide support with Cyber Essentials, self-certification or an independent audit of your cyber security.
  • Training and reviews. As your business grows, you will need to provide your team with training on GDPR and you may need to find an appropriate generic course for your staff. You may want help to tailor training for your specific business, in which case an independent consultancy may be able to help you with this, along with providing periodic audits of your processes around this.

Planning and writing content

What you can do yourself

Most people will feel confident writing a simple list of transactional emails that your customers will expect. Start by mapping out each stage in your order process and fulfillment to identify what’s needed.

You can also prepare a plan of ideas for promotional emails to send - perhaps one per week or fortnight, that are relevant to the time of year. Have a try at drafting the content for them, and run by some friends or family to see if they hit the mark.

When you might need help

Freelance resource may be helpful if you need to trial sending different emails for different audiences in your database to improve relevancy and effectiveness. This tailoring of content inevitably takes more time and an eye for detail, which is difficult when you’re spinning many other plates in your business.

Designing and sending emails

What you can do yourself

Anyone can write a simple text email and send it to customers, making sure you blind copy (BCC) everyone. (Accidentally sending to all or CC’ing everyone is a data breach as you make their email address visible to everyone else receiving the email.) For some businesses, this is all they’ll ever need to do, one or twice a month.

However if email will be important for your business, you will definitely find life is much easier and your emails look more professional if you use an email marketing tool such as Campaign Monitor, MailChimp or Sendinblue.

These tools make it possible for any small business to get started in email marketing and help with the following:

  • Managing your database. You’ll start by uploading your existing list of customers e.g. from an Excel sheet into the tool or linking it to another system which holds your customer data, such as your eCommerce platform. Take great care with ensuring you have customer permission to do this. From that point, the tool will help you manage any unsubscribes or changes in customer communication preferences.
  • Email design. Many platforms have drag and drop functionality you can use to set up your emails without you needing to have much, if any, design experience, and without you having to be able to code templates. As with your website and social media you may need your own graphics and photography and some tips on this were covered in Part 1.
  • Setting up emails to support the customer journey. This is also known as ‘marketing automation’. For example, imagine a customer signs up to receive emails from you. Ideally you will immediately send a welcome email, and then a few days later send a follow up which is tailored to whether they opened the welcome email or not. These tools will let you set up standard emails that are then sent automatically at key stages in the customer journey - giving the sense of a personalised approach without massive manual effort.

When you might need help

As a small business owner, if email is important to your business, it is worth making the effort to understand how to work your email marketing tool, so you always have the capability of sending an email yourself or editing an existing email in your automated set-up.

Expert advice can be useful for:

  • Choosing the optimum email tool for your business. Some of the pricing packages can be time consuming to compare and contrast to work out what’s best. It will definitely be useful to chat with other small businesses - maybe one you are a customer of - to see what they use. Depending how busy you are with other aspects of your business, a freelancer with experience in several tools could help you evaluate the best options for you from a shortlist and organise a quicker set-up on your chosen tool then train you on the areas that are relevant to you. Some of the tools can integrate with other areas of your eCommerce functionality and digital marketing and they could help you assess if that would be valuable and worth any extra cost.
  • Segmentation and targeting. To get the most out of your email marketing, you’ll want to segment your database and target emails to make them as relevant as possible. There’s no reason you can’t do this yourself, but it takes a lot of time and most business owners will need to outsource this work. Depending on the level of email marketing you do, you could bring in someone to manage it on a weekly, monthly or quarterly basis.
  • Analysis and optimisation. It will often help to have a 1-2-1 session with an expert freelancer to help you understand how to make the best use of your data. From that point, you may well feel comfortable regularly reviewing your data and adapting your approach on the back of it. But often for small businesses it just comes down to time - and usually the data analysis side is one of the first areas to slip when you find other areas of your business need you more! But it is very important, so one way or another make sure you block out the time or give the responsibility to someone else.

2. SEO

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is the process of setting up your website and content to help your site appear higher up in the organic (unpaid) search engine results when people search for the products or services you offer.

Depending on your goals and requirements (such as the size of your site, or competitiveness of your search terms), SEO could be a small-scale optimisation of some key pages, or it could be a large-scale ongoing campaign of optimisation and content creation.

If your website is one of your main transaction channels, then SEO could be very important for your business. Ranking in high positions for relevant terms can put your site directly in front of potential customers as they search for your product or service.

SEO is a long term strategy that requires a good amount of research and a ‘joined up’ approach to get it right. Where researched and executed correctly, SEO can be a key channel in driving an ongoing stream of high quality, relevant traffic to your site. However, badly executed SEO can actually damage your rankings and your customer experience, therefore it is important to understand the skills and resources you need.

What you can do yourself with SEO

Keyword research

The first step in any SEO activity is to first understand which keywords you need to rank for, and to determine how important SEO will be for your business.

If your website isn’t a key platform for your business, or you get most of your customers from word of mouth, you may only need to rank for your business name. However, if you have a larger or digital business, such as an ecommerce shop, you may need to rank for a more complex array of terms relating to your products or services.

This gives you a task - working out which terms to rank for. Some search terms will be much more competitive and difficult to rank for than others, so you want to make sure that any time and money spent on achieving rankings is on the search terms that are most beneficial for your business.

Therefore, you need to carry out some keyword research, to see what your potential customers are searching for, and to determine how competitive these terms are.

You can carry out keyword research yourself using tools such as the Google Ads Keyword Planner or the ahrefs Keyword Generator.

Basic onsite SEO

Once you know your keywords, the next step is to optimise your site. If the keywords that you need to rank for are not highly competitive then you may be able to achieve some rankings by carrying out some basic onsite optimisation of key SEO elements. This could include creating some informative content pages for your main keyword(s) and adding your main keyword to your Page Title Tag, your meta description and your page’s H1 tag, among other things. The main thing to remember is to write naturally and to avoid repetitive use of keywords. You can find out more about SEO in the links below:

When you might need help with SEO

If you have a large content site or an ecommerce shop with a lot of products you may well need to rank on some highly competitive terms, as SEO - and the traffic it brings - could be critical to your business.

For competitive terms, achieving good rankings can take a lot of specialist expertise and careful planning. A larger scale SEO campaign will likely need to include:

  • Ongoing creation of high quality content
  • Content audits, plans and ongoing optimisation
  • Technical SEO elements (such as mobile responsive design, HTML structure, duplicate content canonical tags, 301 redirects, etc.)
  • Inbound linking strategy (including partnerships, online PR, etc.)

Badly implemented SEO can cause numerous issues for your site - including wasted time and money, poor user experience and loss of sales, and even having your site banned from Google listings. Therefore, it is important that anyone carrying out SEO on your site understands how search engines work and optimises your content and technical elements correctly.

For small businesses it is unlikely there will be a business case for you to employ someone to manage this specifically (unless it is part of a wider digital marketing role) therefore for many it may be better to pay agencies or freelancers for professional SEO services. They can help you get set up, train you or your staff on day-to-day maintenance and then carry out quarterly or six monthly reviews.

3. PPC

Pay Per Click (PPC) - or paid search - is a type of online advertising where you pay to appear in the search engine results for relevant search terms. The most commonly used platform for PPC is Google Ads.

For websites that sell products or services online, PPC can be an effective way of driving relevant traffic to your site. PPC can be a particularly good fit for your business if you are looking to drive traffic quickly, want to appear in search results while your SEO rankings are building, or if you only want to target a specific geographic area.

However, PPC may not be a fit for your business if your product or service is an entirely new concept which does not have existing search volume (as you can’t appear in a search result when no one is searching) or if your website is not a key platform for your business.

When PPC is a good fit for your business and when it is set up and managed well, it can be an extremely effective channel, however a badly run PPC campaign can waste a lot of time and more importantly money. Therefore, it is important to understand which skills you need for an effective PPC campaign.

With PPC, there are some key areas that you need to manage well:

  • Account set up and targeting. In PPC it is vitally important that you first research and select the most relevant keywords to bid on, and that you structure your account logically, target your desired audience and geographic area, adopt the correct bidding strategy, set appropriate budgets and use the appropriate tools.
  • Ad copy creation and landing page conversion. You will also need to create compelling ads to prompt click-through and land these ads on well-structured landing pages with clear calls to action.
  • Data analysis. Key to PPC success is data - and PPC generates a wealth of valuable data - particularly when linked with other analysis platforms like Google Analytics. This includes volumes of clicks against keywords, onsite behaviour, conversions, cost per sale, etc. Using this data to maximise return on ad spend is key to a successful PPC campaign.

What you can do yourself with PPC

It is possible to run your PPC campaigns yourself - particularly if you have a niche offering and plan to run a small, targeted campaign. However, you must fully educate yourself about the platform and techniques before you begin. The best way to do that will be to have some 1-2-1 training that’s tailored to your requirements, but if this is not possible there is a wealth of information online, including on Google Skillshop.

If you want to know more about PPC to be sure that this will be a suitable channel for your business, Business Gateway has more information about this and other digital channels to help you find new customers.

When you might need help with PPC

If PPC is a critical channel for your business or if it will account for a large proportion of your budget, it is likely that you will need support from a specialist agency or an experienced employee with time allocated to running it on a daily basis. As PPC requires ongoing spend in purchasing ‘clicks’, if a campaign is not run properly there is a much higher level of wastage than the likes of email marketing and SEO.

To deliver results, improve ROI and minimise wasted spend, you need a high level of knowledge and time to:

  • Understand how the channel and ad platform works
  • Research and choose the right keywords
  • Set up your account correctly
  • Work out targeting by location, time and day of week and messaging
  • Try a test and learn approach by running a/b testing to compare the performance of different ads and landing pages
  • Maintain and optimise your account by regularly analysing your data and making adjustments like changing your ad copy or landing pages, adding new keywords, altering your bids

Therefore, this is often one area of marketing that business owners outsource.

Support from DigitalBoost to help you do all of this!

For further advice and support on all aspects of your digital marketing, processes & platforms check out our DigitalBoost programme. Offering free 1:1 consultancy, online resources, training and webinars to help businesses in Scotland develop their digital skills.

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