If you’re reading this, odds are good you’re either a marketer, or a business owner responsible for marketing your own brand. That means, along with this article, you’ve probably read your fair share of blogs and articles with titles like “10 Examples of Genius Marketing Strategies” or “20 Killer Ads That Delivered Massive Results for Brands.”
You should be reading that type of content! It can offer genuine value.
However, if you’re a small business owner, it can also be frustrating at times. Often, the examples cited in those blogs involve major brands with big marketing budgets. You may admire their marketing savvy, but when you can barely afford to pay yourself, you can’t exactly afford to “engage users with a dynamic virtual reality experience” or “generate brand loyalty by hosting a branded music festival.”
Luckily, there are actually many ways to advertise a business online that are virtually free. The following are a few noteworthy examples to keep in mind:
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1. Claim Listings
Listings and profiles on Yelp, Google My Business, and similar platforms can serve as free advertising. Search for unclaimed listings for your business and claim them.
2. Blog (on Other Sites)
Unless you’re paying a freelancer to write your content for you, blogging is a very low-cost way of advertising your business. If you’re posting blogs on your site, all you have to spend is the fee to keep the site running. A strong blog can also be an essential component of an effective SEO strategy.
However, you shouldn’t limit yourself solely by blogging on your own site. You should also look for blogs and online publications in your niche that accept guest submissions. Their editors will often allow you to link back to your site in a guest post.
This form of free SEO advertising does require you to invest some time into the process of finding relevant blogs and writing content for them. However, you typically don’t have to spend a penny to submit guest posts.
3. Search for Mentions of Your Business
If your business has been in existence for at least six months or so, there’s a chance other have already mentioned your brand, products, or services on their own sites.
Search for mentions of your business. Check to see if they link back to your site. If not, try to contact the contents’ publishers and ask if they’d be willing to go back and insert links.
Yes, the existing mentions of your business already technically serve as a form of free advertising. However, you can increase their value by requesting that these mentions include links.
On platforms like Facebook, Reddit, Quora, and numerous others, you can find groups dedicated to just about any subject imaginable, from fantasy football to Fantasia (and everything in between).
Odds are good there are plenty of online communities where people discuss topics relevant to your business. Join them and start participating. Respond to posts, post your own discussions, and generally try to become an active member of the community.
That’s important. You don’t want to make the wrong impression by promoting your business as soon as you join a discussion group. Many discussion groups actually have rules against this.
Instead, you want to become a natural member of the group. Eventually you’ll find opportunities to mention your business in a manner that doesn’t come across as excessively promotional and doesn’t violate community guidelines.
5. Repurpose Existing Content
Once more, a blog can be a very effective source of free advertising. The problem is, if you’re reading an article about free online advertising ideas, that probably means you run a small business. That means you’re also likely a busy person who wears many hats.
Making the time to consistently generate new blog content can be a challenge. Unfortunately, you might not have the budget to justify hiring a freelancer to create content for you.
There’s a solution to this issue: repurposing existing content.
You don’t necessarily need to generate entirely new content every single time you sit down to compose a blog (or film a video, or record a podcast, etc.). You can instead cobble together new content from pieces of content you’ve already published.
For example, maybe your small business is a dental office. Your blog might thus feature such titles as “How to Brush Your Teeth Effectively,” “The Best Way to Prevent Cavities,” and similar entries. You could condense the information from those existing blogs into a new blog on “The Top 10 Tips to Keep Your Teeth in Good Shape for Life.”
Repurposing content can also involve translating content into a new format. This might, for instance, involve taking the information in a blog post and making it into an infographic.
Speaking of which, strong infographics can also give you free advertising. Infographics are very shareable, helping brands reach more customers on social media at no cost.
6. Take Advantage of User Generated Content
The above point about infographics highlights a more general point: free advertising often takes the form of users mentioning your brand on social media.
Along with publishing valuable content that others might want to share with their family and friends, you can get more people to advertise your business for free on social media by encouraging users to develop content themselves.
For instance, perhaps you’re selling a line of cookware or a new cooking gadget. You could host a contest on Instagram asking customers to post pictures of what they’ve made with your products along with a hashtag that mentions your brand. True, more customers may be willing to participate in the contest if the prize has monetary value, but even if the prize is something you can offer at no cost to yourself, like showcasing the winning pictures on your site, you could attract enough participants to enjoy some free advertising.
7. Ask for Referrals
It’s a simple strategy, but one that’s easy to forget about. Whenever you have the opportunity, ask customers to refer you to family, friends, and colleagues. If they’re genuinely happy with your service and products, they may be willing to do so.
You can also set up a customer referral program in which customers are rewarded for telling others about your business. This isn’t technically free, as you’ll need to offer rewards in the form of discounted services or products, but it can pay off quite well.
8. Ask for Reviews
Don’t just ask your customers for referrals. Ask them for testimonials and reviews as well. Again, if you truly provide quality service, at least some of your customers should have no problem complying with this basic request.
9. Improve Your SEO
When you have the time, conduct a thorough audit of your SEO strategy. Odds are good there’s room for improvement. Fortunately, there are many ways to improve an SEO plan that don’t involve spending any money.
Don’t worry if you’re not sure how to conduct an SEO audit. Along with the overview linked to above, there’s no shortage of guides on the Internet explaining how to go about the process.
A strong SEO strategy is a form of free advertising because it attracts guests to your site naturally. When more people visit your site and spend time on it, your rankings in search results pages tend to improve. This allows even more people to find your site and business.
Essentially, while it can take time for an SEO strategy to yield results, once it begins to, it can take on a life of its own. The momentum it generates tends to increase, consistently exposing more and more people to your brand.
10. Apply for Awards
Search the web for any awards for businesses in your industry and region. If you find any you believe your business may be qualified to win, apply for them. Sometimes this requires paying an application fee, but that’s not always the case.
To attract customers, you can’t simply let them know your business exists. You also need to give them a reason to trust your business.
One way to do so is to establish yourself as an authority in your field. A blog can help you achieve this goal by sharing accurate and useful information with your audience.
Just be aware that a blog isn’t the only way you can establish your expertise and authority by teaching your audience about a relevant subject. You can also teach via an online class, ebook, or a YouTube video channel.
Keep in mind that online classes or ebooks can actually be sources of business revenue on their own. You can actually charge for these products, getting not only free advertising, but an additional source of passive income. You may not be able to charge for access to your YouTube channel, but if you attract enough followers, you could earn extra money from your channel through ads.
12. Ask to Appear on Podcasts
Podcasters rely on guests to help them generate new episodes. If a podcaster interviews subjects, they of course can only keep creating new episodes if they consistently have new subjects to interview.
Search for podcasts you might be qualified to appear on and reach out to their owners to ask if they’d like to interview you. If your business is small, those who run well-known and popular podcasts might not bring you on, but plenty of others may.
13. Stay Active on Social Media
Social media can be a very powerful free advertising tool. You simply have to use it properly.
Stay up to date on general social media best practices, post regularly, and interact with others. The goal on social media is to promote your brand without coming across as excessively salesy.
Collaborating with businesses similar to yours (that aren’t direct competitors) can take many forms. You can work with another business to develop a product, organize an event with another business, or create a joint blog or podcast separate from your own content. Ideally, coordinating with another business in this capacity will help you tap into an audience that may not have been familiar with your brand.
15. Review Your Suppliers
Does your business work with suppliers or vendors in any way? If so, review them on platforms like Yelp and offer testimonials they can publish on their own sites. When doing so, make sure the name of your business is mentioned in some way.
This is a form of free advertising because it naturally gets your business’ name “out there.” Additionally, it improves your current relationship with your suppliers and vendors, which is always beneficial.
Volunteering (while representing your business, of course) is an easy way to improve your brand’s image. If you have pictures of your volunteer efforts, you can also post them on social media and your website, giving your business some easy free advertising. Depending on how you volunteer, local or industry publications might also cover your work, giving you even more free coverage.
17. Submit Press Releases
Many business owners don’t bother to write press releases and submit them to publications and journalists because they simply believe you need to be a PR expert to do so.
That’s not so. Even if you’re not a professional writer, the press release format isn’t particularly difficult to master. There are also many free online services you can use to submit your press releases.
Just be sure you’re only submitting press releases when you have a valid reason to make an announcement about your business. A press release shouldn’t just let people know your business exists (unless it’s very new). It should announce a new product, let people know about an event you’re hosting, promote your volunteer efforts, or otherwise cover a topic that’s actually newsworthy.
Keep in mind, you don’t need to employ all these strategies. There may be too many here for you to juggle them all at once.
Instead, this list should help you realize that you don’t need a big marketing budget to promote your business online. There are many ways to do so for free.