How to research a digital marketing plan for your small business (and why it matters)

SEO and General Business tutorials and tips.

This article was sourced from by MOZ.

Our small coffee roasting business, Timbertown Coffee Co., got away with an unplanned, DIY digital marketing strategy for a while. But when it was time to seriously dip our toes into the online marketing world, we knew we were either going to need help or go deep—or both. Digital marketing is increasingly technical. It takes a lot even to figure out the skills you need to invest in and what you can do on your own.

Even if you plan on hiring a digital marketing agency to help, you need goals. Because goals mean you know where you’re headed. You know where to spend and what to pass on. There are lots of shiny marketing objects out there, so you need to keep your eye on the prize.

Here’s how we did the research for our digital marketing strategy.

As you scale your small business marketing, take a look at these 4 ways to use marketing automation to grow your business.

Planning our digital marketing strategy

In order to plan out a good strategy, we needed to do a few things:

  • Know where we currently are online (what we’re calling our current digital footprint)

  • Gather information about our customers

  • Understand our own brand

  • Create a plan for monitoring our presence, our customers, and our brand going forward

Here’s how we plan on collecting that information.

Our current digital footprint

Timbertown's website

To know where you’re going, you first need to know where you are.

This might sound like an ancient mystic proverb uttered from some mountaintop sage, but it’s true. Planning out your future digital marketing strategy involves understanding your digital strategy up to the present day.

Depending on your business’s goals, values, time, and budget, you may not use every marketing channel, but you’ll still want to identify where you are, so you know where you can grow—on everything from social to SEO to content marketing to web design.

You can do much of this on your own, especially with the help of some tools.

Snapshot report

A snapshot report gives businesses an overview of how strong they are in some of the more prominent components online. We chose to use Vendasta’s free snapshot report to get the job done. And as you can see below, Timbertown’s initial snapshot report reflected the bitter truth of our business not planning out its digital marketing strategy.

A screenshot of a Vendasta report

As the report details further down, most of these failing grades weren’t a result of poor reviews or business failings on Timbertown’s part. The takeaway was that we weren’t really doing enough online to make a significant impact.

We had no listings and very few reviews. Our social strategy wasn’t consistent. We weren’t ranking for any keywords, and we were using poor website infrastructure. Quadruple whammy.

Read more about how to get customer reviews.

For all the ease of getting the Weebly site up and running, there was a trade-off in speed and functionality. Getting that D for our website recemented our determination to get our business a whole new design and hosting platform in place for the start of the new year.

Best practices audit

You need to be sure your website follows best practices. For example, on most eCommerce websites, shopping carts are usually in the top-right corner. Customers will expect this. If the cart is somewhere else, like the bottom of the page or the top left, it will seem out of place and can diminish trust.

You can refer to a website design best practices list, but the best way to gain an understanding is to scroll through sites that serve a similar function to your own. At Timbertown, we’re looking at our competing coffee companies for design pointers and inspiration, but we’re also looking at other eCommerce sites to see how they’re designed for flow and function.

Of course, best practices only serve as a starting point—you then need to figure out what works for your customers and brand.

A deep dive into local search engine optimization (SEO) is well beyond the scope of this article, but there are certain features every local business’s website should have these days. Here’s how to complete an SEO audit to help grow your business.

Customer experience analysis

While the snapshot report gives us insight into the strengths and weaknesses of each individual component of our digital strategy, customer experience (CX) analysis looks at the marketing strategy as a whole: how are all these components working together to provide a winning experience for the customer?

We’re using the approach defined by specialist André Morys as described in this heuristic analysis article. Morys uses seven components in his heuristic analysis framework: relevance, trust, orientation, stimulation, security, convenience, and confirmation.

We’re reviewing all of our marketing against this analysis. For instance, when we article on social media, does the call to action lead our audience to where they’d expect? That builds trust.

Timbertown's Facebook page header

Our customers

One of the most important factors in any digital marketing plan is to know your customers as well as you know yourself.

User persona research

At Timbertown, we plan on conducting detailed user persona research in order to get to know our customers better. When we know who our customers are and what they want from our product, then we can make sure our marketing materials and product fit those needs like a hot mug of coffee on a cold winter morning.

Don’t assume you know what your customers want and why they buy from you—do your research.

We plan to do a detailed survey, using open-ended questions that leave room for the customer to give their thoughts. For example, instead of asking a customer if they like Log Nog (one of our specialty coffees), we ask: “Which of our products do you find you’re constantly buying, and why?”

The first question just requires a yes or no. There’s no real information there that we can use to understand our customers better, no insights to mine. The second question, however, leads the customer to tell us all about their journey, how they find Timbertown, and why Log Nog (or any other product we sell) makes them happy.

Our brand

The brand attracts the customers, but the customers also influence the character of the brand. The better we know our brand and why our customers buy from us, the more we’ll be able to differentiate ourselves online.

Brand audit and emotional targeting

A brand audit is a survey of the images, symbols, fonts, logos, messages, and attitudes that make up your brand. Emotional targeting is about how you want to make your customers feel. We brought these two things together because we think they inform each other and help unite the approach we want to build into our branding.

Timbertown is intentionally brand-aware. Our logos and color choices and even the names of our products are all chosen specifically to evoke images in our customers’ minds of a more wild, rustic, and rooted existence. Our brand audit will just expand on this. We want to make sure fonts, colors, themes, and logos are all presented with this central vision in mind.

A screenshot of 6 images from Timbertown's Instagram page


This focus on brand and emotional targeting wouldn’t be complete without funneling them through our company’s mission—for us, that has to do with being community-driven.

Just as we have locally, we want to grow our online customers into a community that loves engaging with our product and is interested in promoting it to others. Because of this, we might put more resources into content and building our email list than on the eCommerce side of the site.

As you start to collect more emails, here are 4 ways to automate your email marketing for better communication.

Competitor analysis

Online competitive analysis involves finding similar brands and direct competitors and understanding how their digital strategies work. We want to know what makes them successful—and where they might be going astray.

Of course, success is a multi-headed animal and could have contributing factors that we don’t even notice. One brand’s success using a tactic on Instagram, for example, might be another’s downfall. Seeing what words our competitors are ranking for on search engine results pages and trying to match those keywords might dilute our brand.

Instead, we want to understand what our competitors are doing with the goal of differentiating our brand from theirs in the digital marketplace. We want Timbertown customers to have a clear distinction in their heads between what our brand offers and what our competitors offer.

Content audit

One last audit: a content audit. As our site content is currently…null, we plan on looking at our social content to see what’s worked and what hasn’t.

We also want to figure out ways we can refine our voice and style to fit our customers’ needs better and what other kinds of content we can include to help our customers. We’re interested in long-form content, so we want to plumb our interactions with customers to understand what topics we can use to create that content.

Planting a digital footprint in the future

In order to make the most of our digital marketing plan, we want to set up an analytics and user research program. This will help us get insights into our business and its web properties far into the future.

In our current setup, we have a minimal amount of analytics on the backend of our website that give us a handful of stats about our traffic. What we’re looking at here is what these analytics tell us, what data we’re lacking, and what type of information we think we’ll need to know going forward to inform our strategy.

We haven’t set up Google Tag Manager or Google Analytics. We’re not using surveys on or off our site. And we’re not doing any other user testing or heatmap analysis. But we know this kind of qualitative and quantitative data is going to be important in the future, so we’re now working on refining what questions we want answered, so we know what to track.

If you’re just getting started with Google Analytics, here’s a guide to how to set it up. Then learn how to turn your analytics into actionable tasks and how to automate your analytics workflows.

This is…a lot. I know. But having this findation will not only make our digital marketing strategy more sound, but it’ll also help us implement it.

Of course, digital marketing isn’t a one-and-done thing. As our customers change and our brand adapts to that change, we’ll need to revisit this research to ensure that it’s up to date and still reflects our customers’ values and our brand identity. We hope you’ll follow along for the journey.

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