8 SMB Digital Marketing Challenges and How to Overcome Them

Posted at Oct 22, 2020 10:00:00 AM by Katie Weedman | Share

Many owners and marketers of small- and medium-size businesses (SMBs) consider time and budget constraints to be their top digital marketing challenges. However, these same constraints are cited just as frequently by marketers of big corporations.

To dig deeper into the challenges of digital marketing specific to SMBs, the team at THAT Agency went straight to the source. We put out an open call to SMB owners and marketers via the website helpareporter.com, asking for responses to the following question:

Besides time and budget constraints, what obstacles do you face in marketing your business online?

We received 54 insightful responses and grouped those responses categorically into SMB digital marketing challenges. Let’s countdown those challenges while discussing how to overcome them.


A business woman smashing a wall with a rubber mallet, signifying her overcoming SMB digital marketing challenges

Challenge #8 - Expectations

5% of the SMB owners and marketers who responded to our query cited managing expectations as a top struggle for digital marketing.


How to Overcome This Challenge

Digital marketing can deliver amazing results, but not all successes happen overnight. In fact, some facets of digital marketing, like content marketing and search engine optimization, can take up to six months before the full weight of the work is realized.

Regardless of what digital marketing methods you employ for your SMB, it’s important to establish baseline metrics, set realistic goals, and use performance data in market to guide you.

Setting SMART goals for your SMB digital marketing efforts can help. SMART goals are:

  • Specific – Set real numbers with real time frames.
  • Measurable – Ensure you can track your goal.
  • Attainable – Make sure your goal is challenging, yet possible.
  • Realistic - Be honest about what you can achieve.
  • Time-bound - Give yourself a due date.

Here’s how to get started:

  1. Summarize your SMART digital marketing goal in a statement.
  2. Categorize your goal as one that is intended to a) get more web traffic, b) get more leads, or c) get more customers.
  3. Establish a specific numerical value to work toward.
  4. Set a completion date or deadline.
  5. Commit the time and be sure your schedule is realistic.
  6. Outline potential obstacles that could prevent you from reaching your goal, so you are prepared to navigate them as they arise.

Challenge #7 - Conversions

5% of respondents replied that turning clicks into profitable conversions is their toughest digital marketing challenge.


How to Overcome This Challenge

Top converting landing pages take work. They aren't the result of a magic formula, but there are a few best practices you can follow:

  • Use a clear call to action that uses participatory language. “Engage my future” is more active and compelling than “What's my future?” Telling visitors to “Get a quote” phrases the conversion as a benefit. “See a quote” phrases this noncommittally.
  • Make the options you want visitors to click on clear and obvious. Don't try to be clever about doing something in an unexpected way. If there's too much visual clutter surrounding the option, or the option is in a place that visitors wouldn't expect, they'll subconsciously ignore that area of the screen.
  • Don't overlook how you visually direct visitors toward different parts of your page. You can do this obviously, with arrows. Or you can do it more subtly, with the people in the images you use looking or guiding with their eyes and hands toward the conversion point.
  • Provide social proof. Use reviews, testimonials, client logos, etc., whichever is appropriate to your business. Seeing that others trust you makes visitors more willing to linger and convert.


A dart in the bullseye position on a dartboard, representing one of the top digital marketing challenges for SMBs - targeting

Challenge #6 - Targeting

9% of respondents admitted that getting in front of the right audience is a major digital marketing challenge for SMBs.


How to Overcome This Challenge

You need to know who your target audience is and what makes them tick. A good way to do this is by creating buyer personas.

Buyer personas help ensure that your digital marketing efforts are tailored to meet the specific needs of your target audience. Following is a simple five-step process for creating personas:

  1. Survey your best customers about their goals, challenges, demographics, hobbies, shopping preferences, where they go to consume information, etc.
  2. If possible, review the demographics and interests of your website visitors and your social media fans and followers.
  3. Look for commonalities among your best customers and your website and social media data. Group shared attributes into personas.
  4. Give your personas names. While this may seem like a silly step, it will help you empathize with each persona as a real person.
  5. Consider each persona to be a segment of your target audience. Keep your personas in mind when creating content, segmenting email lists, and choosing audiences to serve digital ads to.

Challenge #5 - Attribution & ROI

10% of respondents said that attribution and ROI are big issues in digital marketing for SMBs.

The fact is, people often come to a website multiple times before a conversion happens, and there are different ways to attribute conversions to marketing channels.


A woman clicking on an ad on her laptop, representing last AdWords click attribution


How to Overcome This Challenge

Attribution modeling is a complex topic, which is likely why most marketers favor a last non-direct click model – it’s one of the simplest (and it's the standard model used for non-multi-channel funnels reports in Google Analytics).

However, simple and standard might not be what's best for your business. It's important to consider your attribution model carefully to be sure you're making smart, data-driven marketing decisions about how to spend your budget.

Each of the more popular methods for attribution modeling exists for a reason:


Last Interaction

Often referred to as last-click attribution modeling, last-interaction attribution modeling focuses on the last touchpoint encountered on a customer's conversion path. In other words, the channel directly responsible for getting the sale receives 100% credit.

This is the standard attribution model used in most web analytics tools. However, it is the least logical when you think about a real-life customer's conversion path.

For example, a real-life customer's journey might look something like this:

Social Network > Direct > Organic Search > Referral > Direct

As you can see, the real-life customer encountered multiple touchpoints that created his/her path to conversion.

In last-interaction attribution modeling, the direct channel would get all the credit. Silly, right? Especially when social media, organic search and referral were all involved in influencing the customer to convert.

Use this model only if you have no other attribution models available in your web analytics toolkit. However, with today's technology, the odds of that are slim to none.


Last Non-Direct Click

Last non-direct click attribution, Google Analytics' default model used for non-multi-channel funnels reports, gives full conversion credit to the last campaign prior to the conversion. Meaning, this model excludes direct traffic. So, in the scenario below, all the conversion credit would go to referral:

Social Network > Direct > Organic Search > Referral > Direct

Again, this attribution model seems a bit skewed. Clearly social and organic played a part in influencing the customer to covert. And why omit direct traffic? Why disregard a marketer's ability to deliver brand recognition?

Despite these flaws, last non-direct click attribution modeling has merit. For example, if your business has a super-quick conversion cycle (think online clothing sales), your customers are likely the most convinced (or the least convinced) by the last marketing offer they saw, so adopting last non-direct click attribution could work well for your data-driven marketing.


Last AdWords Click

Considered Google's sweetheart attribution model, last AdWords click attribution should be used to gauge the effectiveness of Google AdWords alone. That's because, regardless of at what point the click occurred on the customer's path to conversion, Google AdWords is given 100% credit.


First Interaction

This model gives all the conversion credit to the first touchpoint. Use first-interaction attribution modeling to determine what channel initially drove a customer to your website but has low conversion rates.

You can also use this attribution model when your brand is new and focused heavily on building awareness in the market. However, even when building a brand from scratch, you should look for ways to optimize landing pages to get more conversions.



Linear attribution modeling seems a bit more logical, as it allocates credit evenly across all touchpoints. This makes sense, because all the touchpoints along the customer journey contributed to the conversion. However, the flaw in this logic is whether all the touchpoints contributed equally.

Therefore, you should only use this attribution model if you're looking to measure overall channel performance as part of your data-driven marketing strategy.


Time Decay

In time decay attribution modeling, more credit is given to the touchpoints closest to the conversion point, but some credit is given to all the preceding touchpoints. Basically, this model uses the idea of exponential decay, assigning more value to the more recent interactions.

Incorporating time into the equation seems like common sense. As marketers, we measure performance over specific periods of time. And if a touchpoint occurred early on, why didn't it convert?

This model is ideal if your business has a long conversion cycle. It also fits when you believe that each touchpoint is important, but that impressions fade over time.


Position Based

If you value both the first impression and the last impression the most, then position-based attribution modeling is for you. This model assigns 40% of the conversion credit to the first and last touchpoint along the customer conversion path and assigns the remaining 20% to all the other touchpoints.

Use position-based attribution when you want to find out which channels bring in the most new customers and which channels convert at higher rates.


Ultimately, what’s important is to understand the reason why you have chosen to use a specific attribution model to assess your digital marketing efforts.

By evaluating your customer conversion cycle and the goals of your business, you can select and employ the right attribution model to allow you to make data-driven digital marketing decisions.


A woman reading a book on Google, signifying a need to research how to overcome SMB digital marketing challenges related to search engine marketing

Challenge #4 - Search Engine Marketing

13% of respondents claimed search engine marketing to be the most difficult aspect of SMB digital marketing.


How to Overcome This Challenge

Search engine marketing increases the visibility of your website in the SERPs. This can be accomplished using organic and/or paid search techniques.

Organic search engine optimization (SEO) takes research, a meticulous attention to detail, persistence, and – above all – patience. (It’s no wonder so many businesses partner with digital marketing agencies for SEO services.)

Common SEO best practices include both on-page and off-page tactics. Longtail keywords, image alt text, and even URL structure come into play with on-page SEO, while backlinks, local listings, and social media pertain to off-page SEO.

Paid search enables you to display ads in the sponsored sections of search engine results pages (SERPs) for a fee. Other than the little “ad” icon next to the URL, these paid placements look nearly identical to organic listings.

To overcome paid search budget challenges, let agency professionals manage your ad spend to try to get you a lower cost per click.

Challenge #3 - Awareness & Engagement

17% of respondents stated that awareness and engagement are major hurdles faced in digital marketing.


How to Overcome This Challenge

There are many methods for building awareness. To start, ensure you’ve segmented your target audience into smaller subgroups based on how they interact with your website and digital marketing campaigns. You can do this with help from Google Analytics.

Next, focus on SEO to improve your website’s rankings in Google’s SERPs. Organic rankings in Google’s SERPs are like free billboards on the information superhighway.

You’ll also want to prioritize engagement on social media. Contests, freebies, discount codes, and polls can garner social media engagement, and partnerships with influencers and other likeminded business and brands can expand your reach.

Last, but certainly not least, run remarketing campaigns to connect with people who previously interacted with your website. This allows you to strategically position your ads in front of these audiences as they browse Google or its partner websites, thus helping to increase awareness and inspire conversions.


A WordPress blog post in editing mode, illustrating that content is one of the top SMB digital marketing challenges

Challenge #2 - Content

19% of SMB owners and marketers who responded cited content as their top digital marketing challenge approached the issue from three unique perspectives: authenticity, frequency, and value.

Rhetorical questions like, “How do you build trust when the internet is littered with scams and exaggerations?” and “Who knows what the right frequency is for posting on social media?” permeated the responses received.


How to Overcome This Challenge

To deliver authenticity in your content, an authentic understanding of your business is required. Survey your staff, industry colleagues, and customers about their perceptions of – and experiences with – your company. Look for recurring themes among their answers. If the themes are generally positive, use them to set the tone for your content. If they are negative, your business likely has underlying cultural or operational issues that should be addressed.

When it comes to content frequency, there is no magic interval. Content quality is more important than content quantity.

However, to keeps things running smoothly, establish a schedule that takes into consideration the times in which your target audience will most likely see and interact with your content – and adjust your schedule accordingly based on how your content performs.

As for value, content about how great your products and services are simply isn’t going to engage people. We typically recommend that 80% of your content educates, informs, or entertains while 20% focuses on promoting your business or brand.

Challenge #1 - Knowledge and Staffing

22% of the SMB owners and marketers who replied to our survey admitted to struggling with knowledge and staffing when it comes to digital marketing.


How to Overcome This Challenge

If you are among the many SMBs struggling to find and hire qualified marketers to fill key roles, there is hope. Hiring an agency partner can close the gap, giving you the ability to execute a cutting-edge marketing strategy. In fact, a full-service digital marketing agency can provide you with support for everything from creative and content to social media management -- and do so in a timely and cost-effective manner.

An agency can get to know your company, your customers, and your goals and objectives (as well as those of your competitors) quickly, because they’re professionals at doing just that. And as for cost, quite frankly, a marketing retainer is typically much less than the salary you would pay one in-house marketing hire. Plus, your company saves money by not having to pay for employee benefits like health insurance and 401k contributions.

With an agency, you also can leverage the knowledge and experience of a whole team of marketing experts vs. one in-house marketing person.

If you need help implementing a strong SMB digital marketing strategy, contact the team at THAT Agency today at 561.832.6262 about our digital marketing services.


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