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Every small business needs a marketing plan as an integral part of its business plan. Including digital tactics in your marketing strategy is standard these days, but with the fast-paced nature of the online world and confusing definitions, it can be difficult to know where to start.

What digital marketing opportunities should small businesses consider using? We asked our online marketing specialist at BlueShore Financial for his thoughts, and, depending on your clients and budget, the following are four he suggests you consider.

Social media marketing

You likely already know social media as a tool companies can use to market their products and services, engage with customers and even provide customer service. But its effectiveness as a free or organic medium is changing.

Organic reach in social channels like Facebook and Twitter has been dropping, in part because of the massive amounts of information flowing through the channels. These days, if you don’t pay to play, your messages will often reach a small fraction of your fans or followers.

The good news is that paid audience-targeting capabilities of social media platforms can be strong with demographic, geographic and interest-based options. Facebook is a great example. You still need to create engaging content to be effective, but with a relatively small investment you can guarantee reach.

Paid search advertising

Search advertising continues to be a good way to help your website show up on the first page of search results, something that can be difficult to achieve organically.

In Google, search ads are the “search results” that appear above and below the organic results on the search engine’s site – they’re currently marked by a little green “Ad” icon. The ads are targeted to match search terms or “keywords” that you identify as important to your product or service, and you only pay when someone clicks on your ad.

While search ads can be used for branding and awareness, they’re more often used to reach people who are actively researching or looking for product or service alternatives and are closer to making a buying decision.

If you’re thinking about using search for the first time, take time to understand how search platforms and keywords work (or hire an expert in this area) and determine how much a click is worth to your business. It’s easy to spend money quickly and on broad keywords that may not be relevant to your business.

Display advertising

Display or banner ads run on a variety of websites and can be targeted by context or topic, by audience characteristics or by being placed on specific websites that your target market may be interested in. They’re arguably best used for branding and awareness, and they can be the first point of contact a potential customer has with your business. Although actual click-through rates can be low, simply seeing the ads can help increase awareness.

As with most things digital, display advertising is ever evolving. Automated (programmatic) ad buying and selling has improved display ad delivery and audience targeting for many marketers. It’s important to note that automated methods are not only used to serve display ads, they are also used in platforms already mentioned such as social media (Facebook) and paid search.

Investment in display advertising is growing. According to IAB Canada, over $1.2 billion was spent on display in Canada in 2015, a 22% increase over the previous year.

Native advertising

Native advertising is a form of paid media where the ad feels very much like the media in which it’s placed. It’s like an ad “in disguise.”Sponsored posts in Facebook and paid search advertising are considered native advertising.

Another form of native advertising is essentially a digital version of the traditional newspaper advertorial. It consists of an article designed and written in the format and style of content found on a publisher’s website. It looks similar to a story written by the publisher, but is disclosed as having been written by the “sponsor.”

Sponsored content can be a very engaging and credible form of advertising, especially when telling a story like introducing a new company or providing valuable content to readers.