The Online Revolution: SMBs Increasingly Reliant on Web Presence to Compete

By Drew Hendricks April 07, 2014

Ten years ago, small business marketing looked considerably different from today’s marketing landscape. The entire practice has since changed with the rise of the Internet.

 Google was born in 1998, nearly 16 years ago. Ten years ago, in February 2004, Zuckerberg launched Facebook. In 2005, Google launched Analytics and YouTube was founded. In 2006, Twitter saw its first tweet. In 2008, Groupon started crowdsourcing the online coupon. In 2012, Pinterest put pictures on an online map. And now, “69 percent of brands have a presence on Pinterest” (Social Media Today). Having a web presence is now essential to small business marketing.

 According to a 2005 study, “2005 was a banner year for the online ad market, with revenues jumping to some $12.5 billion for the year. The number marks a 30 percent increase over online ad spending in 2004, which totaled just over $9.6 billion.” And according to a similar 2014 study, online ad spending in 2013 totaled $44.4 billion.

 Small business marketing was, is, and will continue experiencing this online revolution. However, many marketing fundamentals are unchanged. Offline or on, the majority of popular “old school” marketing methods have evolved into the proverbial Internet Age with grace, ease, and sharp improvements.

 For the sake of reviewing the true essence of effective marketing, take a look at how marketing methods utilized 10 years ago compare to their online counterparts today. Small business marketers may find inspiration in their similarities, and maybe even their differences.

 Phone Books vs. Yelp, Craigslist, Angies List, and All Other Online Local Listings

 Back in the old school days, if you wanted to find a local repair man, where did you turn? Those good old Yellow Pages. But can you remember the last time you actually flipped through a phone book to find information on a local business? Maybe it was eight years ago. Maybe two?

 These days, yellow and white books filled with local contacts are merely anachronisms - de facto antiques washed up from a different era. Now, online local listings are the standard directories for consumers looking to spend. If a business isn’t there, that business is missing out.

Print Ads vs. Digital Display Ads

 Print advertising used to be king. Small businesses could generally rely on newspaper ads, magazine ads, and the like to get their business names visible to potential customers. Now that newspapers are fading along with phone books, and customers are shopping online, small businesses are investing in the online version of traditional print ads - digital display ads.

This is important for small businesses to consider because although digital display ads perform well, many small businesses still haven’t given display ads a try. It’s worth a shot, though. “Display-related advertising revenues in the first half of 2013 totaled $6.1 billion” (Interactive Advertising Bureau).

 Direct Mailers vs. Opt-In Email Marketing

 The connection between these two is straightforward. Both are marketing mail channels; one is offline, one is online.

 Old school direct mail marketing is expensive. At the very least, someone has to design the piece, someone has to print the piece, and someone has to mail the piece. They also have to make a big investment before they know what works and what doesn’t. It can be worth it, but the costs add up quickly. When today’s small businesses need to prospect, build brand loyalty, or make announcements, they usually send the message via email. It’s cheaper and easier than direct mail.

 Of course, email is an invaluable resource, but sometimes direct mail is worth its cost too. “According to the Direct Mail Association (DMA) Factbook for 2013, 65 percent of consumers of all ages have made a purchase as a result of direct mail” (Online Marketing Institute).

 Radio vs. Social Media

 Social media marketing takes after radio advertising. Like radio, social media must engage its “listeners” in order to get people to pay attention to the ads. Both marketing channels do this in similar ways.

Radio engages listeners with call-in-to-win contests. Facebook engages followers with “Like”-us-to-enter sweepstakes. And the same way social media marketers have to offer something valuable to followers, radio producers have to give people a reason to listen to ads.

 New Advances in Marketing

 In addition to timeless marketing methods, other entirely new aspects of marketing have erupted with the online revolution. Small businesses now use online analytics tools, like Google Analytics, to process huge sets of data and optimize their marketing efforts. They also rely on dependable web hosting providers that provide do-it-yourself website management tools, such as,, and And finally, they spend enormous amounts of time disseminating online content in order to attract attention and boost search engine rankings.


The web has certainly changed marketing forever. Luckily, the fundamentals are never lost. As the online revolution in small business marketing continues, marketers can always look back to the old school ways for inspiration in the new Internet Age.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi
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