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Marketing leads the way as the main spending priority for 45% of digital small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), according to an eBay study.

Small online businesses are set to turn on the taps of investment on this year, with two thirds (66%) set to increase spending. And their top consideration is marketing. Marketing is the main spending priority in 2016 among SMBs, with 45% set to boost marketing expenditure this year. With a quarter of small business owners (25%) claiming to not understand SEO, but three quarters (74%) of the view that social media can drive growth, the opportunity for marketers is clear.

Other investment priorities for small online businesses include expanding their product offer (35%), improving customer service (12%), boosting staff wages (11%) and training or upskilling their workforce (10%).

Nearly two thirds (61%) rate understanding marketing and advertising as important when recruiting. This expertise is more sought after skill than other more traditional capabilities, including accountancy and financial knowledge (50%) and having a degree (26%).

The focus of small businesses on marketing could have a significant impact on the industry. According to the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR), the average spend per SME on marketing is 24,000 per annum.

Gareth Jones, marketing director at eBay UK, said: “At a time when many small businesses are expressing disappointment at the availability of funding, they are still savvy enough to know the ROI that increasing marketing spend can have on their bottom line. This is good news for the industry and the economy more broadly.”

Check out Gareth's five top tips on how to maximise your marketing

1. Use social listening to better understand your customers

Look beyond just your own website and social channels to understand the social experience of your existing and potential customers. What are they saying about you and your product? What are they saying about your competitors? Who are your most loyal and valuable customers? Free social listening tools like Tweetdeck allow even the smallest businesses gain valuable market insight that can then be used to enhance your product offers and operations.

2. Ensure customers bump into your best products

This used to be one of the main challenges with online shopping – if a consumer is not walking through a shop, how does a retailer engage them with their products without bombarding them with emails? Over the last few years fashion retailers have blazed the trail in how to inspire online. From using past searches and purchases to identify a buyer’s style, to online editorial content and lookbooks that engage people and magnify dwell time.

3. Build a database

The classic direct marketing tactics such as emails announcing sales, free shipping and new arrivals all work well; anything that suggests there is a short window of time or a limited amount of stock drives the impulse in consumers. Don’t just leave it to the big players to build up email databases of past customers.

4. Get social-media savvy

It’s no secret that social media is increasingly influencing the way we shop and live. From Facebook and Instagram to Snapchat and Twitter, the opportunities for businesses to communicate with their customers are endless. You can drive customers to your social channels by having links visible on your website and in your customer communications. This is more than a nice-to-have: 75% of Instagrammers for example say that they take action after seeing a post on the platform, so why not start out by posting some snaps of your products? Just remember to use plenty of hashtags so people searching can find you.

5. Mould your site to mobile

Two thirds of people now shop, live and communicate through their smartphone. When designing your mobile site remember to keep it simple: Cut down everything you’ve written again and again. Then keep the site layout simple. This will also speed up the site, as mobile pages load slower than traditional web pages.