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SME Digital Marketing Trends in the UK in 2019

SME Digital Marketing Trends in the UK in 2019

We wanted to find out more about what SME’s thought of digital marketing (not just SEO) and so we launched a survey to find out. We posted the survey in a range of platforms where we thought we’d get the best response. This included LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and by using our network of fellow business professionals. None of our clients were used in this survey for obvious reasons. We got a good response to the survey and so we thank everyone who completed this for us. You can read the results below.


1.1 Introduction

Back in November 2018, we asked over 20 UK based SMEs how they approached their digital marketing. We were particularly interested in comparing the effectiveness of digital marketing and traditional offline methods, as well as discovering the kind of returns smaller businesses are getting and if their investment was worth the spend.

We also wanted to explore the digital marketing tools and approaches smaller businesses were using and which of these had the greatest impact. We asked business what they believed were the advantages of promoting their business online, as well as the potential drawbacks.

1.2 Key findings

  • SMEs prefer online: nearly 80% of SMEs are doing all their marketing online with only 14% using offline methods. 10% did a bit of both. 71% of business owners we asked said that online marketing was essential to the success of their business. Only 19% didn’t believe it was
  • Better ROI is the main draw: Our survey suggests smaller businesses are using digital marketing because they get a good return on their investment (over 70% agree with this). As a proportion of total annual revenue, just over a quarter of  SMEs (28%) said online marketing contributed between 30% and 50% of their annual income, while 10% said it contributed up to 100%. The average spend on marketing ranged from £500-£5000 a year for smaller businesses, with the vast majority spent on online methods;
  • Social media is king: The most popular online marketing method for smaller businesses is social media, with over 80% of respondents using platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to market their businesses. SEO is also increasingly popular, with 60% using optimisation methods, followed by Content Marketing (52%), E-mail Marketing (47%), Social Media Advertising (42%) Search Engine Marketing (33%);
  • SEO gets results: SEO produced the best results according to a third of small businesses, followed by Social Media Marketing (19%) and Content/In-bound Marketing. The least effective forms of digital marketing are Search Engine Marketing which includes Pay-Per-Click and Google Adwords, Social Media Advertising and E-mail marketing;
  • DIY all the way: 62% of SMEs do their own digital marketing with only 14% outsourcing it. 24% did a bit of both;
  • Digital marketing is cost effective:  When compared to traditional marketing, nearly 50% of SME’s chose digital marketing because it is less expensive. 38% said they saw quicker results and 38% said they were able to be more targeted. 33% said they felt they had more control over their marketing and 19% said it was easier to measure success;
  • Time factor is a challenge: Some companies found Digital Marketing challenging. 48% said they felt it was too time consuming. 20% said they struggled to keep up with the speed of technological change and the myriad of tools required to do digital marketing effectively and measure success. 14% were not sure if it was actually helping the business. Digital Marketing Jargon and the security risk were other factors and a small minority (5%) felt it was too extensive.

1.3 Conclusions

The proliferation of online channels to market has opened up a host of opportunities for smaller businesses. Digital marketing has not only made ‘marketing’ more affordable, it is delivering a more substantial return on investment, as well as opening up new international markets that were once out of reach.

Of course this isn’t unique to small companies. The digital marketing space has grown exponentially for businesses and organisations of all sizes, as consumers and stakeholders continue to seek information, products and services online. However, the online effect has been particularly beneficial to SMEs, because it has enabled smaller businesses to compete with larger competitors on a relatively level playing field.

Social media has become the king of internet marketing—it is cheap, relatively easy to pick up and opens up a unique two way channel of communication between supplier and consumer. However, according to the businesses we asked, when it comes to getting the best bang for your buck, SEO delivers. Though trickier to master, SEO is a must have in the marketing tool box for businesses wishing to improve their online visibility and boost their search ranking. Again, it doesn’t have to be expensive, but does require a degree of long term maintenance.

The beauty of digital marketing for many smaller companies is you can do the basics yourself, not only the activities, but also setting your own Key Performance Indicators and measuring  success—this level of control and self-determination is a real draw for businesses of all sizes and this sentiment is clearly reflected by the people who took our survey.

However, our research also revealed some obvious drawbacks. Some of our respondents were worried about the time commitment required. The internet’s insatiable appetite for new content puts a time burden on many smaller companies who do not have the time resource. The sophistication of the digital marketing toolbox and the speed at which these techniques and tools are evolving, is also a concern for SME’s who struggle to keep up with the pace of change.

Despite these difficulties, in 2019 we will see digital marketing continue to grow. Mobile will take centre stage as the preferred channel to market for many consumer facing businesses, and we will no doubt see leading social media channels offer a more sophisticated marketing toolbox for the promotion of products and services through their channels. For smaller businesses, automation will help negate the time resource issue, with a host of new tools and widgets to help managers deliver sophisticated campaigns while keeping their marketing channels filled with regular, engaging content.


  1. What does your business do?

SME’s from a variety of sectors took our survey. These included:

  • Software development
  • Publishing
  • Marketing
  • Furniture manufacturers
  • Design studios
  • Management Consultancies
  • Property Management
  • Travel & Tourism
  1. Do you sell products/services through your website?
  • Yes (47%)
  • No (42%)
  • Other (10%)
  1. Do you do most of your marketing online or offline?
  • Online (76%)
  • Offline (14%)
  • Both equally (10%)
  1. If you do online marketing, what activities do you focus on?
  • Search Engine Optimisation (62%)
  • Search Engine Marketing (33%)
  • Social Media Marketing (81%)
  • Social Media Advertising (42%)
  • Content/In-bound marketing (53%)
  • E-mail Marketing (48%)
  1. What forms of online marketing has been most successful?
  • Search Engine Optimisation (33%)
  • Search Engine Marketing (5%)
  • Social Media Marketing (19%)
  • Social Media Advertising (5%)
  • Content/In-bound marketing (19%)
  • E-mail Marketing (10%)
  1. How much do you spend a year on marketing as a whole?
  • 500-1000 (38%)
  • 1000-5000 (38%)
  • 5000-10000 (5%)
  • More than 10K (14%)
  1. How much do you spend a year on digital marketing?
  • Less than 500 (24%)
  • 500-1000 (33%)
  • 1000-5000 (33%)
  • 5000-10000 (5%)
  • More than 10K (5%)
  1. Do you do your own online marketing or do you do it yourself?
  • We do it ourselves (62%)
  • We outsource it (14%)
  • A bit of both (23.81%)
  1. Is online marketing essential for the success of your business?
  • Yes (71%)
  • No (19%)
  • Other (10%)
  1. Are you seeing a good return on your investment from your online marketing?
  • Yes (71%)
  • No (24%)
  • Other (5%)
  1. As a proportion of your total annual revenue, how much does online marketing contribute?
  • Less than 5%
  • 5-10%
  • 10-20%
  • 20-30%
  • 30-40%
  • 40-50%
  • 50-60%
  • 60-70%
  • 70-80%
  • 80-90%
  • 90-100%
  1. What do you find most challenging about online marketing?
  • It’s too expensive (5%)
  • I don’t have time to do it properly (48%)
  • Too much jargon (5%)
  • It’s too complex (14%)
  • I can’t tell if its helping my business (14%)
  • The technology is moving too fast (19%)
  • Too much of a security risk (10%)
  • Other (19%)
  1. What are the main benefits of online marketing?
  • It’s less expensive than traditional marketing (47%)
  • It’s less time consuming (14%)
  • It gives me more control (33%)
  • I get results quicker (38%)
  • I can be more targeted with my marketing messages (38%)
  • It’s easier to measure success (19%)
  • Other (5%)

Reposted with permission by the author

Published: March 5, 2019

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Caroline Phillips

Dr. Caroline Phillips is a SEO consultant in Edinburgh, Scotland and owns Alba SEO Services. She has been in the industry for over 5 years and writes for various publications. Her interests lie in technical aspects of SEO and in research. Follow @seoalba on Twitter.

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