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How to avoid wasting your money on marketing

Simple and Easy Digital Marketing Basics for Small Businesses

Republished from International Bowling Owners Magazine

By Jeff Slutsky

Many small businesses spend thousands of dollars on digital advertising with nothing to show for it. Nationally digital advertising has grown to $129.35 billion, outpacing traditional advertising for the first time.   The digital marketing landscape is rapidly changing and can be confusing.  To help you get a handle on where and where not to spend your digital ad dollars, here is a basic overview of the different types of digital advertising.

The Big Six Digital Marketing Outlets.

You have a variety of ways to get your message through digital media. The main six seem to fall into these:

  1. Search engine optimization (SEO)

  2. Search engine marketing (SEM)

  3. Social Media Marketing (SMM)

  4. Email Marketing

  5. Content Marketing

  6. Affiliate Marketing


Search engine optimization (SEO)

SEO is “The Process of optimizing your website to ‘rank’ higher in search engine results pages, therefore increasing the amount of organic (or free) traffic that your website receives.”  - HUBSPOT.  The primary goal of SEO marketing is to drive potential customers to your website.  When I do a Google search for “Bowling in Kansas City” the first three names that appear are Ward Parkway Lanes, AMF Pro Bowl Lanes, and Pinstripes.  When it comes to an online search, if your bowling center is not listed on the first screen (page), and preferably in the top three, you are nonexistent.  The content and format of your website determine how the search engine ranks you.  When I narrow my search to “Bowling in Overland Park” (a suburb of Kansas City) I see Pinstripes listed first, followed by AMF College Lanes and then Park Lanes Family Fun Center.  So, the narrower you structure your keyword phrases toward your business, the more you’re likely to rank higher. 

Search engine marketing (SEM)

Since Google and Bing don’t make any money off you with an organic search, they would much prefer that you buy a higher placement.  That’s called search engine marketing (SEM). You take your keyword or phrase and bid on how much you’re willing to pay every time someone clicks your listing. This is referred to as Pay Per Click or PPC.  The good news is that you pay nothing unless someone clicks.  The bad news is finding the best key phrases is a challenge. 

For example, consider a bowling center located in Gahanna, Ohio, a suburb of Columbus.  Some of the search terms you to consider bidding on might include:

Bowling Gahanna Ohio • Bowling Alley Gahanna, Ohio  • Bowling Columbus Ohio • Bowling Alley Columbus Ohio •  Bowling Alleys near me • Bowling near me • Bowling birthday party  • bowling party  • Pins Gahanna


There are many more. It could end up costing you a small fortune before you start seeing real, measurable results.  Think of the keywords/phrases that seem to make sense.  Test them to see which shows better results.   


To help you choose the right keywords, check out “Keywords Everywhere” (  Keywords Everywhere pulls the "People Also Search For" and "Related" keywords from Google and shows them to you with the volume metrics right inside Google's search page.  Another resource is Yoast SEO (  They offer a free version you can experiment with. 


Social Media Marketing (SMM)

Social Media Marketing (SMM) involves both organic (free) and paid marketing.  SMM utilizes social networking websites as a marketing tool. The goal of SMM is to produce content that users will share with their social network to help a company increase brand exposure and broaden customer reach. 

According to Margaret Rouse of, “One of the key components of SMM is social media optimization (SMO), like search engine optimization (SEO), is developing a strategy for drawing new and unique visitors to a website. SMO can be done two ways: adding social media links to content, such as RSS feeds and sharing buttons -- or promoting activity through social media by updating statuses, tweets, or blog posts.”


Email Marketing

Using an email management service like Constant Contact or Mail Chimp, you can send email messages to your customers from your email list. Since you own your list, you control what segment of your list receives which message and how often. You can also hire email services that use rented lists (like using direct mail service) but in my experience, the results seldom justify the expense.  Yet, if a broker has a legitimate email list of regular “bowlers” who live in key zip codes, it might be worth a test. 

Content Marketing

This is when you create content (articles) that you submit to other sources for posting. The content must be something of value to the reader or it won’t get posted. When posted there’s an opportunity to direct the reader back to your website, but it’s not an overt or obvious advertisement.  This can be very effective but generally is used by major companies and organizations with teams of full-time experts.  It takes a lot of time and special journalistic skills to make this work. For an independent bowling center or small chain, it might just be too costly and time-consuming. 

Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate Marketing

Pat Flynn of Smart Passive Income describes affiliate marketing as, “the process of earning a commission by promoting other people’s (or company’s) products.”  There are thousands of companies and individuals who have created a platform (blog, website, twitter feed, etc.) with thousands or even millions of followers. These independent contractors are paid to direct those loyal followers to a company’s website.  They are paid by the number of “click thru’s” they generate for that company. The cost per click (CPC) is negotiated. It’s probably not a good way to go for most smaller businesses unless you find a small affiliate with just the right following at a reasonable price. 

Street Fighter Action Plan

  1.  Check out the rankings of your bowling center’s website for a variety of keywords and key phrases.  Combine what you do: “bowling,” with your geography: “city,” or “community.”  Include some special services: “leagues,” “open bowling” or “parties,” etc.  Run these through Keywords Everywhere or Yoast to see how viable they are for your operation. 

  2. Review your website to improve your potential ranking during a search. You can probably find a local tech nerd or student that can help you with this, without spending a ton of money.

  3. Test several paid searches.  Start with Google Advertising (formally Google Adwords). Take no more than three key phrases. See what the current bids are (per click) and place some bids.  Set a small budget; no more than a few hundred dollars or less.  Review the results of your effort via Google’s Analytics which is provided.  Google provides you a report that shows the number of impressions (people who were exposed to your ad).  These are free.  How many clicks you got (and paid for) and when you got them. 

    1. When creating your ad include a call to action. Provide a special offer or more info.  The click takes them to a “landing page” within your website. By having them go to a specific sub-page for that special offer, you’ll know that you got that lead or sale from your Google test.  It can be measured and tracked to discover your “return on marketing investment” (ROMI).

  4. Review your email list. If you don’t have one, start.  Begin keeping your list clean and current. Categorize your list so you can identify the special interest of the customer.  This way you won’t blast the entire list for an idea or announcement.  Rather, you customize the outbound email to the specific needs and interests of the group of customers.  Information about leagues only goes to those who are in a league or have expressed interest in joining one.  Bowling party offers might go to just those who are having a birthday in the next couple of weeks.  Sales on balls won’t go to anyone who already purchased a ball in the past six months.  Those customers get an offer on shoes. 

  5. Ease into it. Digital Marketing is new, growing and constantly changing. Don’t stop your existing marketing efforts that provide proven results. Don’t let digital replace the traditional, but rather, enhance it.   

  6. Do regular posts to your business social media accounts. This is free. Perhaps once a week is enough.  Just the basics: Facebook, Twitter, etc. Better yet, get your customers to post to their social media accounts with all the great fun they’re having at your bowling center. 

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