By Dustin Heap

It’s no secret that small businesses have a much smaller margin of error than big brands when it comes to their marketing return on investment (ROI). As they say, cash is king, and no cash means you can’t pay bills and keep operations running smoothly during economic downturns or slow growth periods. So instead of wasting marketing dollars, or cutting back altogether, follow these tips to increase your ROI and reduce the stress inherent in the role of a small business owner.

1. Implement Call Tracking

For those who may be unfamiliar with call tracking, let me quickly define it. Call tracking is a software as a service (SAAS) that generates a unique phone number for marketing campaigns in order to ascertain which marketing medium the lead or sale originated from. Online, this is accomplished by placing a small piece of Javascript code on your website that dynamically changes your normal phone number to a trackable number tied to a specific medium.

This can be very effective as you spread your dollars across different channels such as email, paid search, SEO, video and others to drive customers to your website. Rather than allocate dollars across various mediums and blindly hope for leads and sales, implementing call tracking will let you quantitatively evaluate spend allocation decisions. With more accurate conversion data small business owners can then evaluate spend decisions armed with some kind of cost per lead metric that allows them to put money where it most effectively grows the business.

An added benefit of using call tracking is the ability to more properly evaluate third-party vendors such as an SEO agency. Long term marketing initiatives, such as an SEO campaign, can more properly be evaluated throughout the campaign by measuring the ongoing effectiveness of lead generation that otherwise may be lost without call tracking.

Call tracking is generally cost affordable for even small businesses. Usually there is some kind of per number fee in addition to a per minute charge which usually is less than ten cents per minute. This cost is generally nominal, assuming you’re marketing effectively. Implementation is also usually very straightforward. This includes signing up for an account, setting up the specific numbers you want to track and implementing the code on your website. The latter being super easy in some cases where WordPress is used and a simple plug-in and verification code can be used to get the ball rolling.  In the past I’ve had good experiences with the call tracking services provided by Call Rail and Century Interactive.

2. Fully Leverage Analytics

While most small business owners today (hopefully!) have some kind of Analytics installed on their small business website, I found many times that they aren’t leveraging it to the extent that they could be. (I’ve always been of the opinion that unless you run a Fortune 100-type company Google Analytics is sufficient for your needs. Thus, the tips below all use verbiage from Google Analytics.)

For any kind of business that involves shopping capability then ecommerce tracking is a must. Ecommerce tracking implementation can be a bit more involved (hire a developer and point them here if needed), but will give you a plethora of data for your different traffic sources including revenue, transactions, average value, conversion rates and per visit value. The cost of having it properly implemented will easily return itself through smarter online marketing decisions.

Like ecommerce tracking most owners probably have some kind of URL goal set up. Examples may include a contact us page, directions page or a submission form thank you page. Setting up proper goals is the first step in establishing a more accurate assessment of your marketing ROI. Each website will be different so make sure you are tracking the customer action that ultimately grows your specific business.

While I assume most small business owners are already using the two previous methods, there are several other ways to accurately measure the effectives of your spend. While the length of this article doesn’t let me go into details, features such as event tracking, multi channel attribution and Google’s URL builder can all be leveraged by small business owners beyond basic URL goals. With a little bit of reading and application owners can implement and subsequently analyze metrics that will help give a more complete picture of allocated marketing dollars.

3. Offline Integration

While the online tracking capabilities are almost endless in their possibilities, offline advertising can pose a serious challenge to tracking a return on money spent. Regardless of how many impressions the print salesman tells you his weekly flyer gets, unless you’re a savvy marketer you have no idea whether that money is well spent. Using the above tips, call tracking and better usage of Analytics, offline spend can become a valuable part of the marketing mix for a small business.

Using call tracking as an example, a small business owner can easily use their platform of choice to set up a specific phone number for an offline print campaign. By ensuring that this phone number is only used as part of that specific campaign any subsequent phone calls received via that phone number can be tied directly to that spend. With some basic number crunching around cost per lead, conversion rates and average order value owners can determine whether that specific effort is worth continuing in the future.

In similar fashion, owners can leverage offline media by driving potential customers to landing pages built exclusively for that initiative. For example, a print campaign that directs users to a custom landing page such as will show in Analytics how many people actually visit the website and then take certain actions most valuable to the business. Leveraging features such as event tracking and multi channel attribution can help determine if these customers convert long term even if they don’t do so initially. In both examples marketing efforts should ensure that the phone number and landing page (make sure the only way to find the landing page is via the offline material) is exclusive to that campaign. Otherwise, data will be skewed and can potentially lead to wasted marketing spend in the future.

While call tracking, proper usage of analytics and offline integration may seem overwhelming and beyond the capabilities of a small business owner unfamiliar with these methods, with a little bit of effort these tactics can be learned and implemented in a short period of time. Upon doing so the cost effective marketing decisions being made will not only reduce stress but ultimately help grow the business in a tangible way.