10 Marketing Terms Every Small Business Owner Needs to Know

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I often find myself explaining the same marketing terms to small business owners time and time again. Marketing lingo can be confusing to the uninitiated and it’s important that small business owners and managers have a basic understanding of some basic terminology. This understanding will help you optimize your current marketing efforts but will also help make things easier when you’re ready to hire a professional. Here are my top 10 most important marketing terms for small business owners.

Marketing Terms #1: Reach

Ranking first in the most important marketing terms for small business owners is reach. Reach is the number of unique individuals who see any given item. This applies to logos, organic social media, paid social media, signage, etc. Any item that can be seen by anyone has a reach. For example, if you sponsor a local marathon with 1,000 participants and they they put your logo at the finish line then the reach of the logo placement is 1,000.

Image of the finish line at the Boston Marathon. There's a large banner over the finish featuring logos of the main sponsors: Adidas and John Hancock.
The finish chute of the Boston Marathon. The logos of the sponsors John Hancock and Adidas are prominently displayed above the finish line.

Outside of digital media (Facebook will give you exact numbers on this), reach is hard to calculate. Using the marathon example above we can assume that the reach is actually more than just the participant number because friends and family may be in attendance. If you assume that each participant has one family member waiting for them at the finish then your reach has doubled to 2,000.

Marketing Terms #2: Impressions

Impressions refer to the number of times a person sees any given item. Similar to reach, it takes into account that a single person may see your item multiple times.

Building off the marathon example again, let’s assume that the dad who is waiting at the finish line for his daughter stands there for 30 minutes waiting on her. He may glance down at his phone to see where she is, glance back up at the finish line, look back down at his phone, look back at the finish line, etc. In this short time your logo has received two impressions because he has seen the logo twice.

This is where calculating can get really dicey. Like reach digital media can give you exact numbers but outside that impressions is difficult to calculate because there’s no way to know exactly how many times someone sees any given item.

You can really calculate how many times the dad sees your logo while he’s standing at the finish line. It depends on how long he stands there. He may see it 10 times, or 100 times.

To further complicate things, a woman may walk up and immediately see her son finish and then leave. She may time her arrival perfectly and only stand there for a few minutes. She may only see your logo twice.

Most of the time, impressions are calculated with a formula using an average. Most companies who sell advertising can provide reach and an impressions estimate for you. More homegrown opportunities such as like sponsorship of a little league team, or the field day at your local elementary school may not come with these numbers. Make sure you ask! If you find yourself trying to come up with this on your own you need to reach out to a professional.

When it comes to building brand awareness impressions may be the most important marketing term for a small business owner to understand. Put more bluntly, impressions are where it’s at! Like everything else, brand awareness and brand recognition comes with practice; the more times that someone comes in contact with your brand the faster they will be able to recall your brand.

Marketing Terms #3: Organic Social Media

Organic social media refers to the free posts you make to your owned social media accounts. Posts to your Facebook feed, Instagram grid, Instagram stories, Tic Tock, LinkedIn, etc. If you didn’t pay for it, it’s considered organic. Because of its free nature, organic social media is often too heavily relied on by small businesses.


Marketing Terms #4: Paid Social Media

Paid social media refers to anything that gets posted to a social media account in exchange for money. This may be something as simple as boosting a Facebook post about your upcoming event or as complicated as a full-blown Facebook ad campaign. If you exchanged dollars for reach and impressions and it shows up on a social media feed it is considered paid social.

You can tell the difference between an organic social media post and a paid post by looking for the word “Sponsored” just below the business name.

Screenshot of a paid Facebook post for Lukemia & Lymphoma Society promoting their team in training program. Image features a swimmer in an open ocean and the text says "Re(solution) Challenge".
Paid social media ads always feature the word “Sponsored” under the organization name and often include a call to action, in this case it’s “Sign Up”

Marketing Terms #5: Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Search Engine Optimization, better known as SEO, is a marketing technique that involves working on the back-end of your business’s website to improve search ranking when someone searches for phrases relevant to your business. It includes things like keyword optimization, page speed, internal linking, backlinks, and sitemaps. SEO can be done on a website wide basis and on individual pages.

SEO is relevant to both local brick and mortar businesses and web-based business but the technique for each is different. SEO is a highly technical process, if you’d like to improve your page ranking it’s best to hire an expert.

Marketing Terms #6: Organic Search

Organic search is what happens when someone searches for keywords related to your business in a search engine such as Google or Bing. These search results are not paid and are based solely on SEO. The better your SEO, the more likely you are to rank higher on the search results page.

Google search result page for the search term "running watches." The first listing is a Google shopping listing for different running watches available for sale online and the first organic search result is for a Runner's World article titled "Best Running Watches 2020".
The Google search results page for the search term “running watch”

In the above image the Runner’s World article titled, “Best Running Watches 2020” is the first organic search result.

Marketing Terms #7: Paid Search

Paid search is exactly how it sounds. Businesses pay to be associated with different keywords through a bidding process, independent of SEO. In the example above, if you own an e-commerce store that sells running watches you want to make sure your business comes up if someone types “running watch” into Google. You BUY the search term from Google in a bidding process with other vendors. Paid search results are always prefaced with the word “Ad” to differentiate them from organic search results.

Often paid search will dominate the first few results on a search page. When I searched “SEO” the results page features FOUR paid search listings before the organic search listings begin. These first few search results encompass premium screen real estate.

Google search result listing for the term "SEO". The search bar and first organic search listing blurred out with only the paid search listings visible. This image helps highlight the paid listings to help the reader understand paid search versus organic search.
The Google search engine results page for the search term “SEO”

It’s not until the fifth listing that the organic search results begin to display and in this example thanks to the prolific ad placement only one organic search listing occurs above the fold (Bonus Term: Above the fold refers the space on a computer screen that is visible before the user starts scrolling.)

The first organic search result for moz.com is near the bottom of the visible screen.

In SEO-world, a business may be happy with ranking second on a Google search engine listing but in this case, the second listing isn’t even visible thanks to the aggressively paid listings. It then requires the user to take another action (scroll) for it to be seen. Womp, womp.

Marketing Terms #8: Conversion

Conversion has somewhat different meanings depending on the context but in general it refers to the moment that someone completes a desired action based on a certain prompt. If you own a brick and mortar business the term conversion refers to the moment a potential customer walks into your store and makes a purchase – it’s the moment a potential customer CONVERTS into a customer.

In website-land it generally means the moment that a website visitor completes the desired call to action. It may be filling out a form, purchasing a product, scheduling a meeting, becoming a lead, etc.

Conversion success can be measured with a number called conversion rate which is simply the number of people who complete the desired action divided by the total number of possible converts.

Marketing Terms #9: Engagement

Engagement is a term common to social media that refers to the action of a user interacting with your brand or a social media post. This may include liking your page, liking a post, clicking a link, commenting on a post, leaving a recommendation, etc.

Engagement is relevant to social media especially because it determines who sees your content. The algorithm uses engagement to decide how much you like a person or brand and if you like a post, comment or click a link it assumes you want to see more content from that person or brand. The more you interact, the more you’ll see the posts. This can be great for small businesses to build brand loyalty BUT it can make reaching new audiences difficult which can lend itself to the “preaching to the choir” syndrome.

Screenshot of organic post performance from a Facebook business page.
This Facebook report can be reached by going to your business page and clicking Insights > Posts.

The account represented in the image above has a little over 1,000 followers, yet each posts is only being delivered to about 25-30% of their followers, these people are the ones who engage with the brand the most. You can increase engagement with tatics like giveaways and posts that encourage comments. Unfortunately, often these are only success with an audience that is already highly engaged, leading to a chicken-and-the-egg scenario.

Engagement isn’t to be confused with engagement marketing, a strategy using ongoing engagement to build long term relationships with customers. According to SingleGrain, “Engagement marketing is the intentional, strategic process of creating engaging content that’s designed to generate meaningful interactions between your brand and your target customer.”

More simply put, engagement marketing is a long term approach to building brand advocates, not just customers.

Marketing Terms #10: Pay-Per-Click (PPC)

Pay-Per-Click, also known as PPC, is a form of digital advertising in which advertisers pay each time someone clicks on their ad. Pay-per-click ads take many forms but the above-mentioned paid search ads are the most common. This can also include display advertising (think banner ads) and paid email marketing.

Snipped of text from an email client that paid email inbox listings
Paid email can be sneaky! These listings show up at the top of the promotions tab in Gmail.

The above screenshot is a great example of pay-per-click email marketing that I found in my Gmail. These ads look identical to native email and can be identified by the green box that says ad before the subject line.

This banner ad found on runnersworld.com is an example of display advertising.

Having a basic understanding of marketing and marketing terms is incredibly important to small business owners. Even if you choose to outsource your marketing to a professional you still need to understand the terms and concepts so you can communicate with your marketing team effectively. You’ll understand what’s going on, and they’ll appreciate that they’re working with a client who takes marketing seriously making your business run more smoothly!

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About Me

Photo of Jon sitting at her desk with her hand under her chin

Joni Buck

Marketing Consultant

I am a freelance marketing consultant who specializes in helping small businesses build successful marketing campaigns. My extensive experience in traditional marketing approaches combined with expert level digital marketing knowledge give small business owners the confidence to execute marketing strategies that drive revenue.

4 thoughts on “10 Marketing Terms Every Small Business Owner Needs to Know”

  1. This is so easy to understand. Thanks for putting it together with easy to follow examples. I wish I had it years ago.

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