2018 Small Business Marketing Trends Report

Chapter  1 :


Small business owners have a lot on their plates. Most are forced to cover every aspect of their business, from hiring and firing to sales, and everything in between. This leaves little time to dig into the nitty gritty of digital marketing. As they work just to fit marketing into their busy schedules, they’re left struggling to understand what’s been working and what hasn’t.

Some aspects of digital marketing are under-utilized, and other aspects aren’t used effectively. While they know, for example, that social media plays a big part in the future of small business, most are unable to connect their efforts on social to success.This is the third year we’ve conducted our annual Small Business Marketing Trends Report, and with three years of data, we are starting to see even more clearly the trajectory small business owners are headed in digital marketing. And while it’s clear small business owners (SBO’s) are embracing digital marketing to some extent, it’s also clear that it remains largely a mystery—a mystery they need to solve quickly—before technology leaves them stranded and out-competed.

This year, we spoke with marketing leaders and top brands including:

  • Zapier A workflow automation tool that integrates with hundreds of apps to automate tasks and boost productivity.

  • Mari Smith Often referred to as “the Queen of Facebook,” Mari Smith is one of the world’s foremost experts on Facebook marketing. She is a Forbes’ perennial Top Social Media Power Influencer, author of The New Relationship Marketing and coauthor of Facebook Marketing: An Hour A Day.

  • Sujan Patel With more than 13 years of internet marketing experience, he has led the digital marketing strategy for companies like Salesforce, Mint, Intuit and many other Fortune 500-caliber companies.

  • Brian Anderson News Editor, Demand Gen Report & Marketing ID

  • And more

They helped us interpret the data and forecast the 2018 landscape, offering valuable insights on where small businesses need to line up for 2018.

Don't have time to read this now?

Chapter  2 :

Executive summary


In October 2017, Keap surveyed a panel of 1,000 self-identified small business owners from across the United States via an online questionnaire they accessed with a mobile device. Respondents were not necessarily customers of Keap, and the survey did not identify Keap as a sponsor.

We asked these small business owners a slate of ten questions, including a screening question to identify small business ownership. Throughout this report, we report on their answers with charts. While not all respondents answered all questions, we received at least 1,000 responses for each question.

Executive Summary

  • The digital world continues to leave some small businesses in the dust. One in seven (15 percent) don’t plan to use digital marketing in 2018.
  • Small business owners don’t have the time or resources for marketing. Most small businesses reported that their greatest challenge is getting a break from the fray long enough for marketing.
  • Digital marketing success remains elusive to most small business owners. Forty-six percent are unsure their marketing strategies work, 17 percent know they aren’t working.
  • 2018 is the year of social media marketing. Seventy-one percent of small businesses plan to use social media content in their quest to acquire clients.
  • Facebook is overwhelmingly the social media platform of choice for small businesses. Seventy-five percent of small business owners will include Facebook in their social media strategy.
  • Gaining and keeping customers remain the top marketing goals. Nearly one out of every three (31 percent) small business owners said driving sales was their top goal for 2018, and fully one in four (25 percent) said they’ll prioritize retaining or re-engaging the clients they already have.
  • Small business owners plan to budget more for the strategies they wish to implement. The top aspects of digital marketing SBOs plan to budget more for in 2018 are social media management (38 percent), SEO and digital ads (30 percent), and website analytics (24 percent).
  • Yet, more than a quarter of Small business owners will try to get by in 2018 without increasing their spend on digital marketing. Twenty-eight percent reported that they won’t be spending more this year on digital marketing, as compared to only 15 percent who reported that they won’t be using digital marketing at all.

Chapter  3 :

Survey results


Growing the business remains the number one goal small business owners most want to achieve. As in prior years, nearly one third (31 percent) identified driving sales as the top marketing goal for 2018, followed by a quarter (25 percent) of small businesses calling out retaining and re-engaging clients.

Figure 1. What’s your top marketing goal for 2018?

Notably, only 8 percent intend to gain efficiency or cost savings as their top marketing goal. Considering some of the challenges they face—including (as we’ll see below) the fact that the top struggle for small business owners is finding time and resources to do marketing—this goal ranked relatively low.

We’ve asked small business owners this question for three consecutive years, and the goal of driving sales has remained at the top every year—even when we added other options or phrased the question differently.

Figure 2. Driving Sales remains the top marketing goal


Small business owners report that the biggest challenge they face is finding time and resources to allocate to digital marketing. More than a fifth of small business owners (21 percent) identified this as their top challenge. This may not come as much of a surprise to small business owners reading this report, especially given that in our 2017 Small Business Marketing Trends Report we found that nearly half (49 percent) of small business owners report handling the marketing for their business.

Figure 3. Of the following options, which is the biggest challenge you’ll face in 2018?

While finding time and resources is a major challenge to most small business owners, nearly as many also report that their top struggle is funnel-related. Digital marketing is time consuming in its own right, but 19 percent report their biggest challenge is converting their leads into paying clients.

Figure 4. The challenge of finding time and resources for marketing continues to rise

Nonetheless, more business owners than ever are reporting their biggest challenge in marketing is finding time and resources. We’ve seen this answer continue to rise over the three years we’ve conducted our survey.

Perhaps this trend relates to the fact that nearly half of small business owners still don't know if their marketing is effective. This could relate to the fact that small businesses don’t know how to measure the effectiveness of their marketing efforts. While small businesses spend a lot of energy marketing their business, we found that almost half of small business owners (46 percent) are unsure that their efforts actually pay off.

Figure 5. Are your marketing efforts effective?

This, too, has remained the top answer for the past three years, indicating that small businesses continue to struggle with connecting their digital marketing strategy to strong analytics that can reveal return on investment.

Figure 6. Confidence in marketing efforts, past three years

We’re finding that confidence in marketing efforts has remained flat overall, whereas businesses reporting that they’re unsure has ticked downwards. Perhaps somewhat alarming is that the rate businesses know their efforts are not working has ticked upwards.

Digital marketing tactics and tools

Small business owners understand the power of social media in their marketing. Overwhelmingly, social media is the number one digital marketing tactic they use now and will use in the coming year. On top of that, social media is the number one strategy they plan to budget more for in 2018.

When asked which strategies small businesses currently use, social media management emerged as top answer with almost half (49 percent) using social.

Figure 7. Which types of tools do you use in your marketing?

Fewer than 25 percent of respondents are using important tools that can help them follow up on leads (a major component of converting leads into clients), like CRM and marketing automation.

When asked which tactics they plan to employ in 2018, nearly three quarters (74 percent) of businesses stated they plan to use social media. This is by far the top tactic small business owners will be using this year.

Figure 8. What kind of marketing tactics do you plan to use in 2018?

Digital advertising and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) are tied for second place at 41 percent, indicating that small business owners understand that both paid and organic tactics are necessities in a successful digital marketing strategy.

Notably, email marketing slipped from 44 percent as a key tactic in 2017 to 38 percent in 2018. While small business owners seem to be less confident in this area, experts continue to predict that email is one of the more powerful tactics businesses should consider (see Trends section below), especially when implementing a lead follow up strategy.

When asked on which tactics they plan to spend more, small businesses again indicated social media. In addition, 30 percent plan to spend more on SEO and digital ads in the coming year. This high ranking performance-based tactic reveals a hunger for understanding how digital marketing can perform toward the overall goals of small businesses.

Figure 9. Which marketing tactics do you plan to budget more for in 2018?

Many small businesses expect to be able to find low-cost or free software solutions to help them get ahead in 2018. A large percentage of small businesses won’t be increasing their budgets for digital marketing this year (28 percent).

While there are a number of tools available, this approach can lead to challenges with managing client and lead data across a number of platforms. CRM software is the most valuable tool that can help make sense of a complicated tech stack. More than one in five small businesses (21 percent) plan to up their investment in CRM for 2018.

Figure 10. What does your company do to collect contact information from leads?

As in prior years, small businesses rely primarily on in-person or phone interactions to collect contact information from their leads. While personalized interaction is clearly important here, fewer than a third of businesses use digital marketing tactics like email opt-ins or downloadable content to collect contact information from their leads. These tactics—in conjunction with CRM and marketing automation—can provide the personalized automated follow up that a small business owner needs to convert more leads to clients while simultaneously saving time.

Social media marketing strategies

Small businesses have shown a strong bent toward social media marketing. Looking closer at how they’re using social media, it was clear that social media is the centerpiece of small business digital marketing. Over the last three years, this has not only been the top answer, but has risen as the top client acquisition tactic for more and more small businesses.

Figure 11. What kind of content does your company create to help get clients?

Of course, multichannel digital marketing can have a powerful impact on any marketing strategy, and small businesses by and large are missing out on the potential of video. Just over a quarter of respondents (27 percent) use video to get clients. Video (as Mari Smith and others talk about in our Trends section below) is paramount a social media marketing strategy heading into 2018.

Figure 12. Which social media platforms does your business regularly use?

Three-quarters of small businesses (75 percent) have one thing in common: they all regularly use Facebook for their business. While Facebook has been criticised for stifling organic tactics on the platform, Facebook rewards businesses who use the platform the right way, and who are willing pay.

Figure 13. Gaining clients via social posting is on the rise

Apart from Facebook, other social platforms are underutilized. Less than half of respondents use any other social media platform regularly for their business. In fact, despite the reality that YouTube happens to be the second largest search engine behind Google, only about one in five small businesses (21 percent) are active on that platform.

Chapter  5 :


Most small business owners aren’t sure that their marketing efforts are working or are certain they aren’t. This has remained top answer for the past three years. This is likely because SBO’s are, by and large, underutilizing tools like CRM and marketing automation. In fact, looking closely at those who responded that they will be using marketing automation in 2018, only 4 percent of them indicated that their top goal for the year is to retain or reengage customers. Often thought of as enterprise level solutions, small business owners may not realize that CRM and marketing automation tools like Keap are available to small businesses. These are the tools that provide insight into marketing effectiveness and save time with automating follow up.

The vast majority of small businesses regularly use Facebook as well as a variety of other social media platforms in their business, but they are likely not treating this activity like the rest of their marketing and aren’t able to tie their efforts to their goals of growing sales and customer retention and reengagement. The best strategy for social media in 2018 will be to integrate these activities to other areas of their marketing strategy and optimize follow up on interactions on social media.

Of course, with small business owners lacking time and resources to adequately address marketing in their business, efficiency becomes the de facto priority for businesses that want to find success in marketing. This begins with a clear, measurable plan and to implement software tools that can help them meet their goals and which include analytics and reporting capabilities to help them execute effectively.

Chapter  6 :

About the author

Author, Ben Snedeker

Ben Snedeker

Ben Snedeker holds a MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College. In his prior life, he was a freelance writer working days at MIT as a grant manager. A perennial tinkerer, when he’s not in the office, he can’t help but tend his bonsai trees, edit other people’s writing, and make sure his kids clear their plates before they leave the table.

Don't have time to read this now?

Subscribe to our newsletter

Thank you for subscribing!

Hello, have a question? Let's chat.

Got it