The small business online marketing pocket dictionary

19 MINS Team

Online marketing has its own language. As a small business owner, learning all of these terms and what they mean can feel seriously overwhelming.

As you expand your online marketing knowledge, you are likely going to come across terms you haven’t heard before — especially as words that have one meaning in the dictionary may take on a slightly different meaning in the digital world.

Understanding each of these terms is key to creating and managing your company’s marketing plan, as well as the marketing opportunities available to you. To help get you up to speed, we have compiled a list of common online marketing terms relevant to small businesses. 

Customer Acquisition

Acquisition refers to the methods and processes of gaining new customers. In online marketing, acquisition occurs by targeting prospects through a mix of media and technology to attract leads and convert them into customers. 


A prospect is simply a potential customer that hasn’t indicated any interest in buying from you yet. 

The baseline qualification for a prospect is that they fit your target market based on certain criteria and they are authorized to make buying decisions. 


A lead is a prospective buyer. More specifically, in online marketing, a lead refers to a potential customer who has indicated interest in a particular product or service by providing their contact information. 

The term ‘lead’ more accurately refers to the contact information itself, as the contact information is required in order to influence that person closer to a sale.

Cold Leads

A cold lead is someone who belongs to your target market and has the potential to become a customer, but they are not yet familiar with your company. 

They are likely unfamiliar with your business, haven’t expressed interest in buying from you and aren’t expecting you to contact them. In online marketing, a cold lead could be new web traffic to your site, a contact on a purchased list or a member of your digital advertising target audience.

Warm Leads

A warm lead is someone who is already familiar with your company, product or service and has demonstrated interest in some way. Perhaps they have followed your company on social media, signed up for your email list or have made contact through your website. 

Lead Generation

Lead generation is the process of turning a cold lead into a warm lead. It’s comprised of the activities necessary to convert someone who belongs to your target market into someone who has shown interest in your product, service or company. 

In online marketing, you can generate leads using inbound or outbound methods.

Inbound Leads

An inbound lead is one that is attracted to your offer based on their specific challenges or needs. The prospect decides to connect with your business because they found you through an online search and expressed interest. 

To this end, content marketing, SEO and social media can all be considered inbound lead generation tactics.

Outbound Leads

An outbound lead is a prospect you have targeted and reached out to proactively. 

In traditional marketing, outbound leads are generated through cold calls or direct mail. With online marketing, outbound leads can be generated through cold emailing, social media prospecting or digital advertising on platforms such as Google and Facebook. 

Lead Scoring

Lead scoring is a method of ranking leads to determine the likelihood that they’ll buy, otherwise known as sales-readiness. 

It works by assigning points based on how closely the lead fits your target market criteria and the level of interest they have shown according to particular actions they have taken. It may also factor in what stage your lead is in your buying cycle. 

Traditionally, lead scoring focuses on demographic attributes, a contact’s role within a company and outside information. Online marketing takes these factors into account but also focuses on tracking behavioral activity, such as web visits, clicks and email open rates. 

You can use lead scoring to determine if a lead is cold, warm or hot, and use each category to decide what your team should be focusing on from a marketing or sales perspective to help move them closer to a sale. 

Lead Nurturing

Lead nurturing is the process of developing relationships with your potential customers through every step of their journey—from prospect to cold lead to warm lead to buyer. 

In online marketing, the lead nurturing process can be automated through a sales funnel, such as a targeted email campaign that is designed to provide helpful content, answers and reassurance on a pre-planned schedule. The goal of the sales funnel is to meet the lead’s needs and desires at various touchpoints and help them make a decision to buy your product or service. 

Customer Acquisition Cost

Online marketing lowers the barrier between prospects and companies. It offers more potential points of connection, using free tools or relatively low-cost methods compared to traditional advertising. However, there’s still a cost associated with acquiring a customer. 

Whether factoring in ad spend, technology costs or time and labor, there’s a cost associated with acquiring customers that needs to be tracked and contained.

Customer acquisition cost measures the cost of converting a prospect into a lead and that lead into a customer. This metric is important because it not only helps you determine profitability, but it also helps you decide where to concentrate your marketing efforts to gain the most customers with efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

Website Terms 

In online marketing, your company website is the digital real estate you own. It’s there to act as a hub for attracting and converting new customers or encouraging existing customers to buy from you. 

Long gone are the days when a website served as little more than an online brochure. Today, it’s a powerful tool that should be the home base for all of your online marketing efforts. Best of all, your website is something you own and control, no matter what may change in the market. 

Above the Fold

The term ‘above the fold’ harkens back to newspapers, and if you can picture a folded newspaper, its significance becomes apparent. 

The most important and attention-grabbing information goes above the fold in a newspaper to capture the reader’s attention, and the web-equivalent to this concept is ‘before the scroll’.

This is important because you only have seconds to capture a website visitor’s attention, so lead with key headlines, content and value message—before they start scrolling. Even in the age of mobile-first design, optimizing design and messaging above the fold still matters. 

Armando-Cabral website screenshot

Landing Page 

In online marketing, a landing page is a standalone web page where you control a visitor’s website journey. It differs from a website or general web page in that it’s typically created specifically for a targeted digital advertising or marketing campaign, and it has a focused objective or call to action (CTA), such as signing up for an email list, downloading content or buying a product.

Drip landing page screenshot

Website Builder

A website builder is a product that allows you to create a website for your small business without using code or complicated software. 
Most modern website builders are online templated tools provided by web hosting companies. They tend to be user-friendly with simple drag and drop features and intuitive editors. 
Even if you don’t consider yourself tech-savvy, as long as you are comfortable with using the Internet, you’ll be able to put up a starter website for your small business using a website builder. 
Responsive Design

Responsive design refers to an approach to web design that ensures web pages look as they are intended to look on a variety of devices and screen sizes. 
Because you can’t predict what device your customers will use to access your site—and with the majority of today’s web activity occurring using a mobile device—it’s important that you take the necessary steps to make certain your website uses responsive design

Without responsive design, you’ll risk the loss of business, as customers won’t make the extra effort to use a site that doesn’t look or function as it should on their device of choice. 

User Experience

When it comes to your small business website, User Experience (UX) is something to prioritize. UX refers to the interaction your visitors have with your website. The better that experience, the more likely they’ll be to trust your brand, engage further or even buy from you. 
Your website is a marketing tool and is often the first touchpoint for customers to experience your business. Your website visitors and customers should be able to have a meaningful, productive and positive experience with your website in terms of usability and function. 
Web Traffic

Web traffic refers to the number of people who visit your website. The more traffic you drive to your site the better, particularly when the web users are part of your target market. 

It is essential to track web visits and sessions using Google Analytics or a similar analytics tool to gather information about the web users who visit your site. 

By accessing data, such as how much traffic you are getting, which pages are visited most frequently, demographics, the source of your traffic (how they are finding your site) and other behavioral information, your website traffic offers a wealth of information you can use to execute online marketing more effectively. 

Conversion and Conversion Rate

When doing business online, the term conversion refers to what occurs when a website or landing page visitor completes a goal, such as:

  • Filling out a form.
  • Signing up for an email list.
  • Becoming a lead.
  • Making a purchase.

Conversion rate is calculated by factoring the percentage of total web visitors against the number of visitors that completed the desired goal. Your conversion rate is a key metric in determining the effectiveness and profitability of your online marketing efforts. 

Click-Through Rate (CTR)

Your click-through rate (CTR) is the ratio of users who view your website, a landing page, email or digital advertisement to the users who click on a specific link. 

This metric is commonly used to measure the success of online marketing campaigns. Whether you want users to click through to read an article, view your offer or buy, your CTR provides useful information about the effectiveness of various aspects of your campaign. 

Bounce Rate

Bounce rate represents the percentage of web visitors who land on your site and click away quickly rather than continuing to view the page or navigating to other pages within your site. 

Your bounce rate is one of the most important metrics in determining the quality of your web traffic and the effectiveness of your website or landing pages. 


Put simply, a pageview is a visit to a web page on your website. Pageviews account for each time the user visits a page, so if the user navigates around the site and returns to the original page, that is considered an additional pageview. 

Monitoring pageviews helps you determine what pages are popular on your site, so you can optimize them to get the most out of your traffic.

Search Engines 

A search engine is a database that retains and indexes content across the internet. Its system, made up of search bots, enables visitors to search the World Wide Web to find particular information using a search query. Examples of popular search engines include Google, Bing and Yahoo.


A search engine algorithm is a complex formula used to deliver the best possible results for a search query by retrieving data from a search index. 

Search algorithms are used to rank web pages by importance and relevance to ensure the person searching gets the information they are seeking.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) 

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of increasing the quantity and quality of organic, or unpaid, traffic to your website. 

When users enter a keyword relevant to what your business offers into a search engine, such as Google, SEO increases the likelihood that pages on your website will show up within the top results. 

Search Engine Results Page (SERP) 

Once a keyword or phrase query has been entered into a search engine by a user, Search Engine Results Pages (SERP) are the web pages that are displayed by the search engines as results. 

Google serp example

SERP may be quantified as positive or negative on a daily basis as your website visibility grows or declines.

Search Bot 

A search bot crawls the web to index content for search engines such as Google. They are critical to how search engines identify and index new content so it shows up in search results. 

Search bots read meta tags, meta descriptions and HTML page content, and prioritize crawling sites that regularly publish new content. 


PageRank is a specific algorithm Google uses to rank web pages according to relevance in their search engine results. It’s a proprietary way of measuring the importance of individual website pages. 
It works by counting links, using the underlying assumption that the most important web pages for any given topic or keywords are more likely to be linked to by other websites. 
Fun fact: PageRank is named after one of Google’s co-founders, Larry Page. 

Pay Per Click (PPC) 

Pay Per Click (PPC) is a type of online marketing that requires advertisers to pay a fee each time someone clicks on one of their ads. 

Whereas SEO is a way of attracting visits organically, PPC is a way of buying visits to your website. 

Search engine advertising, such as Google Ads, is a popular PPC method that allows advertisers to bid for ad placement among a search engine’s sponsored links. When you search Google for a keyword phrase, the sponsored results show up above the organic listings.

Google PPC example screenshot

Cost Per Click (CPC) 

When running PPC campaigns, cost per click (CPC) refers to the price advertisers pay each time someone clicks on their advertisement. Each click represents a web page visit. 

The actual cost per click is based on a formula that factors in your competitor ad rank, your maximum bid and your quality score. So when you are running PPC campaigns, it’s important to pay close attention to your CPC and work to optimize it.

General Marketing Terms 

Online or internet marketing is the practice of leveraging digital channels to spread messages about your company’s products and services to attract and convert potential customers. 

Unique Selling Proposition (USP)
A unique selling proposition (USP) is a marketing concept that refers to the benefits of choosing your company, products or services over a competitor. It’s the niche that makes you different and sets you apart from your competition in a way that is meaningful to your customers. 

Successful brands have a USP. Marketing campaigns should feature the  USP for every unique offer. Ultimately, a USP is what gives a customer a specific reason to buy from you.

Call to Action (CTA) 
A call to action (CTA) is a statement, demand or request designed to prompt a particular response. 
All of your marketing should include strong, clear, singular CTAs with the goal of getting your prospect, lead or customer to take action. 

Galerie LA website screenshot

Your CTA should always be the next step you want the person to take — sign up, download, share, call, register or buy. You’ll get the best results by keeping your CTAs simple, direct and action-oriented.

Email Marketing 

Email marketing is a form of online marketing that uses email as a channel of communication. 

Email marketing can be as simple as sending a newsletter consistently, but it also gives you the opportunity to segment lists and send highly personalized messages using strategic timing and automated campaigns to your benefit.

Mifland email list example screenshot

Every email you send to a potential or existing customer can be considered email marketing. However, an email marketing strategy that includes regularly engaging with leads and customers, can be one of the most effective customer acquisition strategies for SMBs. 


A funnel is a way to describe the customer journey with your business from the first introduction to the moment they make a purchase or desired call to action.

Nurture Funnel or Marketing Funnel

A nurture funnel or marketing funnel is a system where you strategically develop and strengthen relationships with customers through every stage of the customer’s journey. 

The nurture or marketing funnel focuses on listening to your prospects’ needs and providing information that’ll help them get to know, like and trust you, so they can make an informed decision and then decide to do business with you. 

Sales Funnel 

A sales funnel is a system that seeks to convert marketing leads that you have nurtured into buyers. If you think of a cone-shaped funnel, the marketing funnel is the widest end that captures leads, and the sales funnel is the narrowest end. 

In truth, the terms marketing funnel and sales funnel can be used interchangeably, but it can be helpful to think of the marketing funnel as the stage in which you are creating awareness and building interest and the sales funnel as the stage at which a sense of urgency is generated and a buying decision is made.  

Marketing Automation
Marketing automation is the process of using software to automate some of your marketing activities, such as email marketing, posting on social media and ad campaigns. 
The goal of marketing automation isn’t just to make your marketing more efficient but to leverage technology to provide a more personalized experience for your leads and customers based on their preferences and behaviors. 


An autoresponder is an email or series of emails that you write, develop and set up to send automatically based on certain criteria often triggered by a user’s actions. 

You can create sequences and queue autoresponders to trigger when a user submits a form, clicks a link, opens an email, visits a web page, abandons a shopping cart, purchases a product and more. 

A/B Testing
The process of A/B testing in marketing refers to setting up a randomized experiment using two variants—option A and option B. 
For example, many email marketing or marketing automation tools will allow you to A/B test your subject lines to optimize for open rates. This means it will send out batches of emails with subject line A or B and track which one gets the most opens, ultimately sending more emails in the campaign using the higher-performing subject line.

Content Marketing Terms 

Content marketing is a strategy that focuses on creating, publishing and distributing content for a targeted audience of prospective customers online. 

It involves sharing material relevant to the products or services you offer in the form of blogs, social media posts, videos, case studies, white papers, ebooks, audio and more. 

The purpose of content marketing is to raise awareness, stimulate interest in your products and services, enhance your brand, raise your visibility and increase your credibility. 

Content marketing is also a key component in a successful SEO strategy as websites with quality content tend to be favored by search engine algorithms.

Dynamic Content

Dynamic content, also known as adaptive content, is online content that changes automatically in response to a user’s preferences, behavior and interests. 

The goal of dynamic content is to provide a personalized, engaging and satisfying user experience for your prospects, leads and customers. 

Examples of dynamic content include: 

  • When a website highlights a product you have viewed before.
  • Events targeting you based on the geographic region where you are located.
  • Suggested content based on past videos or blog posts you have viewed. 

Content Calendar

A content calendar, or editorial calendar, is a calendar-based structure that can help you plan your content marketing strategy and execute it efficiently. 

By using a calendar to plan your content, you can decide what content to publish, in what order and the steps to accomplish before that content can be created and shared. 

By using a content calendar strategically, you can map out what topics to cover over a specified course of time, aligning it with your overall marketing and promotional schedule and taking into account seasons, sales, launches and other relevant factors.

Evergreen Content

Your content marketing strategy should incorporate timely or newsworthy content, but it should also include evergreen content. Evergreen content is always relevant or applicable for your readers and does not become dated. 

Publishing evergreen content is useful to you as a small business owner because it can help deliver traffic to your website, establish strong search engine ranking longevity and become exponentially valuable over time.

The longer the content ranks high, the more likely people will visit, engage and link back to it, ultimately strengthening SEO even more. 


The term blog refers to an online journal of information on a particular subject. The main purpose of having a blog for your small business is to connect your company with your relevant audience of potential buyers and customers. 

A blog enables you to become a useful resource for people researching your products, service and industry, raising your company’s visibility and establishing your authority. 

Mahogany books blog screenshot

Blogging for business also helps you boost your web traffic and attract quality leads to your website. Search engines favor websites that are regularly updated with quality blog content, increasing the chances for your website to get discovered by your target audience. 

If you include a strong call to action on your blog, you’ll also be able to convert more website traffic into high-quality leads.


A podcast is a series of pre-recorded audio episodes, typically focused on a particular theme or topic. You can think of a podcast as a talk-radio show that can be accessed on-demand. Typically, podcasts are free and available through platforms, such as Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts and Spotify. 

If produced strategically, podcasts can be an effective form of content marketing. By having a podcast on a topic relevant to your business, you can create awareness for your brand, establish authority in your industry and attract interest from potential customers. 

Customer Experience

Customer experience (CX) refers to the experience customers have when interacting with your brand. 

When it comes to online or digital customer experience, your job as a small business owner is to understand how your customers are interacting with your company online. This knowledge will serve to identify opportunities to enhance their experience, develop content to strengthen emotional connections and proactively address problems.  

Improving your CX can lead to higher sales and greater brand loyalty. 

Buyer Persona

A buyer persona is a representation or avatar of your ideal customer based on the data you have on existing customers and market research

Crafting accurate buyer personas is essential for effective online marketing because the more you know about who you are targeting, the more personalized customer experience you can create. 

Using detailed buyer personas can help you attract the best web visitors, leads and customers to your business. Additionally, it allows you to shape your marketing strategy based on the persona’s demographics, behavior patterns and motivations. 

Metrics and Analytics

Marketing metrics are values used to measure and demonstrate the performance and effectiveness of your marketing campaigns. They help with analyzing and managing the performance of your marketing activities to optimize return on investment and maximize results. 

The better you understand and track your marketing numbers, the more effective and efficient your marketing efforts can be. 

Key Performance Indicator (KPI)

Online marketing key performance indicators (KPIs) are the specific marketing metrics that your small business can track to measure progress towards the goals you have defined within each of your marketing channels. 

Examples of KPIs include website traffic-to-lead ratio, conversion rates, sales revenue, cost per lead and customer churn rate. 

Using KPIs to keep an eye on success and failure in your online marketing is critical for any small business growth strategy. 

Churn Rate

Customer churn rate is the percentage of customers you lose during a given time period. It could refer to customers who cancel a contract or subscription, chose not to renew their contract or continue to buy from you. 

It’s a pivotal metric for any small business that relies on customers to pay on a recurring basis, using a retainer, membership or subscription-based model. 

Keep in mind that your daily, weekly and monthly churn rate shouldn’t outpace your customer acquisition rate.

Overall, online marketing offers a wealth of opportunities for small business owners. There is definitely a learning curve, but the good news is, once you become familiar with the terminology, you’ll be able to identify what strategies and tactics work for your SMB. 

Image Credits

Feature Image: Unsplash / Pisit Heng 
All screenshots taken by author, October 2019.
Image 1: via Profitwell
Image 2: via Armando Cabral
Image 3: via Drip
Image 4, 5: via Google SERPs
Image 6: via Galerie LA
Image 7: via Mifland
Image 8: via Mahogany Books

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