Role in SMEs’ Cost Reduction and Profit Maximization through Lead Generation

Salford Business School

Digital marketing’s (SEO and SMM) Role in SMEs’ Cost Reduction and Profit Maximization through Lead Generation

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A dissertation is submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements of the University of Salford for the degree of MSc in Marketing

January 2023

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Digital marketing’s (SEO and SMM) Role in SMEs’ Cost Reduction and Profit Maximization through Lead Generation


Digital marketing is the future of traditional marketing due to the emergence of the internet and the growing number of social media users. Also, COVID-19 increased the dependence of businesses and consumers on the internet to sell and buy, get informed, and communicate. Besides, SMEs constitute a significant part of the United States economy, similar to other countries. Hence, their growth and profitability are crucial to maintaining. One aspect is the digital marketing tools to improve revenues, reduce costs, generate leads, and develop businesses because SMEs have limited financial and intellectual resources. Accordingly, qualitative research was conducted due to limitations like time and financial and accessibility resources. A systematic literature review was done in which articles related to digital marketing tools based on inclusion and exclusion criteria were chosen and evaluated using thematic analysis. Key themes were identified and assessed using literature. It was concluded that SEO and SMM are cost-effective and efficient tools because they rank SME websites, attract consumers to websites and enhance traffic, communicate with the audience about the products and services, and co-create value through UGC. The medium facilitates an increase in revenues, reducing costs, expanding business, and helping compete with the rivals by optimizing and sustaining the operations.


Digital marketing, search engine optimization (SEO), social media marketing (SMM), internet marketing, microvlogging, blogging, keywords, social media, social networking sites, user-generated content, value co-creation, consumer-brand commitment

Table of Contents

Abstract 2

Table of Contents 3

Introduction 5

Background 7

Motivation for the research 8

Research questions 10

Structure of the research 10

Literature Review 11

Introduction 11

Problem Statement & Purpose Statement 11

Literature Synopsis & the Relevance to the Problem 11

Brief Summary of the Major Points 12

The secondary data research method 12

SEO and SMM as SMEs tools 12

European SMEs experience in using SEO and SMM 13

The future of digital marketing 15

Customer loyalty via digital marketing 16

The current state of digital marketing 16

The significant challenges in strategies implementation 17

Best traffic and quality lead generation 17

Methodology 18

Introduction 18

Research Methods 19

Review Articles 20

Results 23

Scoping Review 23

Objectives 23

Inclusion Criteria 24

Population 24

Concept 24

Context 25

Search Strategy 25

Presentation of Results & Discussion 27

Systematic Review 27

Data Extraction from the Sources 28

Analytical Themes 28

Suitability of digital marketing channels to the SMEs 28

Challenges in accepting digital marketing channels to the SMEs 29

Lead Generation 30

Options for effective lead generation for SMEs 31

Conclusion 32

References 33

Appendices 38

Appendix A. Ethics Form 38

Appendix B. Dissertation Mark Sheet 46

Appendix C. Plagiarism Statement 47













  1. Introduction
    • Background of the Study

Modern consumer culture and pervasive digital technology have ushered in an era in which information may travel freely across borders. Consumers are instantly aware of developments on the other side of the planet. Competitiveness and the ability to adjust to such shifts are becoming pressing concerns for businesses. Digital marketing uses digital media and technology to reach, engage, and convert online audiences into paying consumers. To put it another way, digital marketing may be defined as tracking the success of promotional efforts. With the data collected from these metrics in hand, future advertising endeavors may be fine-tuned with more precision and efficiency (engl & Eren, 2016).

To advertise goods and services, digital marketers take advantage of online and mobile platforms. SEO, content marketing, email marketing, social media marketing, PPC, affiliate marketing, and many more strategies fall under its umbrella (Burghate, 2018). The ability to connect with consumers whenever and wherever they may be is a significant perk of digital marketing. The data collected from digital platforms allow for more specific and individualized marketing strategies. SEO, or search engine optimization, is indispensable for every digital marketer. Improving a website’s visibility in search engine results pages (SERPs) requires changing the site’s structure and content (Terrance, Shrivastava & Kumari, 2017).

Many methods exist for SEO, such as conducting keyword research and analysis, making original content, and constructing inbound links. Attracting and keeping the target audience, content marketers produce and disseminate material that consistently meets their needs. Blog entries, videos, infographics, social media updates, and other formats are part of the material for content marketing. Content marketing aims to increase brand recognition and revenue by informing and entertaining consumers (Giomelakis & Veglis, 2016).

Moreover, digital marketing would be incomplete without email marketing. Email marketing is promoting a business’s goods or services via the electronic distribution of tailored emails to a list of subscribers to increase the latter’s interest and, ultimately, the number of sales made (Desai, 2019). Brands and businesses may be promoted using social media marketing (SMM) on sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. Several strategies are employedto achieve this goal, such as the production and dissemination of exciting content, the dissemination of promotional material, and the formation of a loyal fan base. As more consumers turn to their computers and mobile devices to research, this tactic has grown in significance for SMEs (Tuten & Solomon, 2017). Digital marketing offers several advantages for SMEs. It frequently costs less than conventional advertising tactics, making it economical. Also, with data and analytics, businesses can better understand their customers and craft ads that speak directly to them on a personal level. With digital marketing, businesses can reach more people than ever before, and they can monitor the success of their initiatives in real-time (Yasmin, Tasneem & Fatema, 2015). Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising is putting up adverts on search engines or other websites and earning cash every time a person clicks on the ad. It might be a helpful strategy to attract visitors and ultimately convert them into buyers (Kapoor, Dwivedi, & Piercy, 2016). In affiliate marketing, one promotes another business’s goods or services on the website or social media in exchange for a cut of the revenue from any new customers or leads brought in by the promoted business (Bala & Verma, 2018). In sum, the field of digital marketing is complex and ever-evolving. Reaching and retaining clients needs a systematic and data-driven strategy. The correct combination of strategies and tools may help businesses establish a solid online presence and expand (Mangi & Di Domenico, 2022).

Growing internet and social media users are a critical factor in the rise of digital marketing’s significance. For instance, there were over 307.2 million internet users in the United States as of January 2022 (Dixon, 2022). Additionally, there were close to 270 million active social media users at the time. Nearly 90% of all U.S. internet users accessed the web through mobile devices in Q3 2021 (Statista, 2022).

Figure 1: Number of Users on Internet and Social Media

Source: Dixon (2022)

Furthermore, in 2022, 67% of Americans used social media. In addition, 59% of the population has used a social media platform that allows users to upload, share, and view multimedia content. In 2021, TikTok had 90 million users, second only to Instagram’s 64 million (Statista, 2022). For example, many Twitter users seek brand and product information via the microblogging service. However, it is also used for various other purposes, including providing entertainment, collaborating on creating content, and fostering social connections. Marketers employ SEO and SMM to reach customers, educate them about their products, encourage them to make a purchase, and increase website traffic. They want to accomplish several goals using targeted marketing, including expanding their client base, cutting expenses, and maximizing earnings (Krishnaprabha & Tarunika, 2020).

1.2. Problem Statement

Various studies have been conducted on SMEs. However, there is a gap in the existing studies. Most studies consider digital marketing a broad subject relative to SMEs. There was no specific focus on SEO and SMM based on the advantages they offered to them. For example,Brzakovic, Brzakovic, Karabasevic, and Popovic (2021) provided insight into the importance of digital marketing for SMEs. The authors stated that the internet and the growth of social media have changed the way of marketing brands or products and services. Today, brands use digital marketing to promote items or services. They take advantage of low-cost digital marketing tools. However, the main reasons why some brands still cannot use new tools in the digital era include a lack of knowledge of new tools and low educational background. Another study byRatnadianti, Fahmi, and Hannan (2020) revealed digital marketing strategies, such as designing attractive packaging, providing nutritional values, identifying appropriate prices, selecting feasible promotional media, etc. However, the authors did not specify any content and strategy related to SEO and SMM. Also, Ratnadianti et al. (2020) stated that content marketing, storytelling, and electronic word of mouth (WOM) have a low impact on reliability. In addition, content marketing has a medium-strong effect on responsiveness, but storytelling and eWOM have strong influences. The studies did not explicitly identify the digital marketing tools involving SEO and SMM in the context of SMEs. Hence, the current study aimed to fill the gap by focusing specifically on SEO and SMM.


  • Research Objectives
  • To systematically collect and analyze data through a systematic literature review to understand the features that influence marketers to use SEO and SMM for marketing their brands, products, and services in US SMEs.
  • To comprehensively synthesize the advantages (lead generation for revenue growth and business development) of digital marketing tools, such as SEO and SMM, for US SMEs.
  • To indicate the resistance to using SEO and SMM by US SMEs.


  • Research Questions
  • What is the importance of digital marketing for US SMEs in the competitive business environment?
  • Which features influence marketers to use SEO and SMM for marketing their brands, products, and services?
  • What are the advantages (lead generation for revenue growth and business development) of digital marketing tools, such as SEO and SMM, for US SMEs?
  • What factors influence US SMEs marketers’ resistance to using SEO and SMM?


  • Significance of the Study

The study will be helpful for various stakeholders. For example, marketers could use the research content to develop digital marketing strategies to promote their brands, generate leads, and grow the business. They will be able to understand how important it is to use digital marketing tools, such as SEO and SMM, in today’s technological era in which consumers are tech freaks, especially younger consumers, and in the period of disasters like COVID-19. Marketers can use new tools while consumers have shifted to e-commerce and digital media to get informed and make purchases. The study will also be helpful for the researchers. They can use this study to indicate gaps and work on them to expand their understanding of the concepts related to the topic and explore it further. Companies can also use this study to train their employees from marketing departments to increase brand awareness and equity. Also, they could use the paper’s content to communicate the importance of digital marketing to the stakeholders and provide employees with training to optimize the promotional aspect. The students can also use the study to increase their knowledge about digital marketing, especially SEO and SMM.



  • Structure of the Study

Introduction: The introduction section of the paper includes the background of the study, the problem statement, the significance of the study, objectives, questions, and the report’s structure.

Literature Review: This section of the paper involved critical themes from secondary sources, including books, journal articles, and reports on digital marketing and its tools like SEO and SMM. The themes would include the advantages of SMM and SEO for the marketers and features that motivate the marketers to use digital marketing techniques.

Methodology:This section integrates the research design, data collection, research instrument, and research procedure and analysis.

Results and discussion:The results and discussion section of the paper will include the outcomes generated from data collection and analysis. In turn, the discussion will be made using secondary data.

Conclusion: The last section will involve a conclusion based on the data evaluation with recommendations for the companies regarding using SEO and SMM as marketing tactics.

  • Literature Review
    • Small and Medium Enterprises and Digital Marketing

Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are typically smaller than large enterprises. The definition of a small or medium-sized enterprise can vary depending on the country. Still, generally, SMEs are usually identified with specific features. These features include the number of employees, annual revenue, or total assets. SMEs play a vital role in many economies, as they often make up a large percentage of businesses and can contribute significantly to employment, innovation, and economic growth. However, SMEs can face challenges such as limited access to capital and resources, making it difficult for them to compete with larger enterprises. Governments and other organizations often implement policies and programs to support the growth and development of SMEs (Suroso & Rafinda, 2021).

According to the U.S. Small Business Association, small firms (defined as those with 500 or fewer workers) account for 99.9 percent of all U.S. enterprises and 95.7 percent of organizations with paid employees (SBA). Compared to the 7.9 million jobs created by large corporations, the 12.7 million new employment opportunities created by small enterprises accounted for 62% of the total. A 2019 Small Business Administration study found that small businesses were responsible for 44% of U.S. economic activity (Rowinski, 2022). Small businesses are the backbone of the American economy and the orderly functioning of the American workforce. Additional employment, as well as new lines of work and new avenues for advancement, are produced by small enterprises. Profitable local businesses reinvest their payroll and tax revenues into the community, benefiting everyone by funding new local businesses and improving public amenities (Aswani et al., 2018).

Moreover, small enterprises are more adaptable to economic volatility since they can better focus on the needs of their customers. In 2021, the number of new enterprises in the United States trying to recruit people has hit historic highs, with around 1.4 million applications submitted by September and almost 400,000 in the same period in 2019. When large companies face difficult conditions leading to layoffs, opportunities arise for small firms (Rowinski, 2022).

Digital marketing, as described earlier, is taken as the set of approaches for companies to communicate with customers via digital tools to enable them to have access to their products and services. Relative to this aspect, the companies create platforms or use one or more than one innovation methodologies that strategically assist them over the internet (Angeloni & Rossi, 2021).

It specified that existing purchasing and cooperation procedures between companies have significantly altered because of the emergence of new digital tools. Nevertheless, they still utilize advertising approaches and communication messages with traditional marketing components. For example, companies like Google have increased their search ranges, providing a competitive edge to attract customers without investing extensive capital in sales and display tactics (Teece, 2010).

SMSs are the countries’ central systems but usually have limited financial, intellectual, and strategic resources (Kharuddin, Ashhari & Nassir, 2010). Traditional advertising, such as TV ads, needs heavy investments. Accordingly, companies usually prefer the new tools based on cost-effectiveness. Digital marketing, involving social media, is a cost-effective and easy method to promote brands (Durmaz & Efendioglu, 2016).

The Technology Acceptance Model (TAM) states that people embrace technologies based on their perceived utility and simplicity. An individual’s perception of the technology’s utility is the degree to which they feel it will aid them in accomplishing their goals, and their perception of the technology’s ease of use is the degree to which they believe its usage is accessible. The TAM may be used in several contexts within digital marketing. For example, to boost the number of people who end up using their website or mobile app, organizations may utilize TAM to learn how those people feel about its usefulness and ease of use. In addition, the benefits and characteristics of a product or service may be emphasized in digital advertising campaigns, and clear and simple instructions for usage can be provided, all of which contribute to an increased perception of the product’s or service’s utility and simplicity of use (Alqasa and Afaneh, 2022).

It has been shown that small company owners account for 99 percent of all United States employers, and 92 percent of these companies view having a website as a good form of digital promotion. However, over half of all small firms (47%) spend less than $10,000 annually on digital marketing (, 2022). In addition, 67% of businesses of any size use some social media platform. Twenty-five percent of small businesses report that social media is their most effective digital marketing technique, followed by their websites (20%) and online advertisements (18%). Not even a majority of businesses (6%) credit video advertising with helping them succeed. Email marketing is still used by over half of all companies (48%), while SEO and content marketing are helpful to 6% of all businesses (PR Newswire, 2022).


  • Digital Marketing

Traditional marketing is linked to campaigns executed through more time-honored mediums like newspapers, radio, television, and billboards. Marketing done through these means is generally referred to as “outbound” since it is aimed at a broad audience rather than a specific target demographic. The widespread use of cutting-edge technology and the internet’s continual connectedness are defining features of the modern digital era. They have had far-reaching effects on consumers’ habits and preferences. The proliferation of informational resources has led to a more well-informed user base (Opreana & Vinerean, 2015). According to Reyes-Menendez, Saura, and Filipe (2020), individuals today seek information independently, create content (commonly referred to as user-generated content, or UGC), and distribute it generously on social media, hence fostering contact and collaboration between otherwise unknown users. Digital marketers must also remember the importance of electronic word of mouth (e-WoM) (Saura, Reyes-Menendez & Palos-Sanchez, 2019). These developments highlight the necessity of adapting conventional marketing communication methods to the digital environment to achieve the same level of success as previous methods.

There is a particular flow of consumers and customers in digital marketing through various internet marketing interactions. Search engines, social media, advertising platforms, and analytics tools are some ways digital marketing stands out (Halligan & Shah, 2014). One of the most common measures used to evaluate the success of internet marketing efforts is the degree to which a website or online resource is visible in various communication channels, such as search engines (Weideman, 2006) and social networks (Krstic, 2019). Digital marketing’s methodological tools are decided by several interconnected information flows (Berdyshev, 2010). The tools and techniques of digital marketing interact with one another, affecting the flow of customers. The following characteristics define this process:

  • Traditional marketing is seen as lacking in some areas, while online marketing fills those gaps. Through the internet, marketing elements that were formerly only accessible on paper may now be accessed in digital form (Kapustina & Mosunov, 2015).
  • The proliferation of digital marketing tools has created the opportunity for media outlets to tailor their advertising to specific demographic subsets (Halligan & Shah, 2014). It requires getting in touch with particular segments of the market, whose needs are better met by micro- and small-scale enterprises than by corporations of medium- and large-scale (Levinson, 2007).
  • Interaction processes define modern marketing (Bagiev, 2009). Internet marketing strategies complement one another and increase their potency. Consequently, the number of communication channels determines how effectively content is distributed in the inbound marketing process.The number of communication channels employed and their connections determine how effectively content is distributed (Halligan & Shah 2014).

Digital inbound marketing is the marketing efforts that use the internet and digital channels to attract and engage with customers. This approach is often known as “inbound” marketing because it involves attracting customers to the business through content (SEO) and other tactics that pull people toward the company (Opreana & Vinerean, 2015).

Figure 2: Traditional vs. Digital Inbound Marketing

Digital Marketing Inbound Digital Marketing
Basic Interruption Organic
Focus Finding Customers Getting found by potential, existing, and aspirational consumers
Aim Increased Sales Creating long-lasting relationships by reaching and converting qualified customers
Target Large Audiences Interested Prospects
Tactics Print and TV advertisement, outdoors advertising, cold calling, trade shows, email lists Blogs, ebooks, SEO, infographics, social media marketing

Source: Opreana and Vinerean (2015)

There are several key differences between conventional and online inbound marketing:

  • Reach:Conventional marketing channels have a broad reach and can effectively reach a large audience. However, digital inbound marketing can be more targeted, as businesses can use data and analytics to identify and reach specific groups of potential customers (Opreana & Vinerean, 2015).
  • Interactivity:Traditional marketing channels are typically one-way, with the business sending a message to the audience. Digital inbound marketing allows for more interactivity, as customers can engage with the company and its content through comments, reviews, and social media (Opreana & Vinerean, 2015).
  • Measuring effectiveness: It can be challenging to assess the feasibility of traditional marketing campaigns, as there is often no direct way to track the impact of a print ad or billboard. Digital inbound marketing, on the other hand, enables companies to keep checks and balances and measure the performance of their campaigns through tools such as web analytics and conversion tracking (Opreana & Vinerean, 2015).

Cost:Traditional marketing can be expensive, especially for small businesses, as it often requires a significant investment in advertising space or airtime. Digital inbound marketing can be more cost-effective, as companies can reach their target audience through content and other tactics that are often less expensive than traditional advertising.


2.3 Search Engine Optimization

SEO, or search engine optimization, increases a website’s traffic from organic searches by modifying the site’s ranking in the search engines’ results pages (SERPs). Four parts comprise SEO categories: keyword/keyphrase research and selection; persuading search engines to index the site; on-page optimization; and off-page optimization. In addition to these methods, businesses invest in website optimization to increase the likelihood that visitors will stick around long enough to purchase or learn more about a product or service (Patil Swati, Pawar & Patil Ajay, 2013). While many SMEs need to be made aware of the value of SEO, those who do may gain a competitive edge. There is no assurance that SEO will result in a sale. No one can guarantee a deal merely because a customer clicks on an ad and is sent to a website. With SEO, businesses may engage SEO specialists to assist them in finding the right keywords to use on their site to improve their organic SERP placement. SEO to boost organic search rankings is viewed as more successful than sponsored links or other forms of paid search marketing (Hussien, 2014).

Many SMEs start by incorporating SEO analysis tools into their websites. SEO facilitates user discovery of their website. Thus, SEO helps people locate the website using critical keywords or terms. Tool for analyzing SEO performance also helps SMEs find relevant visitors. As part of an inbound marketing strategy, this method makes it simple to connect with clients precisely when they’re looking for company offerings. Avoiding annoying practices like cold calling and emailing, as well as interruptive ads, is considerably easier with inbound marketing tools like SEO (Ratnadianti et al., 2020). By optimizing for search, a company may cut down on wasteful spending. Website traffic is affected by the quality and quantity of the material published on the site, but this traffic continues even after the content has been uploaded. When it comes to advertising, SEO and public relations are not two separate but equal processes. A combination of the two is possible. Although SEO and public relations marketing are distinct strategies, they often work best when used together. The content is king, but it also links SEO and public relations. Professionals in the SEO industry may improve their public relations by expanding their sphere of influence. With the aid of SEO, businesses may get a leg up on the competition with compelling content and blog promotion (Aswani et al., 2018; Wahba & Barhoom, 2019).

Conducting a keyword search is one of the marketing strategies for SMEs. A keyword planner for a keyword search might be helpful for businesses. Potentially better search engine rankings can now be achieved. Google’s keyword planner is a valuable tool for discovering related search terms. As a result, companies may see historical search traffic trends and statistics of various categories. Keywords can be selected based on price ranges and bids. Results must be refined based on location, time, and other criteria. SMEs whose primary focus is the introduction of new products or services should seek new keywords and compare the volume and projections to those phrases. Companies may learn more about the possible advantages of keywords by looking at the average monthly searches and the work (Aswani et al., 2018).

The SMEs improve the website’s search engine rankings through on-page optimization. In this way, increasing the on-page SEO will increase indexing and visibility for more of the website’s pages. If SMEs want more and better traffic to their sites and higher search engine results, they need to focus on optimizing individual pages. They ensure the title tag is between 50 and 60 characters long (including spaces), has companies’ keywords in the beginning, and ends with the brand. The largest font size of the words on the page is used for the title. The title includes the intended keywords, but it must be truthful about what is included (Rahu et al., 2016). Second, search engine rankings may be affected by adjusting the URL format of a website. Hence, experts use the URL’s search bar to look for the terms they want. Also, images are added with alt text tailored to keywords or content titles. Google and other search engines care deeply about their consumers and do everything they can to keep them from looking elsewhere. As a result, Google prioritizes websites with a faster loading time in search engine results. SMEs who want to increase search engine rankings ensure their pages load quickly. Among the off-page strategies is a push to get more backlinks or links from other sites. Backlinks benefit SMEs with limited resources since they increase a website’s search engine rankings without spending much money (Patel & Gaharwar, 2018).


2.4 Social Media Marketing

Social media is a catch-all term for a group of websites and online applications built on the principles and infrastructure of “Web 2.0” to make it easier to create and share user-generated content online (Kaplan & Haenlein, 2010, p. 61). By offering the mechanisms for user interaction, content generation, and distribution, Web 2.0 provides the backbone that gives social media its strength (Berthon, Pitt, Plangger, & Shapiro, 2012). When addressing virtual communities, the phrases “social media” and “social networks” are sometimes used interchangeably. But these are two entirely different concepts. Social networking refers to connecting with others using social media (Alalwan, Rana, Dwivedi, & Algharabat, 2017). From the many definitions of SMM, it can be inferred that it is a kind of interactive marketing that leverages social media as a two-way connection with consumers to generate sales. In the end, it raises customer engagement and promotes brand recognition. Furthermore, social media facilitates communication, content distribution, and user participation (Chang, Yu, & Lu, 2015). User thoughts or views (Chi, 2011; Dwivedi, Kapoor, & Chen, 2015), attitudes (such as satisfaction; Sano, 2014), and behaviors (such as WOM, purchase intention, and loyalty) are all things that social media marketing (SMM) aims to address (Kim & Ko, 2010, 2012).

Chen (2019), Chen and Lin (2019), and Kim (2010, 2012) presented a definition of SMM activities as successful marketing communication strategies that target engaged customers’ views and comprehension of activities on SMM along five dimensions. The five dimensions are entertainment, interactivity, trending styles, individualization, and WOM. Entertainment on social media is linked to creating content (such as games, video sharing, and contests) that users find amusing and cheerful (Agichtein et al.: Bilgin, 2018). Customer interest in and commitment to a brand and desire to make purchases are all boosted by positive, memorable experiences (Dessart, Veloutsou, & Morgan-Thomas, 2015). More and more research supports the premise that amusing material may successfully increase consumer-brand interactions and enhance customers’ brand loyalty (Godey et al., 2016; Moro and Rita, 2018; Yoshida et al., 2018; Kamboj, Sarmah, Gupta & Dwivedi, 2018).

One way to boost a product’s popularity is through a process known as “customization,” which involves making adjustments to suit better the intended buyers’ preferences (Seo & Park, 2018). For instance, marketers may now address specific demographics and interests in their advertising owing to advances in social media platforms. Simultaneously, companies may keep an open line of contact with their consumers (Miller & Lammas, 2010), which can lead to significant new channels of interaction and increased client loyalty (Kim & Ko, 2012).

Through the usage of social media, both brands and customers may engage in two-way contact with one another (Cheung, Pires & Rosenberger, 2020). In addition, by hosting discussion boards where users can share and discuss brand-related material, businesses may strengthen bonds with their clientele and increase the likelihood that their target audience will have a favorable impression of the company (Dessart et al., 2015). According to Godey et al. (2016), social media brand sites may get customers talking about the company’s background, qualities, and advantages with their networks. They also give a channel for consumers to offer input on how the business might better satisfy their needs. Several researchers, including Algharabat et al. (2020), Kamboj, Sarmah, Gupta & Dwivedi, 2018), and Seo and Park (2018), have claimed that this type of customer involvement may strengthen the consumer-brand bond and result in beneficial value exchanges.

The process of making and spreading eWOM is quite conversational. An example of eWOM is when people talk about a product or service online, whether they love it or hate it (Hennig-Thurau, Hofacker & Bloching, 2004). More and more customers are turning to e-WOM by searching for product reviews on various social media websites. Given that it is based on the honest accounts of actual customers, it is safe to assume that it is accurate (Cheung et al., 2020). Positive attitudinal intention among customers can be influenced through eWOM, as confirmed by research by Kudeshia and Kumar (2017).

Finally, trendiness refers to how well a brand shares information that is both relevant and timely (i.e., current “hot subjects”) (Naaman et al., 2011). Social media brand sites may be more successful in arousing consumers’ curiosity about a business with the more up-to-date and timely information they provide (Dessart et al., 2015; Liu, 2020). Thus, companies often update their social media brand pages with information about discounts, new items, and other changes to make their brands more familiar to customers (Kim & Ko, 2010).

2.5 Advantages of Using SEO and SMM (Lead Generation and Business Development) for SMEs

One driver that motivates SMEs to use keyword searches is the higher position on SERPs. Websites have become more critical to the success of many businesses today. Results suggest that a higher position on a SERP correlates with a greater likelihood of a person visiting a website (Wolters, Heindorf, Kirchhoff, 2017). Wolters et al. (2017) reported that 36% of users believe they have a more favorable impression of a company because it appears at the top of a search engine results page. Marketers may save money with SEO since organic advertisements reach their target audience for free. SEO’s ability to deliver constant, real-time insights into customer internet behavior is also essential. As a result, SEO is something that must be done consistently. When a company depends on traditional marketing approaches, it must wait months to analyze the results or anticipate how customers will behave. SEO, on the other hand, offers real-time monitoring of customers’ online activity. Markets may benefit from SEO as it helps them achieve higher search engine rankings for their desired keywords (Yang & Ghose, 2010). One of the most significant benefits SEO provides from site enhancement is increased exposure at all times. A site’s ranking will improve daily (Almukhtar, Mahmoodd & Kareem, 2021).

Further, to lessen server strain and load times, a marketer might load pages faster, search engine spiders are happier, and more visitors stick around because of the code validation and file optimization. The primary advantage of SEO services is increased revenue. Customers may easily navigate the site. High volumes of visitors may be attracted to brand sites because they can easily navigate (Almukhtar et al., 2021). Hence, SEO improves a website’s organic search engine results to increase its visibility, traffic, and conversion rates to generate more business (Zhang & Cabage, 2016).

In addition, because of the rise of digital technology, businesses that want to make the most of digital marketing and expand their customer base should focus on maximizing their presence on social media. Sales, orders, and traffic all affect how successful a company is. In terms of direct effects on revenue, social media only increases website visits. However, social media marketplaces’ characteristics vary according to the complexity, price, and reputation of the things being sold. As a result, social media provides wiggle room to boost website traffic and establish a company’s bottom line. Therefore, social media convinces its users to become brand followers.

Similarly, the success may be gauged by the number of visitors who come back to the website of a brand, the number of new visitors, the number of visitors who come from organic search, the number of visitors who come from social media, and the number of visitors who come through search (Bala & Verma, 2018). How many pages are seen during a given visit is a good proxy for the traffic volume. In particular, social media provides a gateway to online traffic since it enables marketers to generate website connections through their social media accounts, directing the consumer to their catalog (Ahmad, Musa & Harun, 2016). Due to the accessibility of company catalogs, buyers may avoid intermediaries and go straight to the source.

Additionally, visitors can take their time perusing the websites’ content. As a result, increased sales and income result from a successful online marketing strategy and high levels of website visitors. Blogs, videos, and other product-related content are also promoted on social networking sites. Hence, many businesses have begun to only market and sell their wares on these channels to reach the vast audience that uses these platforms. Online activity can be observed as a result of social media. Web traffic may be acquired via social media using paid, free, or blended approaches (Patel & Patel, 2014). A buyer can purchase or get in touch with the business owner directly through Facebook ads or other social media platforms. A marketer’s second option is to construct and optimize a website to attract customers via social media. Marketers may boost their social media ad revenue earnings by luring social media users to their sites (Bilgin, 2018).

Usability and accessibility are two significant drivers of SMEs’ social media use as a marketing tool. The ease of use of social media is becoming a central consideration for this technology. Usability is the degree to which a system conforms to users’ expectations about how the system will be used to accomplish a task. SMEs can quickly develop social media pages and communicate with customers by sending messages related to rand, getting valuable feedback, increase brand awareness and equity (Aswani, Kar, Ilavarasan & Dwivedi, 2018). Similarly, consumers are highly accessible to social media sites, and no expert-level knowledge is needed to grasp information. They are accessible and learnable, making them easy and enticing for the end user (Godey et al., 2016). Due to its low entry barrier and scalability, social media marketing is within reach of even the smallest businesses. Social media networks such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter may effectively reach a large audience and narrow it down to a specific subset. On top of that, SMEs may utilize social media to expand their brand’s reach, interact with consumers, and advertise their products and services through original content. However, to reach their objectives, small businesses must have a clear plan and consistent content creation and distribution (Bilgin, 2018; Aswani et al., 2018; Godey et al., 2016).

Ads posted by businesses on social media platforms typically include clickable links to company websites where interested customers may learn more about the advertised goods (Zuhdi et al., 2019). The purpose of social media is to facilitate communication between consumers and the online catalog store. Therefore, more people coming to the website means more purchases and profit. A high rate of visitors is indicative of a popular website, but it is also linked to marketing spending like SEO and PR integration with social media marketing. Justifying the possible effect of social networks on many businesses’ popularity requires some knowledge of SEO. Companies need to optimize search engines on their websites to have them on the top searchers (Zuhdi et al., 2019). Therefore, social media and SEO go hand in hand to increase website visits. Table 1 shows the main drivers of digital marketing (SEO and SMM) with the challenges and mitigation strategies.

Table 1: Drivers, Challenges, and Mitigation Strategies in adopting Digital Marketing (SEO and SMM)

  Drivers Challenges Mitigation Strategies
Digital Marketing Reaching more people is faster and easier than ever because of the proliferation of smartphones and the internet.

Return is higher, and costs are lower than conventional advertising forms.

Campaigns’ progress can be monitored and evaluated in real time.

Capacity to target specific groups with different communications strategies.

Capacity to streamline and expand advertising operations automatically.

Capacity to connect with and communicate with clients via digital platforms like social media.

The speed and simplicity with which tactics may be tested and refined.

Being able to surpass rivals consistently.

Accessibility to people all across the world.

Optimization of advertising campaigns by the use of AI.

Lack of money and time to devote to digital marketing.

Inadequate understanding of digital marketing methods and tools.

Challenges in gauging the results of digital marketing initiatives.

Challenges in remaining current with ever-evolving digital environments and tools.

Trouble in developing and deploying coherent brand identities across several digital platforms.

Compliance challenges in gathering and handling consumer data in light of new laws

Challenges in building and managing an effective online identity and reputation.


Communicating with stakeholders about the benefits of digital marketing to get financials.

Training and development of the employees related to digital marketing.

Continuous improvement and evaluation tools to know the success of the marketing like surveys, increase in sales, lowering costs, etc.

An integrated marketing plan based on traditional and digital marketing tools.

SEO and SMM Improved exposure and natural reach via search engines like Google.

Better results in terms of both clicks and conversions than sponsored advertising.

Affordable strategy for increasing website visitors and potential customers.

The skill of targeting a specific audience via keyword and phrase targeting.

Improved search engine rankings increase user experience and establish credibility.

Unlike paid advertising, which stops working after its budget is depleted, the positive effects of SEO last for a long time.

The availability of analytics tools for monitoring the progress of SEO initiatives.

The capacity to maintain a lead over rivals in search engine rankings.

Search engines allow companies to reach people all around the world.

Social media has facilitated a wider distribution of content and easier access to intended audiences.

Capacity to connect with consumers and foster brand loyalty.

Skills in connecting with clients personally and earning their trust.

Affordable strategy for increasing website visitors and potential customers.

The capacity for real-time monitoring and evaluation of social media campaign performance.

Capacity for creating and sharing visual and multimedia content to increase participation.

Competence in maintaining a social media presence and using it to keep ahead of rivals.

Access to a worldwide audience via various social media outlets.

The ability to reach a targeted audience based on their demography and interests through social media advertising.

Budget and Lack of understanding of SEO

Generating high-quality content consistently


Compliance with laws

Training and development and Communication with stakeholders for investment.

Ongoing check and balance on developing skills of SEO experts and focus on up-to-date content on subjects

Continuous improvement and up-to-date content, focus on personalized content, and a balance between automation and customization

Create a code of conduct and compliance with rules and laws.







Source:Hassan and Hussain (2014), Giomelakis and Veglis (2016), Arrigo (2018), Suroso and Rafinda (2021), Tajvidi and Karami (2021)

2.6 Resistance to Adopting Digital Marketing Tools (SEO and SMM)

Innovation resistance is a topic that a plethora of prior scholars has studied. But during the Pandemic, studies on innovation resistance are still infrequently conducted, especially in SMEs (Sugandini et al., 2019; Sugandini, Effendi & Istanto, 2020a). When there was no pandemic and the demands of SMEs were met, Chen & Kuo (2017) investigated the factors contributing to innovation resistance. Their findings indicate that perceptions of their use and worth influence innovation resistance. User confusion about social media tools is the primary cause of usability issues. Consumers exhibit a great deal of reluctance when asked to learn about social media from the start (Istanto, Sugandini, Effendi & Arundati, 2022). Istanto et al. (2022) stated that established routines shaped by prior experiences influence one’s propensity to share knowledge in the future. Restive to value-based resistance, the value provided by new items must be greater than that of comparable products already on the market. SMEs may benefit from the digital revolution by pursuing technological advancements using artificial intelligence. Companies of all sizes will need to be digitally prepared to participate in the globalization and digitization of value chains (Rehm & Goel, 2017).

Using digital tools, SMEs may form global customer-oriented networks (Torn and Vaneker, 2019). Even though there is some anecdotal evidence that social media aids in the growth of SMEs, there is still a dearth of complex data on the widespread usage of these platforms in this sector (Abeysinghe, 2013). Matikiti, Mpinganjira, and Roberts-Lombard (2018) found that the presence or absence of managerial support for social media marketing affected employees’ opinions toward the practice. If upper management is enthusiastic about using cutting-edge innovation, the rest of the company will follow the trend. It is in line with the findings of other studies by Dahnil, Marzuki, Langgat, and Fabeil (2014). They concluded that top management affects attitudes toward adopting e-commerce projects. Matikiti et al. (2012) discovered that managerial support affects the adoption and implementation of initiatives involving e-commerce and internet technology. Also, preliminary studies reveal that managers of SMEs are not yet enthusiastic about embracing social media. Although the benefits of social media are clear, many SME managers are still hesitant to utilize it.

Further, as defined by Chong and Olesen (2017), technology readiness is strong support for information technology infrastructure, perceived immediate benefits, senior management support, and competitive pressures. Evidence by Ghobakhloo et al. (2011) indicates that top management traits associated with IT competence are essential in determining the technological maturity of SMEs. Sugandini, Effendi, and Istanto (2020b) specified that a top manager’s expertise is crucial in the organizational context of technology adoption to increase profits. A person’s technical expertise may be considered a technological background needed to undertake SMM (Matikiti et al., 2018;Setkute & Dibb, 2022).

  • Methodology
    • Research Methods

Firstly, a systematic literature review (SLR) methodology was employed to achieve the study’s objectives. A systematic literature review, or SLR, is a technique for systematically identifying, collecting, analyzing, and assessing the literature pertinent to a particular study area (Snyder, 2019). There are two key reasons why SLR was chosen to address the aims of this study. There has been an explosion of studies on SMM and SEO in the previous few years, and the area has been steadily expanding (Ibrahim & Ganeshbabu, 2018; Suroso & Rafinda, 2021). As a result, there is a large spectrum of literature on issues, including SEO (Patil Swati et al., 2013), SMM (Bilgin, 2018), UGC (Cheung et al., 2020), and digital marketing (Alqasa et al., 2022).

Nonetheless, there have yet to be concerted attempts to synthesize the numerous research on SEO and SMM related to SMEs, especially as they pertain to the setting lead generation and business development. While many articles on SEO and SMM have been written (Kharuddin et al., 2010;Dahnil et al., 2014), they tend to be too general for SMEs. As a result, SLR was seen as a valuable tool for gaining a holistic understanding of and keeping up with the quickly growing body of research in digital marketing (Alqasa & Afaneh, 2022). Concisely summarising the state of knowledge, evaluating the applicable methodological techniques, and gaining practical insights into a particular subject, SLR synthesizes different results and integrates contradictory information (Abed, Dwivedi & Williams, 2015). This analysis serves a valuable function, given these factors. Second, because it eliminates biases, SLR makes obtaining useful information much simpler and faster. For its thorough methodological methodology, the SLR was chosen as preferable. However, to establish an evidence-based, reproducible, and transparent method, reviewers must provide a complete account of their selection, scanning, and analysis of the literature. It means the findings are more comprehensive than less systematic assessments like narrative or critical literature assessments (Snyder, 2019). For example, narrative and critical literature reviews focus on a smaller subset of available works.

The aim of any data collection method is usually not to ensure that every published paper is covered but rather to ensure enough publications are gathered to mix multiple viewpoints and provide a solution to the particular research issue. In contrast, SLR follows a straightforward and well-described procedure that can easily be duplicated (Bocconcelli et al., 2018). The discipline of SLR is well-suited to the ever-evolving, multifaceted, and cross-platform realm of digital marketing (Wardati & Mahendrawathi, 2019). Furthermore, the value of SLR as a study approach has previously been recognized because of the diversified character of digital marketing (Bocconcelli et al., 2018). Evidence from many sources (Wardati & Mahendrawathi, 2019;Abed et al., 2015) supports the SLR strategy’s efficacy in digital advertising. As a bonus, this review delves into the key concerns already addressed in the existing literature.

However, two of SLR’s most critical challenges are good data collection and a comprehensive systematic evaluation (Nuseir, 2018). This work, therefore, employs the SLR guidelines developed by Tranfield et al. (2003). Due to its repeatability and openness, this methodology has served as a model for previous assessments in the realm of digital marketing (Bhimani et al., 2019). Therefore, this review follows the typical three-stage process: setting up, analyzing, and writing the results. In each phase, multiple actions must be taken, such as

  1. Identifying the research problem and question
  2. Developing a protocol
  3. Choosing a search strategy and database
  4. Carrying out the required research
  5. Assessing the quality of the studies
  6. Drawing conclusions
  • Review Protocol

A review procedure specifies the study’s goals and how its success will be measured. Before beginning SLR, a review procedure was designed to outline the review’s execution details. The researchers’ integrity was the key concern (Denyer and Tranfield, 2009). The SLR’s initial planning stages devote considerable time to developing a system for reviewing completed work. The study’s motivation, questions, selection process, strategy, quality evaluation, and data-gathering technique are all pivotal decisions (Tranfield et al., 2003). Therefore, a scoping analysis was performed to assess the existing literature’s importance and volume and define the research issue area before creating the review methodology criteria (Tranfield et al., 2003). It was helpful to locate a large number of resources from which to construct a thorough strategy for conducting research. The theoretical underpinnings and practical goals of this study have been outlined above. Digital marketing-based SLRs were also casually browsed throughout the scoping phase. Current SLRs on digital marketing are shown in the table along with their underlying “research focus” and “industry context,” which helped define, clarify, and refine the scope of this study.

Table 2: Aim of the Research and Industry Focus of Current SLR on Digital Marketing

Authors Existing SLR’s Research Focus Context Journal
Saura, Palos-Sanchez, & Correia, (2019) New business models and digital marketing tools applicable to them e-business model Organizational transformation and managing innovation in the fourth industrial revolution
Polanco-Diges and Debasa (2020) Use of digital marketing in the shared economy Shared economy Journal of Spatial and Organizational Dynamics
Figueiredo, Gonalves and Teixeira (2021|) Technology acceptance model on digital marketing General Overview Informatics
Saura (2021) Application of digital marketing General Overview Journal of Innovation & Knowledge
Chintalapati and Pandey (2022) Artificial intelligence in marketing Different sectors International Journal of Market Research
Arrigo (2018) Social media marketing Luxury Brands Management Research Review.
Cartwright, Liu, and Raddat (2021) Strategic use of social media Business-to-business market Industrial Marketing Management


It can be seen in the table that current SLRs on digital marketing cover various closely linked but different aspects, such as strategic use of social media, artificial intelligence in marketing, technology acceptance model on digital marketing, digital marketing in the shared economy, and new models and their applicability in digital marketing. Second, the recent SLRs are comprehensive evaluations that don’t emphasize any particular industrial context. The exception is Arrigo’s (2018) work, which focuses on the luxury brand industry. A systematic literature review (SLR) has yet to be conducted on the function of digital marketing concerning search engine optimization (SEO) and social media marketing (SMM) in SMEs.This thesis focuses on SMM and SEO from digital marketing in SMEs rather than just digital marketing. The existing SLRs have focused on digital marketing rather than in the context of SMEs. This paper focuses on digital marketing aspects like SEO and SMM, particularly on SMEs. Hence, this process aided in determining the preeminent terms employed in the literature and other databases. This process laid the groundwork for a systematic and exhaustive review methodology.

3.3 Identification of Keywords and Databases

At the outset of the SLR, relevant keywords were identified to meet the research questions. Since determining the current knowledge of digital marketing for SMEs was the primary motivation for this study, a linguistic mix of digital marketing and SMM and SEO research terms was employed. Hence, a preliminary scoping of existing systematic reviews on digital marketing was conducted. Preliminary scoping revealed that digital marketing was one of SLR research’s most frequently utilized keywords. Researchers have also shown the usage of keywords, including SEO, internet marketing, and SMM, to get to the correct pages.

Therefore, SMM, SEO, internet marketing, and search engine marketing keywords were implemented in the search. The most commonly used keywords from prior SLRs in the field of digital marketing relative to marketing and communication are identified in table 3.

Table 3: Chosen Keywords

Topic Selected Keywords Authors
Digital Marketing Digital marketing, internet marketing, online marketing for SMEs, Alqasa and Afaneh (2022), Brzakovic et al. (2021), Burghate (2018), Krishnaprabha and Tarunika (2020), Ratnadianti et al. (2020), Setkute and Dibb (2022)
Search Engine Optimization Search Engine Marketing, SEO, keyword search, on-page optimization, off-page optimization, SERP Terrance et al. (2017), Almukhtar et al. (2021), Angeloni and Rossi (2021), Giomelakis and Veglis (2016), HussienandHussain (2014), Krsti (2019). Nyagadza (2022), Patel and Gaharwar (2018), Rahu et al (2016), and Zhang and Cabage (2017)
Social Media Marketing Social media networks, user-generated content, blogging, vlogging, content marketing, internet marketing Bilgin (2018), Chen and Lin (2019), Cheung et al (2020), Aswani et al. (2018), Godey et al. (2016), Ibrahim and Ganeshbabu (2018) Matikiti et al. (2018) Sugandini et al. (2019) Zuhdi et al (2019)


3.4 Data Sources

The primary databases using which the articles were extracted include Elsevier, Wiley Online Library, Springer, IGI Global, IEEEXplore, Emerald, Proquest, MDPI, and Sagepub. Many earlier assessments in the field of digital marketing have made use of electronic databases. Scopus, for instance, was utilized by Saura, Palos-Sanchez, and Correia (2019), Constantinides and Stagno (2012), and Cavlak and Cop (2021). Also, the Springer database was used to collect data by different researchers, such as Vieira et al. (2019), Stone (2014), Webber (2013), and Singh, Nanavati, Kar & Gupta (2022). Two main journal categories that cover the digital marketing topic in Springer are Information Systems Frontiersand Journal of Direct, Data, and Digital Marketing Practice.Aswani et al. (2018), Saura (2021), and Dwivedi et al. (2021) are some researchers who use the Elsevier database to extract information related to digital marketing. While researching digital marketing and related aspects, the authors also used Wiley Online Library, involving the authors like Majid, Lopez, Megicks & Lim (2019) and Quinton and Simkin (2017). Thus, the chosen databases are appropriate for digital marketing because they offer a comprehensive collection of high-quality, peer-reviewed scholarly publications and extensive research papers with full-length abstracts and references. The inclusivity principle of SLR by Denyer and Tranfield (2009) was implemented. After that, the research methodology and criteria for selecting the most pertinent findings were chosen.However, it is not feasible to search using the abstract in the SpringerLink database, but this is only one example of the constraints imposed by various databases. Hence, combining the keywords into search strings and setting database limits is better. Some of the set limits in researching digital marketing are identified in table 4.






Table 4: Advanced Search Strings

Library Advance Research
IEEEXplore String: SS in Document title, Index terms, and Abstract

Publisher: IEEE

Content Types: Conferences, Publications, journals, and & Magazines

Wiley InterScience String: SS in Title, Abstract, and Keywords
Elsevier ScienceDirect Subject: Computer science

Refine your search: Journal

SpringerLink String: SS

Discipline: Computer Science

Language: English

Results: We evaluated the first 100 studies retrieved from this search.


3.5 Research Strategy and Selection Process

Step one of the selection procedure is to develop a search strategy. It is to define the parameters of interest (what to include and what to leave out) so that the search may be repeated with little effort (Tranfield et al., 2003). The evaluation is based on these standards to gather the highest-quality scientific evidence possible. Table 4 details the inclusion and exclusion criteria developed after considering the work of earlier SLR researchers. Multiple considerations led to selecting these stringent criteria to perform the evaluation. Because it is generally agreed that scientific journal articles give the finest evidence summing up high-quality research output, only studies published in scholarly peer-reviewed journals were selected instead of books, papers reports. Past reviews on digital marketing have used this criterion to guarantee its accuracy (e.g., Figueiredo et al., 2021; Saura, 2021; Chintalapati & Pandey, 2022). Accepting only peer-reviewed scientific publications also ensures adherence to the idea of exclusivity articulated by Denyer and Tranfield (2009), which states that if an SLR is meant to guide practice and future research, then it is crucial to gather the finest evidence available. Only papers published in English were considered for this review. Applying the first two criteria in table 5 to identified databases yielded results containing documents from 2010-2022.

Table 5: Inclusion and Exclusion Criteria

Criterion Inclusion Exclusion
Study Type Papers published in peer-reviewed scholarly articles in the identified electronic databases involving qualitative, quantitative, or mixed methods. Books, chapters, conference papers, editorials, and papers with narrow context
Language English Written in other languages
Study Relevance Focus on digital marketing, the domain of SMEs, SEO, SMM, and related concepts applicable to SMEs Papers do not directly link to digital marketing or duplicated studies. Reports relate to digital marketing aspects other than SEO and SMM
Quality Assurance Research from high-quality journals, listed in Q1 or Q2 or listed ranking guide with 1 and 2 rankings Papers of 3 or 4-star ranking or from journals ranked in Q3

3.6 Study Selection Process

The database, Springer, based on the inclusion criteria, provided 334 results. The keyword digital marketing was mentioned in the papers, but the SME keyword was not included in the titles. Hence, when the research was refined, it led to 3 articles directly linked to digital marketing in SMEs, of which one was full-text. Besides, Elsevier’s database offered 94 papers related to digital marketing from 2010 to 2022. Wiley Online Library’s electronic database showed 49 documents linked to digital marketing without applying exclusion criteria, which involved books, conference papers, etc. Also, the Emerald database specified 99 articles regarding digital marketing and only four on digital marketing in SMEs.

Moreover, IGI Global showed 150 outcomes when applied the keywords. However, 100 articles were narrowed down from all the databases, whereas 35 papers were collected from other sources. Of the 100 articles, the ones that did not conform to the research questions were eliminated. Also, 13 duplicated articles were removed. Accordingly, 37 full-text articles were removed for not meeting the criteria, which led to 35 articles being used for the evaluation.

Figure 2: PRISMA Approach to select Relevant Articles

Source: Self-adopted for Thesis from Moher, Liberati, Tetzlaff, and Altman (2009)

Moher et al. (2009) identified the approach to select appropriate papers to evaluate a topic based on specific criteria. The approach was developed to standardize the reporting of systematic reviews and meta-analyses. It is a collection of recommendations and a checklist. Its goal is to make it simpler for readers to evaluate the quality and any biases of the review by increasing the openness and completeness of reporting of this research. It includes a flowchart depicting the selection of studies, which may be used to spot review biases or omissions.

3.7 Data Analysis

After collecting the appropriate data, it was analyzed using a qualitative tool. One approach to sifting through qualitative data is thematic analysis. It’s a strategy for discovering the significance of recurring themes or patterns in large datasets. Recurring concepts or patterns in the data, known as themes, were identified. The selected articles were read, and frequently common keywords were identified based on the topic. The keywords used numerous times were chosen to discuss. For instance, the articles identified digital marketing and its benefits as a primary keyword using which the first objective was completed, and the question was answered. In addition, another common keyword was strategies of digital marketing involving SEO and SMM. Thus, based on these keywords, SEO and SMM features were discussed in the context of SMEs. Lastly, barriers to technology use were the main keywords used to examine and answer question three. The importance of the various themes was deduced by examining their connections. Accordingly, the results of the theme analysis were reported or presented in the form of a discussion. It includes a summary of the data and the emerging patterns and a thoughtful examination of what these findings signify. The flexibility of thematic analysis allows it to be used with many different types of data. As it takes little time and effort to carry out, it is frequently used by scientists who are short on time and resources.

Nonetheless, theme analysis is an interpretive process that relies on the researcher’s judgment. As a result, it is crucial to be forthright about the analysis procedure and to take precautions to assure the validity and trustworthiness of the results. Triangulating the results with other methods or data sources, or utilizing several coders to ensure consistency, are also viable options. In this study, the data were validated by collecting from diverse sources because triangulation was possible when using a mixed research method, which was not used due to time and other limitations.


3.8 Ethical Consideration

While conducting the research, ethical aspects were considered. First, an ethics form was signed (see Appendix) to ensure that the study would be based on moral principles. For instance, the research will not target specific races or ethnicity. In addition, the work of authors will be credited to them. Also, the study will only be used for academic purposes focusing on excluding biased personal opinions.




  1. Results and Discussion
    • Digital Marketing in SMEs

Multi-pronged dissemination methods constitute the backbone of today’s digital marketing campaigns. Traditional paper documents are seamlessly combined with their digital counterparts thanks to digitalization. Innovative digital strategies facilitate global service delivery. Internet-based promotion of goods and services is at the heart of the digital marketing strategy. SEO is used with SMM to rise to the top of organic search results, which requires a high level of digitalization. Business expansion is one reason many organizations have embraced digital transformation. It’s no secret that digital marketing has been a lifesaver for businesses of all shapes and sizes in the modern day. As a result, growth in the company is more stable. One cannot deny the importance of digital marketing to the success of a modern company, involving large and SMEs. Because of its immense potential, digital marketing has the potential to revitalize the economy and open up enormous new avenues for public service. Also, due to the ease with which return on investment (ROI) can be measured, marketers are increasingly turning to digital marketing services. Digital marketing has several advantages for businesses and customers. Through digital marketing, customers are satisfied. Most people see buying anything online as secure, especially during COVID-19. The future of marketing looks bright for digital media, and it’s conceivable that these strategies will eventually supplant more conventional approaches.

Companies of all sizes and in a wide range of industries are now utilizing internet marketing strategies. Due to resource constraints (both financial and human) and capability gaps, micro businesses or SMEs typically lack access to sophisticated internet marketing tools. Each Internet marketing technique for a small or micro-enterprise relies on a unique set of strategies and resources, all of which must be optimized within the constraints of a limited marketing budget. A key feature of digital marketing is how consumers and customers move between the many internet marketing communication channels. Search engines, social media, other advertising platforms, and measurement tools make digital marketing unique (Halligan & Shah 2014). The degree to which an online resource is promoted through various online mediums, such as search engines, social media platforms, and other websites, is a typical metric used to evaluate the success of online advertising campaigns. The interplay of many information flows determines the digital marketing methodology employed (Berdyshev, 2010). There is a mutual influence between various digital marketing strategies and technologies, which in turn affects the movement of customers.


  • Tactics that could be used in Digital Marketing by SMEs for Lead Generation, Increased Traffic, Business Development, and Cost Reduction

The use of social media may boost a company’s marketing efforts, say Chen and Lin (2019). Companies leverage social media to disseminate news and other material, interact with their audiences, build connections with consumers, and administer online forums and discussion groups. Customer relationship management (CRM), new product management, brand management, innovation management, and supply chain management are just a few business activities that might benefit from social media. Building enduring connections with clients is a significant problem for marketers (Yoshida et al., 2018). A company’s use of social media may boost consumer engagement and loyalty by fostering new relationships with those consumers (Cheung et al., 2020). Besides handling customer complaints, social media is also used to keep customers updated on the progress of their orders, poll them on how satisfied they are with the service they received, conduct market research, and boost sales. As a result, using social media may increase a business’s marketing campaigns’ efficiency and success (Kamboj et al., 2018). Moro and Rita (2018) found that companies with highly engaged online communities can better exchange, develop, discuss, and alter the material, which benefits communication among employees and customers. By studying the impact of social media on performance, Tajvidi and Karami (2021) offer a fresh viewpoint on the impact of social media use in SMEs. Findings point to a clear, statistically significant correlation between social media usage and improved marketing outcomes, including brand awareness and creative problem-solving.

While difficulties and restrictions in marketing may come and go, the effectiveness of reaching clients via search engines and social media will always be there. There are already more than a thousand operational social media marketing channels worldwide. It is due to the push toward investing in digital marketing channels in response to client demand and worldwide dynamics. It is well-accepted that customers want to be informed about developments related to the brands they prefer via regular updates posted on social media marketing platforms. Because of their dedication to their favorite social networking site, users often create a solid connection to the products they promote (Chang et al., 2015; Tajvidi & Karami, 2021).

Furthermore, social media marketing platforms may always be used to communicate corporate storytelling for branding purposes, such as communicating the company’s affiliations, values, personalities, and benefits to the public. Since the number of individuals using a social media marketing platform tends to grow exponentially, it is a particularly effective tool for expanding a business’s reach. Social media marketing (SMM) is predicted to be the most alluring digital platform on which business organizations and entrepreneurs (e.g., SMEs) may sell products and services due to the speed with which messages and information can be shared. The use of social media to promote brand awareness is rapidly becoming an industry trend (Chen & Lin, 2019). Therefore, digital marketers must accept and comprehend the forecasted trends in social media marketing and search engine optimization (SEO) to reach a larger audience. Some have argued that companies’ bottom lines are impacted by customers’ actions when shopping and interacting online. The availability of massive data and sophisticated algorithms, together with the development of AI, has facilitated improved customer segmentation (Bilgin, 2018). Social media users engaged almost every day have skyrocketed in number since 2000. Business owners have been enticed to focus more on SMM because it provides a more effective platform to interact with customers and strengthen ties between the business community and the broader community. The costs of social media transactions might be high, but most companies are wisely capitalizing on this channel to get their thoughts out to consumers (Chi, 201; Dwivedi et al., 2015; Cheung et al., 2020).

The rise of social media has reawakened interest in branding concerns because it gives a platform for customers to talk about their interactions with brands online, which is a critical factor in the co-creation of brand value (Liu et al., 2020). SMEs may by producing engaging content, and consumers’ desire to express their thoughts and opinions on that material can be strengthened via these interactions (Suroso & Rafinda, 2021). Posts and activities on social media platforms are another way for SMEs to keep consumers up-to-date on their latest offerings and encourage them to submit feedback in the form of testimonials, product reviews, and suggestions for future innovations (Alqasa & Afaneh, 2022).

Personalization of the brand experience is significantly facilitated by content modifications based on individual consumer preferences. It paves the way for value co-creation by enhancing customers’ curiosity about the brand, increasing the likelihood that they would engage with companies (including SMEs) on matters of interest to them (Cheung et al., 2020). Similarly, eWOM on social media matches brand users’ experience, attracting customers and making it easier for them to debate and evaluate branded items with other like-minded users through social media engagement (Sugandini et al., 2019). Therefore, interactive brand postings encourage consumers’ resource integration into co-creating brand meaning and value by inviting consumers to actively participate in brand-related discussions and activities on social media platforms (Alqasa & Afaneh, 2022).

Another tactic that SMEs can be used to generate leads, develop business, and increase profits by reducing costs is SEO. Improving a website’s exposure and traffic through unpaid or organic search engine rankings is linked to SEO. Thus, optimizing a website for search engines means making changes to its pages to perform better in search results (Patel & Gaharwar, 2018). The end objective of SEO is to raise a website’s visibility in SERPs to attract qualified visitors from those pages. SEO increases profiles and rankings and boosts free, natural, and paid search traffic. It also raises a company’s product profile and convinces customers that it’s reliable. It is evident from searches that content is essential because it helps to bring in more readers (Wahba & Barhoom, 2019). SEO focuses on the main phrases the company likes to appear in SERPs and the terms its audience is looking for when trying to find a solution to a problem, then compares this list to the company’s value proposition and buyer’s persona. Use these results to inform future iterations of the content. On-page SEO is crucial for search engines to determine if the material is relevant to a user’s query. The complexity of search engines is increasing, and they emphasize semantics and relevancy in SERPs (Rahu et al., 2016).

In contrast to off-page optimization, which focuses primarily on backlinks, on-page optimization allows the company to fine-tune what visitors see (images, video, and music) and what search engines see (heading tags, structured data) on its web pages. SEO campaigns often neglect the significance of link building. It’s crucial to the site’s expansion and continued success. They aid in raising a website’s page rank, attracting more visitors, and spreading the word about a business. When constructing the connections, the companies must remember a few crucial details. The value of a link varies. A link from Forbes, for instance, will be far more valuable to the search engine rankings than a link from a brand-new website. It is difficult it is to earn connections from prestigious resources like Forbes. However, it is best to seek out links from authoritative sites to improve their site’s rankings (Wahba & Barhoom, 2019).

SEO is essential for SMEs with other companies because it increases internet presence. It increases organic internet traffic, generating more leads and consumers, increasing the company’s revenue and overall growth. It also enables the website to stand out from online rivals. The company can rank well, reach its target audience, and increase lead creation by applying suitable SEO methods. When done effectively, SEO may bring a steady flow of targeted visitors from search engines to the website daily. It is when SMEs can profit from website traffic, but it depends on how to turn visitors into potential clients. A call now button on the website can improve the number of people calling the brands or SMEs, allowing them to forge new client ties frequently (Patel & Gaharwar, 2018). Lead generation and SEO are two distinct tactics. The goal of SEO is to improve and alter the many elements of the website to improve its search engine positioning and increase online traffic. Constructing an active blog with optimized blog entries is one of the finest strategies to leverage SEO to generate more leads. All the components for effective website SEO are included in blogs. The company can provide fresh material, keywords, backlinks, photos, social media interaction, and other things by updating stuff often (Wahba & Barhoom, 2019).

Conduct keyword research to identify the most critical terms in the targeted sector and then incorporate them into the blog’s title and body copy. In addition, the company must regularly produce content if it wants to maximize the results of its SEO efforts. On the other hand, lead generation focuses on expanding the number of clients and prospects for the company. The relationship between SEO and lead generation is based on how SEO affects lead creation. By boosting brand recognition through organic website traffic, SEO may support a company’s lead-generation efforts. The more frequently company’s website appears on Google’s front page, the simpler it will be for its target market to locate and learn more about its products and services (Rahu et al., 2016).



  • Resistance to using Digital Marketing

Several environmental limitations prevent SMEs from adopting new technology. For example, a lack of readily available financial resources is one of the obstacles. In turn, financial policies favor giant corporations due to the absence of collateral. In addition to substantial transaction charges, SMEs often employ just a limited number of non-specialized workers, making the availability of technically-savvy employees vital for successful online marketing campaigns. The unskilled employees cannot use digital marketing strategies like SEO and SMM because they lack the necessary user competency abilities.

Moreover, SMEs sometimes struggle to design and implement digital marketing strategies due to a lack of qualified ICT staff. Another major issue, especially in developing nations, was the lack of a proper infrastructure to support digital marketing. It has hampered businesses’ capacity to invest in IT and fully use technological potential, preventing them from reaching a point of sustainability and producing a beneficial influence on financial performance. Digital marketing has been challenging, especially in underdeveloped nations, due to a lack of appropriate infrastructure. It has taken many developing countries longer to implement digital marketing because of poor internet and sluggish telecommunications networks. Another obstacle to the widespread use of web marketing is the unreliability of energy services to businesses and their customers (Setkute & Dibb, 2022).

Further, another difficulty is providing reliable network coverage through transmission towers, optical fiber cables, and high-speed 4G networks. One obstacle SMEs have when trying to break into internet marketing is a lack of familiarity with the concept. Existing small and medium-sized business (SMB) clients may lack the resources to use the internet, preventing them from taking advantage of digital marketing. There is little motivation for individual SMEs to become active in internet marketing unless a sufficient percentage of their primary local consumers or suppliers join in online commercial operations. It can be challenging to persuade many SME owners, who often lack technical IT backgrounds, that there are technical standards like encryption exist to safeguard them. Participating SMEs often cited security, legal, and liability issues as extremely critical worries. However, infrastructure and internet availability are not issues in countries like the United States. SMEs usually have financial capital problems. Besides, the main issues SMEs face in the United States are the internal reluctance to change and skepticism of the advantages of online marketing existing among SMEs because of a lack of expertise in digital technologies, such as SEO and SMM (Sugandini et al., 2020b). According to the existing research, the resources and capabilities, business culture, and organizational structure of SMEs, as well as external variables, impact the adoption of digital marketing and, in some circumstances, act as impediments to its usage. For example, a common understanding of digital marketing’s possible benefits, fear of the technology, and reluctance to newer technology-enabled practices are all capabilities that can be hurdles. Insufficient expertise and experience in digital marketing are often blamed for this reluctance to adapt. If small businesses are going to make any headway in their use of digital tools, they may require the assistance of external suppliers who are experts in this area (Sugandini et al., 2020a). But it is also possible that a lack of resources plays a role, with many small businesses lacking the capital to invest in external expertise or hire a marketing manager. In addition, due to the flat organizational structure of these businesses, marketing decisions are typically made by the owner-manager, who may not have the necessary marketing knowledge and must juggle these responsibilities with a wide variety of time-consuming and taxing operational tasks (Istanto et al., 2022). Table 6 shows the internal barriers to adopting digital marketing in SMEs.


Table 6: Factors hinder Small Firms from using Digital Marketing

Factors Small firms
Internal factors
Busines Culture Sales orientation
  Reliance on personal contact networks
Focus on operational activities with little formal/ strategic planning
Capabilities Lack of specialist digital knowledge and know-how among employees
  Lack of relevant digital competencies and capabilities
  External/outside support requirements to bolster capabilities
Resources Small firm size, restricting available resources
  Limited resources to devote to digital marketing
Organizational structure Informal and flat organizational structure
  Importance of owner-managers and their characteristics
Product Product types and characteristics
  Small product ranges

Source:Setkute and Dibb (2022), p. 276

  1. Conclusion and Future Study

5.1 Conclusion

The discussion of the articles related to digital marketing identified its significance for SMEs. The analysis of chosen articles specified that SMEs’ long-term success is correlated favorably with their use of digital marketing. The examination of collected data showed how different forms of digital marketing, such as SEO and SMM, affect the business outcomes of SMEs. It was revealed that a company’s online two-way business optimization is critical in increasing customer loyalty and repurchase intent. SMEs can benefit economically from social media because it gives them direct access to a large pool of potential consumers and allows them to advertise their products and services directly to those customers. Also, promoting SMEs via their websites has a favorable influence on performance. Due to its valuable features, customers may find shopping and looking for goods on the site more accessible. Bilgin (2018) and Wahba and Barhoom (2019) supported the analysis as they stated that the ease of use and perceived usefulness motivate marketers to use digital marketing in SMEs. People make purchase decisions nowadays by collecting and evaluating brand information online. They look for online reviews, ratings, and comments about the products and services over social media (Dwivedi et al., 2015; Godey et al., 2016). The analysis identified that SMEs prefer the results Google gives customers on SERPs’ first page. Hence, they need to implement new solutions to marketing instead of investing in traditional advertising. Traditional marketing also needs extensive financial, intellectual, and other resources that are difficult for SMEs to manage. Hence, the discussion indicated that digital marketing tools like SEO and SMM are practical and efficient tools to implement by SMEs to generate leads, develop business, and optimize revenue (Sugandini et al., 2019).

SEO may aid entrepreneurs/SMEs in making their sites more swift, streamlined, and user-friendly. Though many individuals still cling to the outdated concept of SEO, which holds that the focus should be on engine optimization alone, this is no longer the case. Patel and Gaharwar (2018) and Patel and Patel (2014) specified that the percentage of visitors that leave a website after just viewing a single page is lower, and the total number of pages seen is higher when the site is well-organized, clean, and uncluttered. In the same way, providing sales pages and blog articles that are highly relevant to the needs of your target audience will keep your readers pleased since it will make it easier for them to obtain the information they want. In the case of , the company can please users, and search engines will present high-quality content to their visitors about the brand.

In other words, businesses with SEO-optimized websites grow twice as quickly as those without one and attract twice as many clients. SEO is undoubtedly the most cost effective and productive option compared to other advertising forms, as stated by Zhang and Cabage (2017). In addition, it will only attract buyers interested in locating your business. Websites optimized for search engines like Google load faster, are simple to read and navigate and look well on virtually all mobile and tablet devices. Websites that are simple to understand and use have a greater chance of attracting and retaining readers and visitors, who are more likely to become paying customers, subscribers, and repeat visits. Godey et al. (2016) supported the results as they argued that social media sites are easy to access and learn, enabling marketers to use them for promotions and customers to make informed decisions and get brand-related information. Increasing visibility in search engines may help spread the word about the business. Customers are more likely to choose the brand over competitors with a weaker online presence if SME websites rank higher in the search results than the competition. Hence, small businesses (especially those with national or even international expansion goals) need to put money into SEO and get to the top of the search results pages for relevant key terms. Today, search engines play an essential role in determining the success or failure of a brand.


5.2 Future Study

The current study has some limitations that could be covered in future studies. The researchers could fill the gaps, such as the evaluation of individual techniques of SEO and SMM, to ascertain their impact on the SMEs. In addition, this study was based on one method, i.e., qualitative (SLR). Future research must use the mixed methodology to include subjective and objective opinions on the topics and make more significant generalizations of the outcomes.


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Appendix A. Ethics Application Form

Students engaging in any research activity should read the Guidance Notes for Ethical Applications Taught Programmesand complete the Ethics Approval of Taught Programmes Application Formand submit this, along with all relevant supporting documentation, to their supervisor. The supervisor will then assess the application for any significant ethical issues. Please refer to the Guidance for Supervisors and the guidance notes for the students.

If there are no significant ethical issues to be considered and/or any minor issues have been fully resolved, the supervisor will sign off the ethics approval form, which should then be included with the final dissertation.

However, if the supervisor feels that the application falls outside the scope of supervisory approval i.e. the issues involved are considered to have a significant ethical dimension, then the application will be referred for review to the Ethics Approval Panel for Taught Programmes (Second Stage).

SECOND STAGE (Only applies to projects/dissertations with significant ethical issues)
The application will be reviewed independently by two members of the Ethics Approval Panel for Taught Programmes. One reviewer will be selected from the same subject area as the proposed dissertation and the other reviewer from outside this area.

Second Stage Applications should be sent via email to:

Following review, one of the following recommendations will be made:

Application is approved with no changes;

Application is approved subject to conditions which must be approved by supervisor.Applicant make the appropriate changes to the application and resubmits to their supervisor for approval;

Application is approved, subject to conditions, which must be approved by committee chair.The applicant makes the appropriate changes to the application and resubmits to the committee chair for approval;

Application is rejected and applicant requested to resubmit to committee.

In cases where the reviewers offer different final recommendations the committee chair will act as the final arbiter in the decision process.

The normal turnaround time for applications is approximately two weeks following submission. However, this can be longer, depending upon the complexity and the time of year the application has been submitted. If the application is not approved and changes need to be made the overall process will take longer.

Instructions for use
Most applications for ethics approval will be able to be granted by the supervisor. Students should just complete the Checklist and Part A below and forward to their supervisor, who will complete Part B.In some cases, if the supervisor believes the proposal should be sent to the Ethics Approval Panel for Taught Programmes for guidance and clearance, Part C should be completed and sent to the email address provided above. Supervisors should send Parts A, B and C to the panel in these cases.

The following checklist is to help students and supervisors easily identify projects which may be designated as one with significant ethical dimensions.


SECTION I: CHECKLIST (select as appropriate)
Does the project/dissertation involve work with human tissue/body fluids?


If NO skip to section (II)

Does the project involve work with animals and/or animal tissue?


If NO skip to section (III)

Does the project involve any of the following:

Recruitment of volunteers?

Questionnaires or interviews?

Observations of Participants?

If Yesfor either please complete the sections (IV)-(VI)below

If Noplease complete section (VI)only

Is there any realistic risk of any participants experiencing either physical or psychological distress or discomfort? No
Are drugs, placebos or other substances (e.g. food substances, vitamins) to be administered to study participants?


Is there any possible psychological risk to the researcher?

(Note:- physical risks to the researcher are considered in the Risk Assessment not in this form)

Will participants undergo sound exposure beyond the Lower Action Level of the Physical Agents Directive?


Does the project require the use of hazardous substances?


Is the use of radiation (if applicable) over and above what would normally be expected (for example) in diagnostic imaging? No
Will financial inducements (other than reasonable expenses and compensation for time) be offered to participants? No
Will participants fall into any of the following special groups?
Children (under 18 years of age); No
People with learning difficulties or communication difficulties; No
People who speak a different language; No
Patients or clinical populations and/or their carers; No
Pregnant women or research on conception or contraception; No
People in custody or any form of detention; No
People engaged in illegal activities (e.g. drug-taking) No
SECTION IV OTHER (select as appropriate)
Are there any other potential significant ethical issues not covered above? If Yes, please give details below: No


PART A To be completed by Student

Full Programme Title: MSc Marketing Award
Title of Research Project: Optimization of Digital Traffic and Lead Generation Channels in SMEs in the United States: Social Media Marketing (SMM) and SEO as Leverage of SMEs to Optimize Marketing Costs and thus Stand the Competition in the Market
Has this project received external funding? No
Do you use non-human genetic materials from outside UK for your research? No



Does your study involve a clinical trial?



Please note that most academic journals will notpublish trials which have not been registered on a clinical trial registry before the onset of patient enrolment. For the purposes of registration, a clinical trial is any research study that prospectively assigns human participants to one or more health-related interventions to evaluate the effects on health outcomes. Interventions covers any treatment which can affect an individuals health, e.g. medical devices, behavioural treatments, dietary interventions, etc.


For more details, see:



Project Aims and Objectives:
To critically evaluate the use of digital marketing strategies among SMEs relevant to today’s economy and competitive business landscape.

To critically assess lead generation processes in B2C SMEs and compare the results.

To explore the relationship between lead generation for revenue growth and business development when SMEs invest in digital marketing channels.

To introduce practical recommendations to the stakeholders based on the studys findings.


Research Methodology:
Secondary data research is the primary research method of the study due to its affordability in terms of time and other organizational or financial resources for a student. The significant ethical risks would be faking primary data research methods such as experiments or interviews. Even though secondary data research may raise concerns over its originality and usefulness, it is still better to have only secondary data research than to offer fake experiments or interviews.


Organisational Agreement (If applicable):


Approaching Individuals (If applicable):


How will you ensure informed consent is gained from anyone involved in the research?
Not needed


How will you approach General Data Protection Regulation issues during your research?
Not needed


Does this project require that the researcher applies for a Disclosure Barring Service (DBS) check?


What other ethical issues should you consider when conducting this research and how will potential ethical risk/harm be avoided?


Does the project involve human subjects (e.g. as volunteers or to take part in interviews/questionnaires) and/or animals and/or human tissue and/or animal tissue?



PART B Application Form for Ethics Approval for Taught Programmes

To be completed by Supervisor

Students Full Name:

Li Jia Teoh
Title of Research and Project Focus:

Optimization of Digital Traffic and Lead Generation Channels in SMEs in the United States: Social Media Marketing (SMM) and SEO as Leverage of SMEs to Optimize Marketing Costs and thus Stand the Competition in the Market
Supervisors Name:

Dr Patrick Reid
Data application received by supervisor:

22ndSeptember 2022


Ethics Approval Granted Please send copy of form to student to include in their dissertation X
Ethics Approval Rejected If rejected please consult with student as to the required changes  
Ethics Approval Referred If supervisor has queries or concerns in relation to this application, please fill in Part C below and forward to the School Ethical Approval Panel for Taught Programmes  



PART C To be completed by Supervisor







Title of Research and Project Focus:



Supervisors Name:



Please provide a brief description of the key issues and areas within this application that you would like the Ethics Approval for Taught Programmes to consider:






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