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There are many online marketing strategies small businesses can use to get ahead of the competition. One strategy is Pinterest marketing, which leverages the popular social media platform that has become one of the most effective promotional sites on the internet.Even though Pinterest is considered a social media platform, in truth, it operates more like a search engine, similar to Google or Yahoo!. While users can leave comments and like posts, most people use Pinterest as a bookmarking tool to save content for future reference. So, now that you understand how it differs from other social networks like Instagram or Facebook, we can explore how to actually use it to benefit your business.Why is Pinterest helpful for small businesses?The answer is simple: Pinterest users are often searching for products and services to buy. When you optimize your content, research keywords that people might use when they’re looking for your type of product or service, then pin it on a board, potential customers will be able to find you more easily.In addition to providing you with robust data on the types of people engaging with your content (otherwise known as “pins”), Pinterest also helps your company’s website rank higher in search results. This means, if someone conducts a Google search for specific keywords, your “pin” on Pinterest could show up in the search results if it’s been properly optimized. Why is this important? Well, for one – it enables you to reach a larger audience of targeted users who are actively seeking your type of product or service. And secondly, because it can lead to more website traffic, boost lead generation, and lower bounce rates for your company’s site.If you’re looking to target Millennials, it’s an especially helpful system to leverage, as it’s an increasingly popular platform for marketers because of its popularity with the younger generation, who are more likely to make purchase decisions based on what they see online.Related: 4 Pinterest Hacks You Can Adopt to Drive Traffic to Your BlogHow can Pinterest boost SEO for businesses?As an example, my lifestyle blog for women (Inspirations & Celebrations) gets over 70 percent of its organic website traffic from Pinterest. That means every month, my blog gets thousands and thousands of new visitors without me having to hustle hard for this valuable traffic. Considering how impactful that is on my site’s overall reach, it makes it one of the smartest ways to drive traffic more easily, turn leads into subscribers or customers, and create a sustainable business online.To help your small business stand out, here are five Pinterest marketing strategies that will help put you ahead of the competition.Establish a business account on Pinterest for your company. This is the first step to any Pinterest marketing strategy because it enables you to enter more information about your company, such as its mission statement or the products that are available for purchase.Optimize your account’s bio and boards with keywords that are relevant to your products or services. Conduct some research into the types of keywords or keyword phrases that your target audience often searches for.Include links to your website and blog in the description of pins. Whether you’re promoting blog posts or product webpages, it helps to pin various images that link back to your website. The more high-quality pins that you post, the greater the chance of getting discovered by potential customers or clients.As you pin images that link back to your website, create eye-catching images or graphics that capture attention. Vertical images often perform better than horizontal ones. So, it’s helpful to keep this in mind when creating content.Related: What is a Pinterest Manager, and Why Do Businesses Need One?Don’t be afraid to promote your workLast but not least, promote your Pinterest profile. Be active on the site and follow other people that are similar to your target demographic. Share your Pinterest profile on your other social networks, encourage existing customers to follow your Pinterest account (by including a link in your email signature).As you can see, using Pinterest for more than just pinning recipe ideas or home decorating inspiration photos can be a great way to market your business online. In addition to driving brand awareness to a larger audience, it’s one of the best (free) ways to attract your ideal customers or clients.Related: Pinterest Shares Are About to Soar