Get Found: Small Biz Turning to Search Engines

by Mike Hallaron

Many small companies invested critical marketing dollars into developing websites over the last 10 years only to discover that the Internet was not the great panacea for sagging sales as once believed. In many cases, the Net is littered with these forgotten e-commerce pipe dreams. Small business owners were left shaking their heads, shrugging off the hype and returning to more traditional marketing methods. But, is that really the end of it?

Search engines are finally delivering on the promise the Internet originally held for small companies. And, this new found success is built on one universal Web business truth: If you are going to spend money to create a website, make sure prospects can find it. Sounds simple. But, how many businesses have spent hundreds and even thousands of dollars on developing an attractive, useful site without bothering to list their site with the Net’s top search engines and directories, such as Yahoo!, Google, AOL or MSN?

This is financial suicide. Imagine opening a new retail business but refusing to put a sign out front, or buying a Yellow Page ad, or running ads in the newspaper. The same marketing principle holds true with websites. You must tell your prospects how to find your website and
search engines are the Holy Grail that small businesses have long sought for success on the Internet.

Why can’t I just mention my website in my Yellow Pages ad?

Why can’t I just mention my website in my Yellow Pages ad?

While the old Yellow Pages aren’t going away anytime soon, their effectiveness is declining thanks to the rise of the Internet. Over 60% of Texas households are on the Net and consumers are increasingly clicking on their PC’s and laptops for inquiries about local goods and services. Microsoft cites a 2003 survey (by DoubleClick, Greenfield Online) -- over 40% of consumers cite search engines as the main way they research purchases online.

The Yellow Pages are also an old-economy marketing tool in that information is limited by space and budget. Changes are made only once a year. Beyond providing a telephone number and your address, these ads can’t compete with the detail and descriptive information you can present on a company website. And there’s more. In a 2002 DealTime survey, the main reason for using online shopping search services was to compare prices quickly (73%), followed by wanting to compare products (54%) and to find stores selling the products (45%). That’s the power of the new-economy. Ask yourself, now that you have a company website, are you spending any of your advertising budget to promote it?

So, getting a small biz website is only half the battle. Getting found among the top search engines is the other half, and the half that will win the war.

The good news is that there are several affordable programs for marketing your site through the major search engines.  In the late 1990s you could still submit your website for a free listing with many top engines but those days have long disappeared. Now, the best services offer two basic approaches to search engine marketing. The first, paid inclusion, sells guaranteed listings. This involves tailoring the layout, code, and language of your website to make it appear higher in the “editorial” search rankings determined by relevancy rather than bid prices. The second method, known as paid placement listings, allows you to bid on keywords describing your goods or services. You only pay for each “click-thru” to your website.

This payment model is called cost-per-click (CPC). Generally, those who pay the most for your desired keywords get listed higher. Some of the larger companies also provide their ads to other search engines, which integrate them alongside editorial results. The CPC rate can be as low as 10-25 cents, providing a very high return of your advertising investment or ROI. What is a potential new customer worth to your business? Print advertising, telemarketing, sales people are far more costly, making a search engine marketing strategy a sensible move that can produce new sales for pennies by comparison.

Two search engine pay-per-click plans you can count on.

Google AdWords – (Paid Placement)
adwords.google.com
Set up your account and craft your own keyword campaign. Select what you are willing to pay for each visit to your site. Track results and adjust as you go. 1-2 hours of set-up.  Ads appear on Google, AskJeeves, AOL & EarthLink. Cost will vary with keywords and click-thru’s.

Overture – (Paid Placement)
www.yahoo.com
Keyword bidding strategy allows you to push “sponsored” listings on Yahoo!, CNN.com,
AltaVista, InfoSpace, MSN and others. Overture offers a do-it-yourself plan or pay $199 set-up
fee for online/telephone assistance. Cost will vary with keywords and click thru’s.

If you haven’t included your business website into your 2007 marketing plans, it’s not too late. Make sure your content is updated, relevant and fresh. If you are still touting a Summer Sale from 2001, contact your webmaster ASAP. Then make sure your domain name is included in all of your other marketing efforts. Take an hour or so on the Internet and begin researching the two plans above. If this is more than you can tackle, call a Web marketing specialist.

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