Low Budget Search Engine Marketing

By SmallBusinessComputing Staff | Posted March 05, 2003
By Grant Crowell

How to bring visitors to your web site with little or no funds? Need to be found in the search engines but can't afford to hire an search engine specialist? These and other issues facing small businesses and non-profit organizations were addressed at a recent Search Engine Strategies' Small Business & Non-Profit Forum.

The panel, consisting of search engine marketing (SEM) specialists with extensive experience in optimizing limited-budget sites, shared their strategies and advice on how small outfits can successfully reach their target audience online while staying cost-conscious.

Is it really possible for a small outfit to achieve regular high rankings without a big budget? "Definitely so," encourages Anne Kennedy, Managing Partner of Beyond Ink. Kennedy presented several examples of sites without big budgets that achieved top keyword listings: a women's shelter (non-profit), a Chamber of Commerce (business organization), a jewelry store (micro-business), and a holiday wreath store (small seasonal business).

"But taking on a small business or non-profit site can be a continual uphill battle," cautions Kennedy. "You usually find yourself working with little or no marketing budget, and sometimes menial support or accountability... You can't afford mistakes, so have to do it right from the get-go."

So what SEM module is needed for small outfits? The panelists agreed such a module should include all of these six components:

  • Research & SEM planning
  • Content production
  • Linking
  • Bartering
  • Submission values & freebies
  • Expert assistance

Research & Search Engine Marketing Planning
Caryl Felicetta, Creative/Technical Partner for i-Position, explained that an SEM plan first involves doing thorough research in advance, both internally and externally.

"You need to first identify your organization's strengths and weaknesses," says Felicetta. Next, you need to identify your target audience. "What search engines do they use? What sites do they visit? What are they looking for? How are they finding your site? Where is your site now?"

For a small outfit, time is especially valuable. Yet Felicetta says that most SEM newbies waste much of their time with how they research online. They either don't use the many search tools available, or they focus too much on general, highly competitive keywords that are not specific to their target audience.

So how do you determine what keyword phrases a small outfit should try for? "Look at more specific options with your keywords," advises Felicetta. "They have less traffic, but you can reach more qualified visitors and receive better click-thrus from them."

Content Production
Despite this being one the easiest things to do, content production is something small outfits seem to take the least advantage of. "What you lack in budget, you can make up for in content," says Felicetta — both in quality and quantity. "Give your site enough pages to make it truly relevant for both the search engines and your audience."

Kennedy added that non-profits possess an advantage for achieving search engine visibility with their content. "They already have expertise in a particular field, which translates to valuable content the search engines want."

Linking
All small businesses should have a good linking strategy, and linking to others costs nothing. "Build good links is how you will maintain your positions in the search engines," explains Kennedy. "Take advantage of reciprocal link opportunities. Link with complimentary sites, trade directories, etc." Linking to related sites with quality complimentary content enhances the value of your own site.

Bartering
Successful bartering — exchanging goods and services — goes back to acknowledging one's own strengths and weaknesses. Since most small outfits don't have the capability to do everything that's necessary for SEM, bartering is a very good option. There are numerous things you can barter for — funding, expertise, in-house staffing, cross-promotion partnerships, even search engine optimization (SEO). You can also barter for content with authors and publishers, business organizations, and copywriters honing their skills for the web.

Submission Values & Freebies
While many small outfits expect the search engines to eventually find them and crawl their sites on the web, it could take many months or longer for that to happen. Knowing your options with either paid or free submissions can expedite getting found online.

"If you can afford the basic [paid] submission tools, start with submitting to Yahoo Express," advises Felicetta. While Yahoo would seem to be a high fee ($299) for those on a small budget, it is one of the best ways to reach a large qualified audience, and non-profits are not required to renew the annual fee.

But what if you have no virtually no budget for submitting? Says Felicetta, "the top major search engines and directories still allow for free submissions; and some search engines are especially accommodating for non-profits," including Zeal.com (the non-profit site of LookSmart) and Yahoo (which offers free submissions if you're a non-commercial category.) But when opting for the free route, be mindful not to expect the timely results afforded from paid submission.

The panelists were all careful to warn about using lucrative offers for submitting. "Use freebies wisely," cautions Kennedy. "offers to submit to thousands of search engines for free and other such items are a scam," and could put you on free-for-all "link farms" that will get you penalized in the search engines. "Make sure they're truly free and don't have any hidden costs or agendas."

Expert Assistance
Being that there are an abundance of resources and opportunities available that require great time and scrutiny to sort out, enlisting the services an SEM consultant was agreed as the best means for small outfits to invest their resources.
"It takes years of expertise and skill to do actual SEO," stresses Kennedy. "The industry we're in, it's a steep learning curve and a moving target ... We have the insight from being a part of this all of the time."

Conclusion
Find out what your small business can do in-house and what you need to outsource. Remember to spend on things that create a lasting value — content, optimization, and research. Closely monitor what is actually working to maximize your budget. SEM may require additional education, make sure you;re making the most of online resources, and consider enlisting an SEO specialist at least during your initial planning.

Ending on a note of encouragement, Kennedy left this incentive for the audience: "A professionally designed web site that brings in lots of traffic will justify a bigger budget."

Adapted from SearchEngineWatch.com.

Grant Crowell is the CEO of Grantastic Designs, founded in 1993 in Honolulu. He has 15 combined years of experience in the fields print and online design, newspaper journalism, public relations, and publications.

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