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Search engine marketing for small businesses

So you have a business website but still no enquiries and it’s listed on page 648 on Google! Here, we look at how search engine marketing can help your business to grow.

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Make no mistake, even though a lot is said now about social networking sites, Google still controls about 80% of search traffic. So what can you do here and now to make rapid changes that are going to get your site ‘optimised' (i.e. picked up by Google) and set your phones ringing?

First, you need to know what kind of keywords your customers are using to try to search out your products and services. There are many tools around on the internet that can help you do this, but I suggest that you simply create a Google account – it's completely free to do and within a few minutes you will discover crucial information on the numbers of people trying to find your products or services.

This is absolutely critical in finding the right keywords to make sure you optimise your site in the right way. You may have heard of ‘Adwords' and ‘organic search' – both have advantages and the real challenge is to have a good mix of both.

Below we explain the benefits of and differences between the two.

Adwords

As soon as you have your Google account up and running, you can set up and run AdWords campaigns. These are paid-for listings on the Google results page. The most expensive AdWords ads appear at the top of the page (a maximum of three results) and down the right hand side of the search results (see the diagram below).

You set a budget and then pay per visit to your site, so this is described as ‘pay per click' advertising. The advantage is that you can drive visitors to your site within an hour and compete with the big boys.

Adwords can be expensive though, depending on your market, and if you are unsure of what you are doing, you can spend a small fortune finding out what works and what doesn't. But Google changes the way it lists sites all the time (just to keep you on your toes) and that's why a good AdWords campaign to back up organic search is very useful.

Organic search

Organic search does not involve paying for listings and is sometimes referred to as ‘natural listings'. They are often seen as the Holy Grail of search because they cost nothing, right?

Wrong! To achieve good organic results, you will need to spend a fair bit of time on a regular basis. And, as all small businesses know, time equals money. So how do you get your site listed naturally?

Well, you need a well-written and regularly updated website that contains your keywords. For example, the title of your site should contain your keywords – these are more important than your company name.

Choose domain names wisely. Can you find any that contain your product or service? If you can get them for only a few pounds a year it would be a very wise investment. There are many domain-checking services available, so do a quick search online.

Next, try to get some other websites to create links back to yours, you will need to do the same for them, this term is called ‘reciprocal linking'. Google looks at this favourably, with every site that links back to yours being considered a vote for your site. Good content is critical. It may seem obvious, but try to make your site as interesting as possible, so that your visitor feels compelled to come back.

Static, unchanging websites tend to be left behind by Google.

Help is at hand

There are many more useful things you can do to get your website listed – but hang on, you also have a business to run!

That's why to get a website listed naturally is not really free, but takes time and effort, sometimes with no guaranteed results. Once your site is up and running and if you are serious about your business's presence online, you need to apportion a sensible budget to market it.

You should see online media as the equivalent of having a salesperson working 24/7 for your business. What would you pay to have a full time salesperson? After reading this you may feel more daunted than at the beginning!

Don't worry, there is plenty of help at hand and experience shows that sometimes it pays to get the professionals in. But as with all suppliers, choose carefully, get testimonials and, if you can avoid it, don't get drawn into long-term contracts. If your internet marketing advisers are good at what they do, they won't need to tie you into a lengthy contract and you won't want to lose them!

Forum members can download a free guide to getting started with search engine optimisation.

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