Tightwad Marketing

Marketing your small business website online

John Kuraoka, a project of www.kuraoka.com

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Search engine optimization is a hot topic among webmasters. Still, I hesitated to include in Tightwad Marketing an article about it, because search engines keep changing, merging, and flat-out disappearing. So, the task of optimizing your website, and the ways to optimize your website, are in constant flux.

However, seven key marketing concepts have emerged. They are likely to remain useful in marketing your small business by improving your website’s search engine ranking. Like many major concepts, each is surrounded by a popular mythology riddled with fallacy. The key to successfully marketing your small business through website promotion, lies in finding - and acting upon - the kernels of truth hidden within the myths.

Myth #1: The keyword metatag is/is not important. This one cuts both ways. On one hand, the keyword metatag is not used to any extent by any major search engine, due to relentless metatag abuse.

On the other hand, the keyword metatag exists, even if somewhat vestigial, and it is still used by many directories to sort their internal search results. I think this is the key marketing consideration, and from a purely pragmatic standpoint (and, remember, Tightwad Marketing is all about pragmatism), it’s smart business to offer the most search engines and directories the most number of ways to look at your website. At the same time, I see targeted business directories rising in importance.

Much the same can be said about the “description” metatag. Many search engines and directories use whatever text is in the description tag as the website description; others scan it for key words and phrases; others disregard it.

My marketing recommendation for your small business website: Use the keyword metatag for words and phrases relevant to the content of each page of your website, but don’t obsess over it. Likewise, customize description metatags for each webpage, using relevant words and phrases. Title tags are important, and should contain the words and phrases your potential customers will use to search for your business.

Myth #2: Submitting your website URL to a link list will boost its search engine ranking by increasing its inbound link popularity. I thought these lists by now lacked all credibility, but I still see them coming up disguised as directories.

Here’s some historical background: “Free For All” (FFA) lists developed as ways to promote websites by publishing free links. Anyone could post a link. Since many search engines use inbound link popularity to rank websites, FFA lists were promoted as ways to instantly increase links and boost search result ranking. It didn’t take long for the people behind the search engines to figure this out and develop ways to look for relevant content in links.

The new twist seems to be marketing such link lists as “directories” or “classified ads.”

My marketing recommendation for your small business website: Avoid free link lists. If you develop reciprocal links, do so with business relevance in mind. And, when you consider listing your small business website in an online directory or classified ad page, look for indications of legitimacy. That could include such things as covering a specific geographical area or industry, or having human editors review websites for relevance. Also, try searching for the directory or classified ad website itself - if it hasn’t been banned by the search engines, it should be easy to find.

Myth #3: Company X can guarantee me a #1 search engine ranking. You can achieve a high ranking in impartial search engines by providing carefully crafted, useful content. This is search engine optimization by honest-to-goodness relevance.

You also can buy your way to the top of most paid-placement and pay-per-click search result providers by outbidding other webmasters on targeted keywords and key phrases. If you do this, you must constantly monitor and adjust your bids to meet competitive changes. (Read Myth #4, though, to learn why you might not want to be #1.)

The fact is, no one can honestly guarantee you a #1 search engine ranking through optimization techniques, at least not in the major search engines. Well, wait: there was one way that used to work. The technique was called “doorway pages.” It consisted of creating dozens of pages, each loaded (often incoherently) with targeted keywords, and all pointing to one website. This technique now violates the terms of service of most search engines. It may work one month, then get your website banned the next. I’d stay away.

My marketing recommendation for your small business website: Develop your content to offer real value. If necessary, hire a search-engine-savvy copywriter to write or refine your website content. It is far more-effective - and, in the long run, less-expensive - to start with website content and optimize that for search engines, than to start with search engine optimization and add website content.

Myth #4: A #1 search engine ranking is important. A #1 search engine ranking is nice, but not necessary. The fact is, as long as your website is ranked on the first page of search results, you’re probably okay.

With pay-per-click (PPC) search result providers, there is a real cost to being ranked #1. That’s because the webmaster in the #1 sponsored position outbid everyone else for the requested keywords. That’s right; the #1 person pays more per click than the #2 person, who pays more than the #3 person, and so on. Yet, they’re all there, usually ten or more on the first page of search results. In most cases, you can safely be #4 or #6, with a much lower keyword bid, and save money on every click-through.

Now, here’s where it gets interesting: in many cases you don’t even have to bid to be listed! That’s because most PPC search result providers also carry the results from one of the major search engines, listed below the sponsored listings. So, if your website has a high enough ranking on that source search engine, it may land on the first page of results from the PPC search result provider, free! The catch, is that the top several slots on the first page are occupied by sponsored listings. So, where a #15-ranked website might be on the first page of results from the source search engine, it might get knocked to the second page of results from the PPC search result provider. To get a free ride on the coattails of PPC search results, a top-5 search engine ranking helps.

With longer search result pages, you want your website to rank near the top anyways. That makes it easy for your potential customers to find you with a minimum of screen scrolling.

My marketing recommendation for your small business website: If your website is not on the first page of search engine results, consider expanding and optimizing your website content. But, if your website is on the first page of results, don’t bother trying to move from #7 to #1. Instead, focus on crafting your website description to command attention and attract potential customers. You’ll pick up traffic from both the search engines and the PPC search result providers, without having to bid a penny for keywords.

Myth #5: Google is the only search engine that counts, and the Open Directory (dmoz) is the only directory that counts. Google and dmoz are important, because they provide search results to many other search tools. But, there are about a dozen major search engines in which it is worth being indexed. In an era of consolidation and innovation, it makes sense to get indexed in any legitimate search engine effort that comes along. You never know who will buy or partner with whom. Also, many of these other search engines power the non-sponsored results of various PPC search result providers (see Myth #4, above).

As for the countless local or industry-specific directories, these offer invaluable assistance in two ways. First, they can be much-used portals, directing targeted traffic to your small business website. Second, if they are themselves indexed in the major search engines, they offer your website a relevant inbound link.

My marketing recommendation for your small business website: Submit your website URL to all the major search engines, and any directory that makes sense for your business.

Myth #6: Search engine marketing is the only way to boost website traffic and sales. If you do online marketing right, you can build traffic to your small business website.

But, unless you’re actually delivering your product or service online, much of that traffic may be wasted. A high search engine ranking gets you traffic, but it also gets you scores of looky-loos. Depending on your website hosting plan, that extra traffic could cost you real money in excess bandwidth charges.

For most traditional small businesses, offline marketing is as important, if not more important than online marketing. That’s because offline marketing markets your website - and your products and services - to actual potential customers. If you’re a roofing contractor in Bennington, Vermont, or a restaurant in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, or an accountant in South Bend, Indiana, you don’t care if your website gets hits from people in Bakersfield, California. Those people are interested people, but not potential customers; they represent increased traffic, but not increased potential sales.

My marketing recommendation for your small business website: Don’t overlook offline marketing for your small business. Put your website URL on every piece of communication you distribute, from flyers and ads to business cards and receipts or invoices. Implement promotional programs and publicity campaigns. Look further in this website for even more articles on marketing your small business cheaply and effectively.

Myth #7: Articles about search engine optimization are useful. Much has changed in the search engine world over the past 12 months. Yet, there’s a lot of stale content out there; information that was valid enough in its day but that no longer applies.

If you search the Internet for information on search engines and optimizing your website, the results will fall into three categories. First, outdated information. This is the largest category, because the content has been around for so long it has become embedded. Second, up-to-the-moment information that may become outdated in the very near future. Good sources for this information are bulletin boards, active forums, and blogs, if you can filter out the urban legends, partial truths, misstatements, and outright hoaxes. Third, classic information that offers broad website marketing principles. The information is valid, but you must use your own judgement in determining how to apply those principles to your small business website.

My marketing recommendation for your small business website: This article falls into the third category. Stop reading, and start doing! Remember: “search engine optimization” is a noun. “Tightwad Marketing” is very much a verb.
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