A short while back a client forwarded an article to me that said SEO was a waste of money. (Note: In case you don’t know, SEO stands for “search engine optimization” – basically, fixing your website so it ranks well in search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing)
I laughed so hard I almost fell out of my chair – besides the fact that the article was a crock, I had a very good reason for doing so. Immediately prior to receiving the email I just finished a meeting with a very successful local entrepreneur… and in that meeting we discussed (at length) the importance of SEO in the ongoing success of her business.
She informed me that she has spent something close to $25,000 on search engine optimization services over the last two years – which she credits (along with her social media marketing efforts) for her position as the dominant market leader in a very competitive field.
In fact, while approximately 20% of her competition bowed out last year (due to the recession) her business actually grew. She credits it all to her savvy use of online marketing technologies, which have allowed her to stay well ahead of her competition.
Now, I know most of you don’t have the cash to spend $12,000 a year on your online marketing. However, when small business owners overlook and ignore the importance of online marketing, I can only shake my head at the sheer ignorance of their decision.
So, if you’re still with me to this point, and you think you could use some help in this area, I’m going to provide you with some guidelines as to where you should be spending your online advertising and marketing dollars, and in what order of priority.
Pay close attention, because this is going to actually be the most cost-effective method of marketing your school in 2010. Feel free to print out this article for future reference and ignore me at your own peril…
Priority #1: Your Lead-Capture Website
(Cost: Anywhere from $500 to $2,500)
This is the first thing you should invest in when you start spending money for marketing online. Your lead generation website will work for you 24/7/365 to capture leads, whether you’re at work, answering the phones, or at home asleep or on the training floor.
Yes, you can DIY this one – but it probably won’t rank well because it won’t be optimized for Google and Yahoo, and you’ll just end up having it redone in the end anyway. Skip a few display ads and drop some money up front on this – you’ll only pay for it once, and it’ll keep paying for itself over and over for years to come.
Priority #2: Search Engine Optimization and Website Promotion
(Cost: Anywhere from $500 to $1,000 up front, and then $500 to $800 a month, depending on your market and competition)
Although I always optimize the sites I build for all my web design clients, you’ll typically have to pay a separate fee for it when you’re dealing with other web design and SEO companies.
But, it’s worth it – because a website no one visits is like a billboard in the desert… absolutely worthless.
And, you get site visitors from getting a high search engine ranking (top five spots) in the local Google and Yahoo results for targeted, relevant, popular search terms.
Once again, this can be done DIY* – but SEO is a lot more sophisticated than just optimizing your meta tags. You have to think about on-page factors and off-page factors, and know how each will affect your site’s trust and ranking with Google.
Messing up any of this stuff can have a negative result as minor as not getting a desirable ranking, or as serious as getting your site blackballed by Google (and good luck getting back in again).
Trust me, hire a pro – someone you can trust that has references – to do this for you.
*(Note: A few things have changed since I first wrote this article. For starters, it’s no longer enough to simply optimize a website yourself and then expect it to rank well in Google. These days, the competition is stronger and Google is a lot more picky about which sites they rank on the first page. It’s a lot more difficult to properly optimize a website these days, and if you mess it up you run the risk of getting penalized by Google. So, you should expect to spend money on hiring a professional SEO specialist to get your site ranked, and you should continue to pay them to keep it ranked… that is, if you want to maintain top search engine rankings in your local market.)
Priority #3: A Custom Blog
(Cost: Anywhere from $500 to $5,000)*
Once again, this is something I include with all my web design packages for my clients. However, other firms will charge you a separate fee for creating a custom blog theme to match your site, to install it and set it up, and to optimize the blog so your articles get indexed in Google and rank high in the search engine results.
Blogs are easy to DIY – in fact, a lot of businesses will try to use a free blog for their business website. However, this can be a big mistake… and here’s why.
Free isn’t necessarily cheap. The big issues with free blogs are that they are not very customizable, and you run the risk of the blog host losing all your data and posts.
In addition, a free blog is not going to be set up to effectively leverage the blogging technologies available to you right now. Blogs have come a long way in the last few years, and a properly optimized blog will basically promote itself in the search engines – all you have to do is add content on a regular basis.
*(Note: Since I wrote this article, most web designers have started building websites using content management systems. The most popular CMS is WordPress, which was designed to be the framework for blogs, but also is a great platform to build just about any site on. So, you should be able to save money by combining your business marketing website with your blog on the same domain.)
Final Thought – Any Small Business Internet Marketing Activity Is Better Than None!
It’s true… anything is better than nothing. So, if you have to start with a free blog, do it. And if you have to DIY your own website at first, that’s much better than having no website at all.
The bottom line is, internet marketing for small businesses is something sort of like gardening – it takes time and energy to start seeing results, and nothing happens until you start planting seeds. So, take action now so you can start seeing results from your internet marketing efforts and investment in 2010 and beyond.