I am being asked more and more often about where and how to spend money on Internet advertising. People rightly perceive that traditional display advertising, such as magazines and newspapers are offering less and less value. The paper telephone directories, which have been the cornerstone of many small businesses marketing efforts, have also lost their teeth. In this context, small business people are exploring what Google Adwords and SEO operators have to offer.

The web used to be a far more democratic place: if I wrote valid HTML, focused on and reused carefully selected keywords, I could get a small B&B site up beside a major chain hotel in the search engine result pages (SERPs). Those days are long gone. Google’s SERPs favour larger or aggregation sites like Wotif and Trivago over a individual accommodation providers web ste.

So we are no longer on a level playing field, and to mix metaphors, what is the game now?

What follows is a discussion of the most widespread means of web marketing… as it is today – it is a moving target and will change probably in less than 12 months. This isn’t a shopping list. Don’t cherry pick from it: do it all.

  1. Search engine submission. This is simply telling search engines that you have published a site and what the address is, and in some cases offers the search engines some meta information about your site. It doesn’t guarantee that your site will be indexed (visited), or in a time frame that suits you or that you will come up on the SERPs pages where you want. There is some discussion surrounding the value of search engine submission, but on balance I believe it has a place, certainly in the first year of a web site going live. Another trend to note is that CMS packages (WordPress, Joomla and Drupal) upon which increasing numbers of web sites are based, have a built in update service that alerts search engines to changes in a page, article or blog area of a site.
  2. Google Adwords campaign. Google Adwords are all over the web. You don’t have to go far to see them (they are even on this page!). You use Google Adwords to place an ad with your web address close to search results related to your chosen keywords. Obviously, if you are already in the free results, you needn’t pay for an ad. But if you are out on page 3, 4 or 5 of the SERPs or worse, you may consider Adwords.
    Adwords however do not come cheaply. Allow up to $300-$500 per month. The final cost is determined by the amount of competition for the keyword phrase(s) you are chasing. You have to bid for these in an auction environment. The good news is you can cap your monthly budget. Once your spend is exhausted, you ad is removed from rotation.
  3. Inbound, unreciprocated links. The objective here is to create “link popularity” for your site. Allow $7.50 US per link. You need up to 150 links or more than your nearest competitor to head toward that number one spot in the SERPs. There are other articles on this blog that discuss how you can find out who is presently linking to you so you can determine the size of the task ahead. You can do some of this work yourself at no cost. Start with directory sites.
  4. Social Networking. Activity on Linkedin, Twitter and Facebook (in that order) is fast becoming the next big trend in web marketing. Books and blog articles are emerging explaining how these media can be harnessed for marketing and sales purposes… even though that may run contrary to the use policies of the sites. The objective is to create an audience interested in your product i.e. be “followed” on Twitter, have “friends” and “likes” on Facebook, build a professional network on Linkedin. There is time involved in social networking, but no dollars. Be careful. You need to read the terms of use policies to avoid having your account closed for misuse.
  5. Newsletter. Like Google Adwords, there are newsletter subscription boxes on every second web site. The ones that work offer a real incentive to hand over your email address, say a PDF of an ebook, or exclusive information only available via newsletter, specials or notice of a sale. Only do this if you have something NEW you want to tell or offer people weekly or monthly. Just telling who you are and what you do wont lead to many more sales.
  6. Blogging.  Blogging (or writing articles) has also become widespread on the web – the so called “self-publishing” phenomena. If you write well, this may be a web marketing option for you. Blogging demonstrates the breadth of your knowledge and builds credibility with your readers. From a search engine perspective, it shows you are investing in content – watering the garden so to speak. Search engines love to see new or changed, keyword rich content. If your site has more information on it than a competitor site, search engines will reward you with higher rankings. Blogging is time expensive, but no cash is required. It is possible to employ writers, but this becomes costly. You can download articles from free article libaries, but these are sometime poorly written and not always precisely on topic.

Having said all the above, I must stress, there is no substitute for compelling content, and content that is update and refreshed. Content is king. What is the point of link popularity, if when people arrive at your site it isn’t saying much and offers little value to the visitor. Ditto a Goolge ads.