When we talk to small business owners, they often tell us that online marketing is both their biggest challenge and their greatest opportunity. Business owners understand that online advertising is here to stay, and that it will only get more important as customers use smartphones and tablet PCs to search on the fly, but many aren't sure where to start or how to catch the online marketing wave.
Fortunately, the biggest player in the online marketing business is also one of the easiest places to begin. Google offers three different ways for entrepreneurs to market their small businesses online: organic search results, Google AdWords, and local listings.
“Organic” search results are simply the free website results that appear when a user performs a search for a keyword or phrase on Google. Websites are listed in order of their relevance to the search term, and one search will often result in tens of thousands of results, for example, a search for “business credit cards” returns 667,000,000 results.
It can be difficult to control or predict exactly how well your site will perform in these free website listings, but there are a few things you can do to improve your chances of making it to the all-important first page of the search results.
First, make sure your website is listed with Google so that your pages will be crawled and indexed by the search engine. To do so, go to Google.com/addurl. It's likely that Google will eventually find your site on its own even if you don't submit your URL, but if your site is new, submitting the URL can help to speed the process.
Next, review the content of your site to make sure that it's search engine friendly. In other words, make sure your website has text, images, and videos related to the search terms people are likely to use to look for products and services like yours. Think of your website as a living, evolving thing, and update it frequently with fresh, informative content. The more relevant your content, the better your search result rankings.
Of course, there are probably hundreds, if not thousands, of businesses competing for the same limited set of keywords. And that's where paid online advertising comes in.
Google AdWords allows you to place ads for your business next to and above the free search results for your chosen keywords, giving you more control over when, where, and how frequently your listing will appear.
According to a Compete study, 94% of consumers research products online before buying, so online advertising tools such as AdWords help you get your message in front of the right people at exactly the right time.
With AdWords, you control who sees the ad by tying your advertisement to a specific keyword or set of keywords, and you pay only when someone clicks through to your website. But how do you know what keywords to choose? Put yourself in the shoes of your prospective customers: If they were looking for your product or service, what word or phrase would they be likely to type into the search box?
For best results, the text of your ad should be closely related to the keyword phrase you have targeted. Don't make the common mistake of featuring your business name more prominently than the product or service your customers are searching for. For example, if your keyword phrase is "brick oven pizza," the title of your ad should probably be "Brick Oven Pizza" not "Bob's Restaurant." Once customers click through to your site, you can tell them all the wonderful things about Bob's Restaurant, but first, you have to get them there.
With AdWords, you control how much you're willing to spend per click or per day. You can even begin with a small dollar amount, as little as $10, $50, or $100, depending on the demand for your search terms, then revise your budget or your ads themselves as you begin to see what works and what doesn't.
Although your budget will of course dictate how frequently your ads can be displayed, Google looks at relevance and ad quality as much as the price of an AdWords ad, so if you have better keyword matches, ad copy, or a more relevant landing page, you can potentially outperform competitors.
What if you need to market one or more "brick-and-mortar" locations, or you only provide your services in a single city or area? You can limit your AdWords listings to only local searches, but you can also use Google Places for Business to connect with customers right around the corner.
About 20% of the searches on Google are associated with a location, and Google Places is a free local listings platform that helps you capture those searches and drive customers to your primary location by listing your business address, phone number, description, hours, products, menus, and other features such as real-time updates or specials.
Google Places are displayed in the search results when someone searches for a product or service in a specific location by including a city, state, region, or ZIP code in the search field on Google.com or Google Maps. Google Places allows business owners to edit or add information about their small business, which is indicated in the search results by a "pin" on a map. To claim your Google Places page, find your business on the map (or follow instructions to add it if it's not there), then go to the Places page associated with the pin and identify yourself as the owner of the business.
Google may ask you to verify your ownership by sending you a verification code via snail mail to your business address. Once you have completed the verification process, you can update the page as frequently as you would like, taking advantage of simple "tags" to highlight areas of your business such as your hours, directions, menu, or specials.
Once your free website listings, AdWords campaigns, and local listings are up and running, you can use Google Analytics to measure all the traffic coming to your site, not just the traffic generated by Google platforms. Google Analytics helps you understand how users find and interact with your website so that you can continue to improve your online presence and watch your business grow.
Visit Google.com to learn more about using Google's suite of tools to market your small business online.
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