Big Ideas for Small Sites & Small Businesses

Here we are on Day 4. We made it, folks. Let’s dive in.

Jennifer Laycock (Search Engine Guide) starts off the panel, noting that though the Internet was once considered the great equalizer, that’s since changed. The Internet used to give everyone a level playing field, but now money is starting to have more of an influence, helping large companies gain visibility over small business owners.

Common sense is today’s great equalizer. As a small company, you have the ability to make quick changes without cutting through the red tape. You’re more flexible than a larger company. You are as strong as your ideas.

To compete against large companies, small sites need to change the way they think about search engine marketing. Forget about chasing the algorithm or about magic formulas. Instead, understand that the search engines want to be "a real boy" (aka the Pinocchio Effect). They want to be able to judge your page the same way a human being judges your page. There is no magic formula when it comes to SEM.

Pinocchio action in the past:

The best example of the engines’ Pinocchio complex is in the progression of links: At first, the sheer number of links won. Over time, it became about link text. Then they moved into link quality (who’s linking to you?). Lately it’s been about link age. The longer you’ve maintained a link, the more authority it has. We don’t know where it’s going next but you can see a clear progression to replicate human judgment.

Pinocchio in action now:

Is there a sandbox? Jennifer Laycock says there is no sandbox. If you’re Google and you make your money by having people come to your site, it makes no sense to lock every site away for six months or a year. Instead, there’s a Trustbox (a term coined by Aaron Wall).

Jennifer compares it to a Chinese takeout restaurant. If you live in an area with a lot of Chinese restaurants, you’re not going to go flocking when a new one opens. But if that takeout place is still there six months later, you may be more likely to check it out. (I am in love with that example. And sweet and sour chicken.) Jennifer says it’s not so much about age, but about raising the bar to entry. With more sites coming out, it’s getting harder to compete.

Jennifer says the number one rule of organic search is to speak the customer’s language. It’s about researching what your customers are searching for, what they’re doing with those terms and building your campaign around that. Understand the search buying cycle and use it. Are they in the interest (muscle cars), research (fastest muscle cars) or purchasing phase (classic muscle car dealer)?

The number one rule of pay-per-click is that it’s not about buying clicks. It’s about buying customers. (Ooo, buying people!) Learn how to track your pay-per-click campaigns. PPC without direct metrics is like launching TV, yellow pages and direct mail on the same day without taking the time to see which campaign brought which increase in traffic.

The number one rule of link building is to build relationships. Network locally. Think of a link as an online referral. Are you giving someone something worth putting their reputation on the line? The best way to get a link is to earn it.

Matt McGee (Marchex) is up next and says that as a small business owner you have to work smarter and be more creative in your search marketing.

The first decision you have to make as a small business is whether you should try and do SEO yourself or if you should hire out.

If you do it yourself, you’re going to have to invest more time than you do money. You should be reading blogs, joining mailing lists, participating in forums and attending conferences and other industry events.

From there Matt highlights three books wannabe-SEOs can read to gain industry knowledge:

  • SEO Book by Aaron Wall
  • Small Business Guide to Search Engine Marketing by Jennifer Laycock
  • Search Engine Optimization: An Hour a Day by Jennifer Grappone and Gradiva Couzin

If you prefer to learn by attending seminars, Matt recommends:

  • Search Engine College – Kalena Jordan
  • SEO Research Labs – Dan Thies
  • Search Engine Workshops – Robin Nobles and J. Alexander
  • High Rankings Seminars – Jill Whalen

If you’re going to hire out, you can use directory sites such as,, or Realize that not all the firms listed are good and not all the good firms are listed.

Now that you know where to find them, you have to determine what to ask when choosing one. Matt gives attendees five tips to help you choose the right company:

  • Trust: Ask a lot of questions; build a relationship.
  • Experience: ask for references.
  • Risk comfort level: know the tactics and liabilities.
  • Measure success: set clear goals up front.
  • Cost: Arm? Leg? Your first-born?

As a small business, you have the luxury of trying out new ideas. Think outside the four search engine box. Practice ‘alternative SEM’. Use participation marketing. Don’t wait for customers to find you; go out and find them. Are they on message boards? Discussion groups? Blogs? Social networking sites?

Rule number one is to avoid the hard sell. People don’t like you coming into their community. Try to build relationships.

Matt recommends focusing on Flickr as a new marketing opportunity. People aren’t just sharing photos; they’re sharing comments and conversations. Use your URL as your screen name, upload your company’s logo as your icon, write a user profile to promote your business, link to your Web site, participate in photo groups and upload quality photos.

John Carcutt (MoreVisibility) talked about leveraging your company’s advantages and highlighted ways small businesses can find ways to out perform larger competition. You have a tighter product focus, are in better touch with your customers and faster reaction time.

Using these ideas to influence your strategies against larger competitors can help you with organic and paid search.

Here are some other things you can do:

  • Set Reasonable Goals: You don’t have to be first or the largest to compete. You do need to have a presence and make a profit.
  • Become part of the community: Start practicing Social Media Optimization. Get involved with sites like Wikipedia, Digg, Reddit,, etc. You can get content without paying a copywriter and gain trust within these communities.
  • Create a community: The easiest way to do this is to create a blog.

Lisa Barone is a writer, content marketer & VP of strategy at Overit Media. She's also a very active Twitterer, much to the dismay of the rest of the world.

See Lisa's author page for links to connect on social media.

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