SEM for Small Businesses

As much as I love New York, this Cali girl needs her warm weather. Thankfully, for the first time today I’m not freezing cold in this room. Little blogger fingers do much better when not afflicted with the early stages of frostbite.

This session is sponsored by SEMPO and our moderator is Greg Hartnett, Best of the Web. He’s going to start the presentations even though one of the speakers is apparently stuck in cross-town traffic. Half the room nods in understanding.

SEMPO is a great resource for SEM marketers with lots of free stuff, online courses and webinars available. If you haven’t already, you should check it out.

Lauren Vaccarello, LVLogic, will be presenting on the cheap, free and easy tools available to small businesses. Small businesses don’t always have the resources to pay for the new tools coming out. But, they’re faster and more flexible than large businesses.

Competitive research is the backbone to every site. Find out what your competition is doing well and what they’re failing on. There’s no reason to start from scratch when you can learn the flaws and strengths and build from that. has a competitive research tool, but it can get expensive if you’re doing a lot of queries. is a low-cost alternative at about $13 a day. A free option is the SEObook Firefox Extension. You’ll find out how many links there are and get an idea of what’s needed to reach the top of the rankings for those tools. SEODigger is another free tool that shows the sites ranking for keywords. Xenu gives you you’re Alexa ranking, backlinks and ranking pages.

Now that you’ve got the competitive research done, it’s time for keyword research. Wordze is a great tool at about $40 a month and will give you keyword information. A free alternative is Keyword Discovery has a free and paid version. It gives you the volume of search terms.

For backlink tools, SEOmoz Backlink Analysis, at about $50 a month, will give you lots of info. But for a free tool, try Comment Hunt. It will let you know how to get some comment links. Tattler will let you scrape backlinks. Similarly, Link Harvester will tell you the age of backlinks and will give you an idea of who to contact.

For project management, try Solo SEO if you’re the only one in your business. This tool shows you the top subpages of a site you’re looking at getting a link from. Basecamp is a great tool for multiple people working on a project.

Reputation management is critical because you don’t want to start after it’s too late. TrackUR, for $18 a month, will let you know what people are saying about your company name, product names, C-level names, etc. Keotag will give you search results for a variety of sources for free. Monitor This lets you subscribe to 20 different search engine feeds to monitor your brand name.

Her key takeaways are to: take advantage of all the low cost resources out there; take advantage of your competitors’ mistakes; stay organized; and monitor your reputation.

Avi Wilensky, promediacorp, starts with a picture of a juicy burger on the screen. He’s going to do this presentation case study style, using the company Pocket Change as an example. Pocket Change is a luxury lifestyle newsletter and blog covering NYC and LA. They wanted to increase subscribers, page views, branding and new advertisers.

They decided to come up with the most expensive burger ever created and sell it at a New York restaurant. After a while, a few patrons blogged about the “Richard Nouveau Burger” they saw on the menu. Other bloggers noticed the $175 burger on the Menupages. These initial bloggers began the buzz. Pocket Change ran the official story on their Web site and in the weekly newsletter. It included a video they produced for less than $5,000.

Soon, larger NYC blogs picked up the story from the Pocket Change blog and newsletter. Previous bloggers’ posts reinforced the story’s validity and links and traffic was coming from all over the Web. The story went mainstream as it was picked up by CBS and other news stations. When it got picked up by, they got tens of thousands of unique page views. The burger story was even featured on the Colbert Show.


  • Record number of traffic and ads served.
  • Hundreds of natural backlinks to Pocket Change from high authority sites
  • 5,000 references of “Richard Nouveau Burger” on Google.
  • Built brand in local market, blogosphere and mainstream media
  • Press relationships for future releases
  • Increased visibility to new advertisers

Go to to download his Power Point presentation.


Do affiliate links have any value on raising you on organic search rankings?

Greg says that they are valuable because people are directly getting to the site. It’s a dampened effect but there’s still value. Nofollow links are the same way. He says that as long as they’re not going through a third party, there’s still an effect.

You obviously don’t want to burn the budget on competitive research. What would you suggest for a balance of budget spend on a project?

Lauren says that after the initial research is done, the resources should go to building links and great content. Just because you’re a small local business doesn’t mean that you can’t come up with a great idea, as illustrated by the burger story. Avi says that you have to keep trying because for every burger story there are many stories that didn’t go big. There’s no set balance, but leverage your resources.

How do we stay on top of the changes that Google makes to the algorithm?

Lauren explains that it’s always going to be changing. She doubts even Larry and Sergey know all 200 parts of the algorithm, and there’s no way to keep up with every single change. That’s the horrible and the great thing about SEO. There’s no way to be ahead of the curve, but in general, the only way that Google will know you exist is through links. As much as Google changes the algorithm, there’s no way they’re going to stop giving value to links. Greg says that his best advice is not to let it be obvious if you’re buying or selling links.

For small business folks busy running a business, do you have any tips for how to develop content?

Greg recommends starting a blog and outsourcing it. Freelance writers are a good way to do it. Avi says that good content is all around you. A good example is when he posted a picture of the first outdoor paid public bathroom in NYC that was quickly picked up by larger sites. Lauren says that pictures are golden. People like pictures and people don’t see it as commercial so they’re eager to link to it.

How does Google view the paid directories?

Greg says that it all comes down to whether Google feels those directories exhibit editorial integrity. That’s the difference between a link farm and a worthwhile directory. Are they rejecting sites or are they accepting every site that pays? When you go to the site, how does it feel to you? Does it smell like a link farm? The four directories general Web directories he would recommend linking to are DMOZ, Yahoo, Best of the Web and Then there are also the industry specific directories.

What do you think of links coming off of social networks, like Twitter?

Avi says that the recent change to Twitter to nofollow links in the bio section was pretty controversial, but as it stands, the Twitter links are now not passing link equity. Greg says that, despite that, a link is a link is a link. Don’t worry about the nofollow attribute too much. As far as social networks, outsourcing is the best way to go about it. There are some marketers that have built up power accounts and their effort will go much farther than the efforts of a small business owner just starting up an account. You’ll get a better return on your investment if you outsource.

Is there a pay for performance type of arrangement for SEO?

Avi says that they have an e-commerce client that they do this for. Three Dog Media also does this type of payment model. SEMPO has a job board that you can make this kind of request on and vendors will contact you.

As a small business SEO, I’m having trouble managing expectations.

Lauren says that education is the initial step. Explain what paid is, what organic is, what to expect and over what timeline. Setting up ways to track the effectiveness, like click to call or another phone number posted on the Web site, will help set reasonable expectations.

Should I be submitting to a directory like SuperPages?

You absolutely should if you’re a brick and mortar. Make sure the data listed in, YellowPages, etc., is correct because all the directories pull from each other. Google trusts the local listings sites, so you want to be present. Localese, Axciom, InfoUSA are some of the main originating points for local listings. If there’s an error in the data, go to them and correct it.

Since we’ve got you, Bruce Clay offers industry-leading PPC and SEM services. Get in touch today!

Virginia Nussey is the director of content marketing at MobileMonkey. Prior to joining this startup in 2018, Virginia was the operations and content manager at Bruce Clay Inc., having joined the company in 2008 as a writer and blogger.

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

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3 Replies to “SEM for Small Businesses”

Firstly, in Snapshot one can compare only three sites. Secondly, sites with less that 10000 uniques are excluded and thirdly, this is available only for the US audience. These three limitations still keep Google the favorite followed by Alexa.

Virginia, it’s great to see that Google has some flexibility on the quality of paid directories. Thanks a lot for a great article.

Solid information – We have been using Filtrbox as of late for reputation management / conversation “keyword” tracking related to our clients verticals. Produces good results – worth adding to your SEM toolbox.


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