Search marketing has become an expensive endeavor. This is especially true if you are in any kind of a competitive industry. Good search engine optimization can be pricey (we charge $200 an hour). As pay per click advertising continues to attract more and more advertisers, the cost of bidding on keywords will continue to rise as well. Most web directories and other web site listing services now charge for inclusion where it used to be free. The list goes on and on. So how does a company with practically no budget compete in an online world?

I was recently asked this very question after putting together a proposal for an SEO campaign for a small locally based business. Turns out that the company had a mere $300 to spend on increasing their site's visibility. That was not their monthly budget or else we could have done something with it. They had $300 period! After looking over my proposal which was more in the neighborhood of a few thousand dollars, they wondered what they could do (if anything) with such a small budget. My initial though was "not much" especially seeing that $300 doesn't even meet our minimum requirements of engagement. However, I reflected back to when my company was starting out on the web, a time when we had very little money to spend on advertising and yet we managed on a shoestring budget.

Now to be quite straight forward with you up front, if you have a mortgage company and you want to market yourself simply in your own state, $300 is not going to do much for you. Broaden your focus to a national scale and your chances of success are really slim. In most highly competitive markets, it is going to require a significant amount of money as well as an exhaustive effort to experience any measure of success.

That being said, there are still things a small locally based businesses can do to increase their web site's visibility, even on a shoestring budget. Using the example of the company I mentioned beforehand, let's look at what $300 can get you.

1. One Month Subscription to Keyword Discovery - $69.95

If you are going to market your site via the search engines, you need to have a good understanding of what keywords and phrases people will search for to find your business. Developing a list of keywords to target will lay a foundation for you to build a marketing strategy on. Effective keyword research is going to require some knowledge of your industry, recognizing who your target market is and a whole lot of common sense. Back that up with actual data on what people are searching for here and now and you have a solid foundation to start with.

2. Buy Jennifer Laycock's Small Business Guide to Search Marketing
- $79.00

This eBook will not only teach you about keyword research, search engine optimization (SEO), link building, pay per click advertising and viral marketing techniques - pretty much everything you need to know how to market your small business online. You will have access to free lifetime updates of the eBook as well as access to a support forum where you can ask questions.

Yes this will require you to "learn how to do it yourself" but if you cannot hire someone to do it for you because you have limited funds, then your only other choice is to do it yourself. Remember that search marketing is not rocket science. Most anyone can learn it. It is more time intensive than anything else.

4. Get Listed in Best of the Web - $79.95 (annually)

If your site is going to be found and indexed by search engines, you need links from other sites. Directories can be a good starting point. Why Best of the Web? Because it is one of the oldest directories that can actually benefit your site and best of all, you can afford it with your limited budget. Yahoo! Directory is still a great one to get listed in but at an annual cost of $299 annually, your entire budget would be spent. is also a great directory if you are B2B focused but again at $199 annually, it would eat up most of your budget.

A listing in the right category at Best of the Web will help to establish link popularity for your site which in turn will help engines to find and keep it in their index. You can also submit your site to, JoeAnt, and Web Beacon but will have to sign up as an editor in order to have the opportunity to gain free inclusion.

5. Get Listed in Local Search Engines - FREE (basic listings)

If you are a locally based business, you should submit your site to Google Maps, Yahoo! Local,, and other local search engines that offer free listing service. It takes but a few minutes of your time to create a listing. The result is that your business will be visible when users are using a local search site and best of all these local search services provide a link to your web site.

6. Download and Read Social Media Daily by Michelle MacPhearson - FREE

Social media is the next big thing and has the potential to not only help increase your site's link popularity but drive lots of traffic from the millions of people that are using social media sites daily. Most social media sites are free to use and utilize. It will require a lot of time on your part but if you have a small budget, you most likely have more time than money anyway. Otherwise you would hire someone to do all this stuff for you.

Social media present so many opportunities to market your site and there seems to be no slowing as to the amount of social media sites that keep popping up as well as existing sites that are implementing social community aspects to them. My best advice is to read this 26 page guide and then decide how far you want to take it.

7. Gain Exposure on Sites Related to Your Niche and/or Geographical Region - Remainder of Your Budget

At this point you have exactly $71.10 left to spend in an effort to increase your site's visibility. I recommend that you look for opportunities to gain exposure on sites that are either closely related to your niche or somehow related to the geographical region you serve.

For example if you had a construction or home improvement based company n Arizona (where I reside), you could get a listing on The Arizona Builders' Zone, a resource site that also contains a directory of Arizona based construction and home improvement companies. It will cost you a one time fee of $25 which still leaves you $46.10 to spend elsewhere.

There are many of these types of sites and can include niche directories, trade association sites, resource sites, etc. Sometimes you can even obtain a free listing if you ask politely. The main idea is to locate sites that are already attracting traffic and ensure you have some visibility which will help you to draw some of that traffic your way.

These are just some ways you can market your site on a shoestring budget. Keep in mind that as your business grows, you will probably want to increase your budget to advertise in productive ways so as to keep the momentum going. I don't recommend operating on a shoestring budget forever but sometimes that is necessary to get things rolling along.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.

September 6, 2007

David Wallace is CEO and founder of SearchRank, an original search engine optimization and marketing firm based in Phoenix, Arizona. He is experienced in search engine optimization and marketing, pay per click and pay for inclusion management, directory submissions and web site design usability. David is a frequent contributor to various search engine related forums, an active editor of popular directories such as, Joe Ant and Zeal and has had several articles published on industry related sites. Since 1997, David along with his company have helped hundreds of businesses both large and small increase their search engine visibility and customer acquisitions.



Thank you for highlighting a way for startups to use their small advertising budget to maximum effect! When every penny counts, each and every way to save on costs is just like money in the bank. This type of post is exactly what I look for to reach my target audience. I cross-posted on your piece, along with some comments of my own, to

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Anthony Kuhn
Innovators Network

David, nice article.

As part of step #5 (free listings in Google Local, etc), I'd recommend creating an email campaign to your current customers (and if you're a bricks and mortar store, signs all around your business) that offered a small discount for people who agreed to review you on G Local, Yelp, etc. You could couch it as a "customer experience survey." The # of reviews seems to be a pretty significant factor in who shows up in the Map+3 G Universal results & as you said, it's basically free to get there.

Excellent article. We work with many small businesses and nonprofits who start from here, with extremely limited SEO budgets. We'll direct them to this terrific roadmap.

One of the few useful articles on SEO I've read lately. Usually it's all just regurgitated stuff.

Article and advice are great. However, in this article, the list that David Wallace provides seems to be missing a number. The list goes from #2 to #4. Is there a #3 that is missing, or are they just numbered incorrectly?

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Search Engine Guide > David Wallace > Increase The Visibility of Your Small Business Web Site on a Shoestring Budget