One of the email topics that fill up my inbox on a regular basis is how small businesses can manage to work search engine marketing into their business plan without breaking the bank. With quality search marketing consultants now charging anywhere from $100 to $500 an hour and some companies requiring at least $10K to even start working on your site, search marketing seems to be leaping out of reach for most small business owners.

While it's true that most good search marketers will help you earn far more than what you spend with them, shelling out that much money up front is still unrealistic for all but the most daring small business owners. That's why it's important for them to realize that there are some other options available to them. Search marketing isn't limited to "hire it all out" or "do it all yourself" concepts...there are quite a few happy mediums to consider.

Learning from Books

For many small businesses, especially for small businesses that operate on a local basis, the search marketing landscape still isn't very competitive. That means that with even armed with just a basic understanding of how search marketing works, they can make a significant impact in their web site's ability to drive leads and sales.

This option usually ranges in cost from around $50 to $200 for the cost of the book and then whatever time it takes you to read and digest the information. There are quite a few good books out there within this price range that do an excellent job of arming you with real information and plans of action for improving your web site. If you've got more time than money, this may be the best route for you.

A few books worth checking out include Dan Thies "Search Engine Marketing Kit" ($197), Jill Whalen's "Nitty Gritty of Writing for the Search Engines" ($49), Aaron Wall's "SEO Book" ($79) and of course my own "Small Business Guide to Search Engine Marketing" ($79). Each of these books has its pros and cons, but all of them can help you learn how to better market your web site for a tiny fraction of what it would cost you to buy just a few hours of consulting time with an expert.

Training Classes

If you're looking for something a little more personalized than an e-book, you might want to check out some online or in-person training. Even looking beyond the mega conferences like Search Engine Strategies and the WebMaster World events, there are quite a few options out there for some quality training.

The benefit of these types of options is that they're often a little more focused than what you might find in an e-book and there's usually the opportunity to ask questions as you go. The downside of this type of options is that you've got a limited amount of time to try and jam your brain full of information. The benefit is that because you're essentially splitting the "consulting time" with other can get training from experts that you might not normally be able to afford to hire as consultants. These types of training seminars can cost anywhere from a few hundred to a couple thousand dollars.

Some options to check out include the online classes taught by Dan Thies ($595-$895), Jill Whalen's High Rankings Seminars ($1400), Kalena Jordan's Search Engine College ($195-$395) and the Search Engine Workshops offered by Robin Nobles and John Alexander ($995-$1295).

Site Reports

While many search marketers have been offering this type of service for years, most small businesses have no idea that the option even exists. Many search marketing companies and consultants will put together a comprehensive site analysis and report, including action items and competitive research, for a set fee. Once the client has received the report, it is up to them to decide if they'd like to hire someone to handle the action items, or if they'd like to handle the action items themselves.

Site reports can be a great option for small businesses that are in non-competitive or semi-competitive markets, or that have the time and resources to dedicate someone internally to learning how to perform the optimization tasks that are required. Think of a site report as a road map telling you exactly what you need to do to get where you're's simply up to you to decide what speed you want to drive, what vehicle you want to take and how quickly you need to arrive at your destination.

Site reports can vary in cost from a few hundred to several thousand dollars with the cost depending on issues like size of the site and amount of information in the report. A 50 page information site will cost far less to generate a report for than a 10,000 page e-commerce site. Likewise, a report that focuses solely on organic search engine optimization will cost far less than one that also looks at issues like usability, conversion factors and paid search campaigns.

Educational Consulting Contracts

The fourth option that many small businesses overlook is the option to hire a search marketing consultant on retainer for set number of hours a month. Many search marketers are more than willing to sell blocks of time that can be used via phone, email or even in person in order to answer specific questions that you have about the optimization process.

Let's say that you've bought a great search marketing book, attended an online class or two and are armed with a quality site report telling you what you need to do to your site. You're confident that you can tackle the project on your own, but you'd feel better knowing that every now and then you could double check with someone...just in case. That's where an educational consultant can come in. With prices ranging from $100-$350 an hour, you might find that you can buy a few hours worth of time a month in order to give yourself time to go over a few issues that you may be fuzzy about.

The benefit to an arrangement like this is that instead of wasting hours or even days hunting for an answer online, you can often make a quick phone call and have your question answered for certain in 5-15 minutes.

Look at Your Budget, Look at Your Staff

Which route you ultimately take really depends on what your budget size is, what your staff size is and how much of a do-it-yourself type you are. Most small businesses are fully capable of learning how to market their business on their own, many just don't have the time or desire to try. There's no doubting the benefit of hiring a professional to handle your site's optimization quickly and efficiently, but there's also no doubting the ability of a small business owner to see success on their own if they go about things with a little bit of time and effort.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.

May 23, 2006

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.

Search Engine Guide > Jennifer Laycock > Keeping SEM Costs Reasonable for a Small Business