One of the most common reasons that I hear small business owners give about why they are not undertaking search engine marketing is that it's too much work and it costs too much money. While there's no arguing that both time and money are involved in proper search engine marketing, many companies overlook the fact that a little bit of time and a lot of perseverance can have just as much of an impact as a lot of work up front.

The "take-your-time" approach to search engine marketing can work whether you want to take on your search marketing in-house, or even if you want to farm it out to a specialist. Here's how it works.

Farming it out to Professional Search Marketers

While many search marketing firms prefer to do all of the optimization work for a client up front and then charge a maintainence fee for keeping an eye on the listings, there are some that are willing to be more flexible with their offerings. Some SEM firms are more than happy to take on a client on a retainer basis. The idea behind a retainer is that you are paying the company to work on your site for a certain number of hours each month. A retainer deal for organic optimization on a small site may break down like this:

1 hour a month of keyword research
2 hours a month of copywriting/editing
2 hours a month of code changing/page building
2 hours a month of link building
7 hours a month of search marketing at anywhere from $50 - $250 an hour = $350 - $1650 a month

This type of retainer deal should get you a couple of pages of new content each month, each targeting one or two keyword phrases. It should also get you some ongoing link building, which will have a cumulative effect on helping your site rank better. The real benefit of this method is that it lets you start seeing results before you have committed a large amount of money, a true blessing for business owners that just aren't sure about how well search marketing will work for them.

Taking Your Time and Doing it in House

While hiring a search marketing professional is usually the best way to launch a successful search marketing campaign, there are many small businesses that find great success taking their search marketing on internally. To do this, you'll need to have someone that can dedicate a portion of their time to search marketing.

This person will need to be willing to spend plenty of time reading and asking questions in some of the great online discussion forums. They'll need to be someone that understands a little bit about marketing and that knows how to write reasonably well. It's important to remember that someone in house will need to dedicate more hours to the project than a consultant would because they'll be learning as they go.

The best way to start off an in house search marketing plan is to start small. Research your target audience and find some keyword phrases that are not very competitive. That way, you can practice your search marketing skills and see some progress right off the bat. Start seeking links from topical directories and informational sites. Learn what types of content people are willing to link to and develop that content for your own site. Many search marketing professionals are willing to consult as teachers for an hourly fee. Consider hiring one for an hour or two a month to give your in house SEO access to a one-on-one tutor.

As your in house SEO gains experience, and as you build up your incoming links, they'll gain the ability to target phrases that are more competitive.

Slow and Steady Still Wins the Race

While a sprinter is clearly going to beat a marathon runner in a 50 yard dash, it's important to remember that online marketing isn't a sprint. It's a marathon. Taking your time to run the race doesn't mean that you don't stand a chance of finishing first. Doing your search marketing a little bit at a time is far better than not doing it at all. Find the time to make an investment toward the future of your web site and chances are high that you won't be disappointed.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.
June 24, 2005

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 > Slow and Steady SEM can Still Win the Race