Anyone who has worked for or run a small business knows how hard it can be to get good marketing advice. Everyone from the high priced consultant to the guy you buy your laptop from has advice on how to get ahead online. Most of them are wrong. It can leave a small business owner so desperate for advice, they'll take it from anyone. Even the guy sitting next to them on the plane...
This week, I happened to be "that guy."
On a late night flight to Cleveland, I found myself sitting next to a woman and her young daughter. We were having a nice conversation when she mentioned she had started her own business but was frustrated with her website. Of course my ears perked up and my attention was captured. I've heard my fair share of stories of bad advice, but this woman's story was right up there.
She spun a long tale of woe, recounting bits of advice she'd endured during her short career with this website. I sat amazed as she shared with me the advice she'd been given and the thing she'd been told to do. Before long, I was reminded just how many self-proclaimed online marketing experts there are in the world. Spend a little time on a forum, read a couple of articles and *poof*, you can hang a sign out that reads "online marketing expert."
While the advice from these types of "experts" tends to be free, the business owner who follows it tends to pay a high price in the long run. For business owners struggling to grow and run their business, chasing bad marketing advice with a shoestring budget leads to frustration and headaches. Small business owners simply don't have time for unfounded, groundless advice that at best accomplishes nothing and at worst digs them into a nasty hole.
As this woman shared her story, I marveled at just how much bad advice she'd received. Here's a sampling...
Moving to GoDaddy
One consultant told her she needed to move her website to GoDaddy's platform. She transferred the domain registration, her email accounts...everything. Unfortunately it took a few weeks of frustration before GoDaddy support realized she was Mac-based. GoDaddy's sitebuilder program is incompatible with Mac OS. GoDaddy's advice? Buy a PC. Needless to say, it took just as long to get everything off Godaddy and back to her original registrar as it did to transfer things over in the first place. The result? Countless hours and dollars wasted from really bad advice.
Search Engine Submission
The next thing she was told was to pay for a submission service to search engines. At this point I had to bite my lip to keep from exploding. Site owners haven't needed to submit a site to the search engines since 2000. Search engines have programs called "spiders" that will find your website and will read through the content so they can include it in their index. Submitting your site to search engines is a thing of the past. It's not necessary and usually a rip-off offer. If someone tells you it will cost $29.95 to submit your website to 100 search engines? Ask them to name six of them.
Search engines will naturally find your website. Read the Google guidelines. (In fact, anyone who has anything to do with creating, programming, developing, and marketing a website should be made to read those guidelines.) Search engines want your website, and they work hard to get it. Just by picking up a few links to your website, you can ensure that the search engines will find your pages.
Amazingly, while all of the advice to this point was enough to make me want to scream in frustration, I still hadn't heard the "best part." Her Mac guy (the one who helps her computer run smoothly) told her that the "trick" to getting into Google . . . . wait for it . . . . is to register her domain for 10 years.
No wonder the internet is such a mystery for small business owners! People make what they think are good decisions based on advice and end up with zero results. Of course with this kind of advice, zero results doesn't seem so bad compared to the lost hours and ill-spent money.
Registering your domain for a few years, or whatever you think will make sense, is the best advice I can give. There is reason to believe the length of your domain registration could have a microscopic effect on your search placement, but certainly not enough to think registering it for ten years is "the key." (Anecdotal evidence suggests that domains registered for a year are not as reliable as domains registered for 10 years - based on the ideas that the owner has made a commitment to the domain.)
I can understand that - it makes sense. However, this item alone is not a primary part of the algorithm! It is a very minor part. There are so many other factors that are much more important than the number of years of domain registration you purchase. Logically, if everyone went out and re-registered their domain for 10 years, it would all be equal. Who is most relevant then? Exactly.
Unfortunately, I can't educate those that feel that they know everything already. If they're convinced they have all the answers, they're not going to listen to me until they've learned things the hard way. That said, I can do everything in my power to be sure that the small business owner has the information they need to correctly build and market their website. The only thing most of these business owners want is straight answers in a language they can understand.
I ended up sharing some advice with this woman about how she might best reach out to her customers. Her company focused on a specific service offering that could easily be highlighted via Flickr. (She'd never even heard of Flickr.) I also gave her some basic advice on keywords and title tags and invited her to follow up with me via email when we each got home.
The truth is, online marketing is complex, but it's not difficult. Most of the things companies need to know are simple common sense applied to current technology. You can't change a title tag if you don't know what it is...but once you learn it's purpose, it's easy to understand how to improve it.
The basis of website visibility in the search engines is your architecture, content, and incoming links. Those are the fundamental principles of building a website marketing strategy. Everything else supports these principles. The rest is details. For a small business owner, here are the basics:
1. Build a site that is focused on your goal.
2. Provide a clear goal for the visitor; contact form, phone number, clear directions.
3. Write keyword-focused summaries about each page in the Page Title and Meta Description.
4. Get website links from business associates, directories, local memberships.
. . . and then read the Google Webmaster Guidelines. I am surprised how many people have not seen this document. It is a true road map for any business owner who has questions about how their website should be built. There are no quick and easy "secrets" to ranking well and driving traffic online, but it's not rocket science either. Small businesses simply need to start with the basics, and then build on their knowledge as they go.
Matt Bailey is the founder of SiteLogic, a web marketing consulting company. He leads seminars and teaches companies how to use their sites more effectively and to build a web business by applying common sense sales and marketing techniques. He is a specialist in interpreting web site statistics into practical usability. Matt has been in the search marketing industry for ten years, and started leading classes in the late 1990's. One of his first opportunities was as a regular speaker for the Ohio Innkeeper's Association, teaching practical web site marketing techniques. Since that time he has worked with hundreds of companies, instructing them in web marketing principles. Matt takes a very holistic view of website marketing, including accessibility, which has become a passion and a crusade. His goal with The Web Site Accessibility Blog is to teach companies that they can easy apply search marketing and accessibility techniques to their web sites.
Matt Bailey is the founder of SiteLogic, a web marketing consulting company. He leads seminars and teaches companies how to use their sites more effectively and to build a web business by applying common sense sales and marketing techniques. He is a specialist in interpreting web site statistics into practical usability.
Matt has been in the search marketing industry for ten years, and started leading classes in the late 1990's. One of his first opportunities was as a regular speaker for the Ohio Innkeeper's Association, teaching practical web site marketing techniques. Since that time he has worked with hundreds of companies, instructing them in web marketing principles.
Matt takes a very holistic view of website marketing, including accessibility, which has become a passion and a crusade. His goal with The Web Site Accessibility Blog is to teach companies that they can easy apply search marketing and accessibility techniques to their web sites.
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