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.

matt1.jpgShe 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.

Domain Registration

matt2.jpgAmazingly, 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.

Straight talk

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.

May 21, 2008

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.


Hey there Matt,

Tell you what... If you've got her details, give her my email address, and I'll give her 20 hours consulting, free of charge. I can provide references and evidence of results acheived if you, or she want them.

Pete W

I have met lots of these folks. They pay thousands of dollars to a web designer to create a site that does nothing for them. But it does have a really cool Flash intro.

Some of the things I have seen include a site where every bit of text (all of it) was in graphics; sites created entirely in Flash; the same title tag on every page or, worse, no title tags at all; a "blog" that was a single HTML page that they kept adding new content to (it was becoming a very long page); important keywords not found in the text at all . . . and this is getting depressing.

Too many people are intimidated by the idea of having a web site. Learning just a few basics would protect them from being taken in by the claims of expertise from someone who claims to be a web designer but can't even spell "HTML."

Matt, I guess it's up to you and me to try to educate them.

Sad but true... far too many people believe those that tell them it's going to cost money, that they have to use "insert product/service" here. Drives me nuts. It's the simple day in, day out slog that really shows results. Build quality content, build a community.

What's worse is that all this free advice always ends up costing a lot more in the long run. You always get what you pay for, sometimes a little less but so very rarely more.

Hello! I'm so confused! I tried just to figure out the google requirements to make and submit a site map for one of my many websites. The information was so extensive and 'full' of things to do, that I had to give up. I can't do this! What now?
I'm trying so hard to get my sites 'discovered', hence to make a living from my fine art, graphics and editorial/language services. There's so much to do! and just reading about all of this takes an enormous amount of time that I cannot afford to take, as I'm trying to work on marketing, keeping websites updated, blogs updated and linked, etc. etc. I'm overwhelmed. Where do I start and actually get somewhere with this? P.S. I am on SSI, 67 years old, and trying to keep pace with the enormous numbers of young'uns who were brought up with a computer instead of a rattle in their hands. Please help. Cannot afford to pay big money - or any. Lorena Thank you!

II have another example of a needy client, in this case a 501c non-profit who is struggling with building a new website for one of their divisions.

I have been observing this process and see that in this case they have to rely on volunteer board members to help them with their business development. I can see that they do not have a chance without some competent agency taking them on as a Pro Bona project.

They are a great organization serving approximately 750 adults with development disabilities in the Inland Empire area of Southern California. They do not have any budget for the project. They have an existing website along with an outline for the new site they want. They are missing the entire digital channel for promoting their organization.

If anyone can steer me to an agency that would be willing to help them with an effective website rebuild I would love to hear from you.

Some people deserve the product they receive because they won’t invest in enough knowledge to asses the offerings of a service provider. This non-profit organization does not deserve to suffer the consequences, because it is only their clients who will benefit from the help.

Too bad they don't have a 20 year registration for domains. I bet that would work even better than 10 year registrations!

I actually DO work as a marketing consultant on the net. I've been marketing online since 1999 and have had many successful web sites in several different niches before I started consulting. The reason I started was all the horror stories and bad advice I heard. The first thing I do is strip the Flash unless it's a site connected to online games, extreme sports or a youth oriented product. LOL

How did I become proficient at online marketing? I read voraciously. I learned HTML, then java, then CSS, then content management programs like Xoops, Drupal and Joomla. I learned image manipulation, then video creation, then Flash (for some effects and banners and such)

I tried things, some worked, some didn't. If it isn't logical to me I don't do it. I think outside the box and I don't follow the crowd. I treat people the way I want to be treated. Easy to navigate sites, clear clean content, emails answered promptly, superior customer service.

I learned to think like a search engine and now I can't write a line without subconsciously making it keyword rich AND appealing to a human reader.

I subscribe to newsletters like Search Engine Watch, Search Engine Guide and ClickZ. I read them - every single day.

The net is constantly evolving and changing, and learning is a key element in online success. There is only one piece of advice for a new marketer - the real experts are online and you will find them in articles like these. Their advice is free. Learn enough to know when the "expert" trying to sell you something or give advice is full of beans.

There are no shortcuts. Internet marketing takes time, work and a lot of effort. Oh and you will NOT get rich over night - that's the ONLY guarantee I can make.

This is a great post! I run into this type of situation at least once or twice each month. It's amazing how many people feel qualified enough to give business advice that could potentially cost the person taking it all in a substantial amount of time and money. I wish there were some standard LIST of things that are completely off the wall and everyone had seen it, but with millions of people and several thousand I.T. guys pretending to be marketing experts, the real pros are always going to need to set the record straight with misinformed people.

Gosh, it was good to read that someone else has experienced this besides me. And I thought it was just the Indianapolis market that had all these bad apples giving crappy advice. Haha.

Great article, and it goes back to 'Not Knowing'...

Many people take advantage of others because they don't know, sad but true.

Hi Matt,
These tales would be funny, if they weren't so typical and true. Sadly, it's not just the free advice people are getting on SEO that costs them dearly. There are plenty of people out there charging for advice that was bad three years ago and is simply ridiculous now.It makes us all look like snake oil salesmen.

In my opinion, the most dangerous purveyors of bad SEO advice are web designers and developers who claim to "know SEO". They do double damage to their unwitting clients with poor, even damaging, SEO practices and because they don't know SEO, they often build websites that will likely never rank for anything. Meanwhile, their clients are paying them dearly for their professional expertise. I guess until a few of them get sued for SEO malpractice (lol), things are unlikely to change.

When I hear a story like this from an acquaintance, I don't really know how to react. They don't want me to tell them they threw their money away and if I do, they think I'm just trying to solicit business from them. I'm not, of course, because a once bitten client is far from ideal.

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