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Small businesses don't have the resources for the amount of effort needed to succeed with the likes of Google, Yahoo and MSN Search out there. Luckily, the Internet offers lots of free tools to maximize marketing and search engine efforts. Readers offer three ways to take advantage.

How can we score high with search engines on a small budget?

My company is a small business with a small marketing budget that matches the size of our business and the number of employees (two). We have a Web site, and no doubt our competitors have better luck with buying keywords to get better search engine rankings. What do readers recommend for those with a small budget who want to improve search engine results?

—Arnold

The following responses offer options that can take little to a lot of time to do. It's all about how much you want to invest. Here are three ways to help your site score high with search engines:

  1. Review your Web site design
  2. Write online content
  3. Analyze Web site data

Review your Web site design

Work with the Web site designer or whoever is an expert on Web site design and review your Web site's layout. Search engines typically don't like frames, Flash, image maps, and JavaScript navigation. On the flip side, having a standards-compliant site boosts your site's reputation with search engines. Learn about Web standards from the Web Standards Project and check out a showcase of sites using Web standards at CSS Collection.

The little things in a Web site's design can make a difference. A site's name, slogan, description, keywords and other words often appear on the top of your browser. That comes from the <title> that appears in the Web design code. Every page should have a <title> tag included as well as meta tags. You can put them in yourself, or have an expert do it for you.

As you determine the title and meta tags, don't get carried away with long descriptions, otherwise search engines think they're spam. Shoot for one or two keyword phrases up to 50 characters (counting commas and spaces)—yes, phrases rather than keywords. Put the most important words first.

Here are two meta tag examples:

  1. Description (shoot for 500 characters, including commas and spaces): <META NAME="description" content="This describes what's on this Web page with the most important phrases.">
  2. Keywords (shoot for 200 characters, including commas and spaces): <META NAME="keywords" content="Use keyword phrases, b2b email newsletters, online business publishing">

Again, keep them short, or else search engines think they're spam. All images on your Web page should have the "alt" attribute. Not only does this help visitors with visual impairments, but search engines appreciate it, and it's another step toward creating an accessible Web site.

Take advantage of headers such as <h1>, <h2> and <h3>. The most important words should appear in h1, second-most important in h2, and so on. Headings also make it easier for visitors to scan your pages.

This sounds like a lot, but it's business as usual for a Web designer. If resources are an issue, start with <title> and work your way down the list a little at a time. You can find plenty of online resources to guide you through the process.

Write online content

Content doesn't have to stay contained within your company's site. Think broad and reach out to other sites, article libraries, newsletters, blogs, whitepapers, and case studies to expand your presence. Search for sites that cover your industry and see which ones accept articles from outside writers or companies, as well as allow you to include a byline with a link to your Web site. These types of sites are more likely to attract an audience you want. Article content libraries like EzineArticles.com, WebProNews.com and IdeaMarketers.com also work well.

Do you subscribe to email or online newsletters related to your business? Consider contributing an article to those, too. Maybe your business could use a newsletter. Sending one regularly provides a way to start a relationship, build it, gain trust, and lead customers to your site when they're ready to buy.

You might consider creating a MySpace.com page for your business. It sounds corny, but many businesses have succeeded with this approach. Or maybe your site is ripe for a blog. That's an opportunity to connect and engage visitors and customers. Even if few people read or comment, search engines love blogs because they're regularly updated and keep your site's content fresh. The key is to make a commitment to frequently update your blog. Frequently means, at the very least, weekly. Two or three days a week is better.

Business to business blogging works. If your business can't commit to a blog or doesn't have a valid reason to start one, you can get involved with other blogs without having one.

Whitepapers and case studies also help bring attention to a business. A whitepaper is a technical or authoritative report that talks about a problem and how to solve that problem using the company's product or service. Be careful, however, as too many whitepapers turn into sales pitches instead of the informational tool they should be. Writing Whitepapers is an excellent book on the topic. You can also write case studies. Each one discusses a specific customer, the problem faced before getting help, and how the company solved the problem.

You can use whitepapers and case studies to entice prospects to come to your site, provide contact information, subscribe to your email newsletter, or take whatever action you want them to.

Analyze Web data

Most Web site hosting services come with stats applications as part of the package. These applications hold a few secrets waiting for you to exploit. Stats usually show where visitors enter, exit, keywords used to find your site, and many other nuggets. Start small to avoid overwhelming yourself. For example, start by reviewing the keywords people use to come to your site.

When you find a pattern of keywords, work to include them on your Web site and any other online content your company has. If you want to add another tool or use a different one, Google Analytics does a good job. Don't let the fact that it's free give you the idea it can't be a good application. Let those Web logs give you some answers in ensuring that your online content contains the right words—so the right customer finds you.

Next Marketing Challenge: Can You Help?

Help me remove my foot from my mouth

My marketing team and I placed a conference call to one of our clients. We got his voice mail, so I left a message and hit the phone's "flash" button to end the call. My team and I continued to discuss this client and said some disparaging things. To our chagrin, we heard his voice mail finally disconnect. This meant that when he listened to his voice mail, he heard the uncomplimentary things we said.

I'm embarrassed. I tried to apologize to him but felt what I said was "lame" and accepted rather coolly.

What would you do to repair the relationship?

—Embarrassed and stupid (name withheld)

If you have a general situation or question needing a few hundred brains for ideas, 180,000 MarketingProfs readers are ready to deliver their thoughts to resolve your challenge. Share your question, and you'll get a chance to win a complimentary copy of our book, A Marketer's Guide to e-Newsletter Publishing.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Hank Stroll (Hank@InternetVIZ.com) is publisher at InternetVIZ, a custom publisher of 24 B2B e-newsletters reaching 490,000 business executives.

Meryl is the Content Maven behind meryl.net, helping companies increase business through simple words that make a big impact.