Winning Big With a Small Search Marketing Budget

Big companies with huge budgets certainly make it more difficult for smaller search marketers to compete, but ingenuity and creativity can still provide a compelling competitive advantage regardless of budget constraints.

The “Big Ideas for Small Sites & Small Budgets” session at SES featured several search marketing experts sharing helpful tips for small business marketers.

A special report from the Search Engine Strategies conference, August 7-10, 2006, San Jose, CA.

It’s no surprise that small businesses were well represented at SES. After all, it was smaller firms that primarily drove the first wave of growth for the explosive search engine marketing industry. But today, with Fortune 1000 companies crashing the search marketing party, many small firms are wondering if the Web really is the “great equalizer” they hoped for. What was once a small businesses’ best kept secret has now become part of nearly every marketer’s mix.

Common sense can save the little guy

Jennifer Laycock, editor-in-chief of Search Engine Guide, pointed out just how difficult it is for marketers at small firms—who typically wear many hats—to stay on top of the constantly changing world of search marketing. Her advice: “Don’t chase the algorithm and don’t look for magic formulas.” Instead, small businesses should rely on marketing common sense.

Here are a few of Jennifer’s common sense suggestions:

    • Tip #1: Build Web sites that provide good, solid content that is unique and truly useful to your target audience.


    • Tip #2: Web site optimization efforts and search ad campaigns should replicate the way customers think and act. “Focus on the words that customers actually use when they search, even if these aren’t the highest volume keywords in your industry,” said Laycock.


    • Tip #3: Small businesses must track and manage ad campaigns down to the keyword level. Laycock explains, “Remember, it’s not about buying clicks, it’s about buying customers.”


  • Tip #4: Jennifer stressed that link building is really not about soliciting loads of links. It’s about forming long-lasting business relationships. Think of a link as a business relationship… a referral.

“All this might sound obvious,” she says, but solid marketing principles like these and an unwavering focus on the customer can deliver a long-term competitive advantage for smaller firms, without breaking the bank.

Think outside the box

Matt McGee, project manager at One World Telecommunications, believes that small businesses need only work harder and smarter, and approach search marketing more creatively to win. He urged smaller firms to avoid the pack mentality.

“Don’t simply do what all the big players are doing. Instead, find new or non-traditional marketing methods,” said McGee.

One example today is the growing practice of local search, where new opportunities seem to crop-up daily. Local search campaigns are a great way for small-and medium-sized companies to reach searchers in a very focused manner at far less cost than national efforts. Matt touched upon the obvious choices, including Google Local, MSN Local, Yahoo Local and Ask Local. But small businesses also should investigate other options, like CitySearch, TrueLocal,, Yelp, Info USA and MerchantCircle.

In terms of non-traditional marketing methods, Matt suggested contributing to online social networks and communities. “Message boards, discussion groups, social networking sites, blogs, and even Flickr can be great ways to promote small businesses online,” explained McGee. “The key is to feel passionate about being an active contributor, rather than just participating to sell a product or service.”

Focus on your competitive advantage

John Carcutt, of Applied SEO, talked about the importance of capitalizing on your competitive advantage. “Small companies can react faster, provide superior customer service and offer deep expertise in a very specific niche. Focus on these advantages in your search marketing efforts,” he said.

John feels that search marketers also should strive to become “keyword psychics” by doing thorough homework and continually expanding keyword lists. On Yahoo, at least until the engine moves to its new Quality Index, advertisers willing to research and expand keyword lists can gain a competitive advantage. This is because ads that are an exact match with a search query are always positioned above ads that rely on advanced matching technology… regardless of bid amount.

John also encouraged small marketers to utilize campaign management tools such as Google Analytics and Yahoo’s Search Optimizer, both of which are free and can help small businesses implement more effective and efficient campaigns.

Creativity trumps the big wallet

The world of search is certainly becoming more competitive, but these experts agree—the same principles that enable small companies to flourish, apply to winning the search marketing game as well. Namely, understand and capitalize on your competitive advantage, focus on sound marketing principles, and use your ingenuity and creativity to run circles around big companies with big budgets.

Patricia Hursh is president and founder of SmartSearch Marketing, a Boulder, Colorado-based search engine marketing agency. You can reach Patricia at [email protected].

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