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No. 36
August 27th, 2007

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Top Ten Small Business Takeaways from SES San Jose 2007

After completing my individual recaps of the biggest search conference of the year, I thought it’d be instructive to pare them all down to a Cliffs-Notes version for small business owners and local search marketers.

10. Now is the time to create a video related to your business. With all of the buzz around Google Universal, there’s no doubt in my mind that videos are going to be popping up on a B2B or local SERP near you in the future. And videos and images have the inherent ability to draw searchers’ eyes automatically, even if they’re not at the top of the page.

The production values don’t have to be Oscar-worthy, but it should be something professional that you’re not ashamed to put out on YouTube. Get some of your friends to take a look at it and comment, and then submit the YouTube page to some of the Social Media sites. A few dozen (or better yet, a few hundred) comments on a page with a good title tag may be enough to get that video to rank for some of your target keywords.

9. Bigger players are entering the Local market (if they haven’t already). Fortune 500’s with local stores are beginning to figure out the Local search game. If you’re a small business, make sure you’re at least thinking about your optimization strategy, because the earlier you get a search-friendly site indexed with a few incoming links, the more trust you’ll develop with Google while the bigger sites are still struggling to implement their strategies. Small, nimble players still have plenty of advantages, but it’s looking like those advantages are starting to get squeezed, particularly with respect to Local PPC and Local Search advertising.

8. Familiarize yourself with Social Media. Get a sense of what the tech-savvy crowd is into by visiting Digg, Reddit, Fark, Newsvine, Techcrunch, Netscape, and others. There are a ton of smaller, vertically-oriented sites as well like sk*rt and MotorPulse. As Jennifer Laycock pointed out in her Social Media presentation, David vs. Goliath can be a very effective linkbait strategy. Even if you don’t have the wherewithal to create and market a compelling piece of content yourself, you’ll want to know whether your SEO consultant is worth his or her salt in this space, and to do that you’ll need at least a baseline level of comfort with what these sites are about.

7. Don’t eliminate your YellowPages advertising JUST yet. There will come a time when local businesses won’t need to be in print editions of the YellowPages any longer…but it looks like that’s another year or two off based on data from Stuart McKelvey’s presentation. I’d still wager an all-expenses paid trip to Bandon Dunes that your ROI will be higher with a good SEO campaign than with a YellowPages campaign, but that doesn’t necessarily mean your YP ROI will be negative.

6. Think critically about how your company measures conversions from its online campaign.  Between 92% and 96% of local business transactions occur OUTSIDE of an email form.  So before you complain to your SEO about the lack of response you’re getting online, consider the possibility that your online presence is leading to an offline sales boost!

5. Think strongly about where your target customers are likely to come from and make sure your website speaks to them.  This tidbit depends on your industry.  But let me illustrate with a couple of examples.  If you’re a realtor, keep in mind that there are plenty of people just doing some preliminary market research about buying or selling a home in your area.  Don’t turn them off with a bunch of sales-y copy meant for out-of-towners who need a place to live immediately when all they’re after is some basic statistics and a few photos.  Or, if you’re a local pizza joint, don’t overload your website with meaningless content about the history of pizza or the kinds of cars your delivery men & women drive in a shallow effort to stuff keywords & get higher rankings.  Instead, make sure your menu is up-to-date & list your contact information absolutely everywhere.

4. Paid links are anything but dead for small businesses.  Google’s algorithm, or any of the other search engines’, for that matter, are NEVER going to be able to say with any certainty that a link purchased by a local business on a local website is anything but editorial.  The consensus in the SEO community is that this kind of paid linking is definitely worth the risk.  Just don’t “fish with dynamite” (i.e. buy 100 incoming links if your nearest competitor only has 3) as Todd Malicoat warns!!

3. Start thinking BEYOND your website in your SEO strategy.  Larger listing and social review sites like Yelp, Judy’s Book, and Craigslist can often rank better than a typical small business website because of the tremendous amount of link juice behind them.  Throw a few links from your site and others to your specific profiles on a few of these individual sites and leverage the potential of an indented, but inline search result.  Your own website doesn’t necessarily have to out-rank your profile on these larger sites for anything but your company name (which you’ll probably rank for because of most algorithms’ exact domain boost anyway).

2. Judging by the conference’s agenda and attendees, there’s still a shortage of reputable SEO service providers catering to small businesses.  I only met two SEOs exclusively focused on small business and local search at a conference attended by something close to 7,000 registrants.  I met even fewer small business owners or small in-house marketers.  And only one or two panelists out of hundreds gave solid advice that was tailored to people small online budgets.  Conclusion?  There’s still a lot of opportunity for companies who get small business marketing to make a name for themselves, and there’s even more opportunity for small business owners themselves to make a name for their own company online.

1. GET A LOCAL BUSINESS LISTING IN GOOGLE MAPS IMMEDIATELY. This will be absolutely essential to the health of any local business’s online presence in the next several years, as Google just keeps picking up market share in both Web and Local Search.  Put not only your company name, but what you DO in the title of your business (e.g. Our Company – Blue Widget Sales), link your listing to your website, encourage customers to write reviews of your company and/or products, and take out a Local Ad in Google Adwords. That “Map + 3” result you see at the top of so many SERPs these days is going nowhere fast, and title, reviews, and information about your website are three of the most important factors to Google’s algorithm when it comes time to rank these results.