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No. 72
April 15th, 2008

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The Ten Commandments of Online Marketing for Small & Local Businesses

Charlton Heston

Step-by-step instructions for the small business just trying to get a handle on this whole internet marketing thing.

In honor of the recent passing of the former president of the National Rifle Association, I submit to American small business owners the following ten essential action items for a successful online presence.

Disclaimer: This is NOT a comprehensive list of online marketing techniques for small businesses. These are simply the ten most essential strategies that I have found to be effective for maximizing my clients’ online presence since 2004. In most cases, I perform these services for my clients or at the very least, advise them on the best courses of action. If you’re interested in learning more, contact me at

I. Research your keywords before building or re-building your website.

Ascertaining your most lucrative set of keywords is the foundation upon which your website can be built–that’s why it’s the First Commandment!

  • If you have the budget (and the time), running a Pay-Per-Click advertising campaign (called “Adwords” at Google) for a couple of months is a great testing ground. You get actual data on how many people are searching for exactly what keywords you think they’ll search for.
  • But even if you don’t run a Pay-Per-Click campaign, you can still use Google’s Keyword Research Tool and see what people are searching for. Plug in a few keywords that you think people will use to find your business. Google will show you data for those keywords, and suggest several others that seem similar in concept.
  • Look at the size of the bar in the righthand column (average search volume) and compare it to the size of the bar in the lefthand column (advertiser competition). Usually if there are a bunch of advertisers, it means it’s a pretty hard keyword to rank for. If there aren’t many advertisers, but it looks like there are a fair number of monthly searches…well, that’s your sweetspot.

II. Create compelling content that targets your keywords.

Your content should

  • Look good visually
  • Be written in a tone that you’re comfortable portraying your business with
  • Be formatted in a way that’s easy for visitors to scan

Each website page should ideally be 0.5 to 1.5 pages long in Microsoft Word. Shorter than that, and the search engines won’t get a good enough “scent” of the page to know what it’s about. Longer than that, and your visitors might be intimidated or lose interest.

Target a different keyword set on each page of your website. You’ll capture a much wider range of search traffic this way. Be sure to use geographic modifiers with your keywords if geography is important to your business.

Don’t stop writing content once your website launches. New, compelling content is critical to developing links to your website, which help your search engine rankings dramatically.

III. Build your website in simple HTML. Or at least most of it.

HTML is the favorite language of search engines. A quality website designer should know how to make even basic HTML look pretty using CSS and even a little Flash or AJAX where appropriate.

  • No fancy PHP, ASP or Javascripts (some uses of PHP / ASP are perfectly fine). Search engines have a tough time with pages that have too much dynamic content.
  • Dropdown forms only where absolutely necessary. For the most part, search engines still can’t navigate through these forms.
  • Flash embedded only WITHIN a page, with other HTML content surrounding it. For the most part, search engines still can’t index Flash very well.

I almost feel like I should start a separate “Ten Commandments of Coding for Search Engines” !

IV. Link freely and openly within your own website.

Links are the major way that search engines find new pages to index. But their spiders don’t have unlimited time to hunt around your website, so you want to make sure that you:

  • Link to your most important pages directly from your homepage.
  • Link to your most important pages from as many pages of your website as is practical or reasonable.
  • Link pages together in a way that makes sense to both visitors and search engines–if you’ve got pages with similar content, cross-link them. For example, your “antique chairs” page should be linked to your “vintage tables” page, etc.
  • Make sure that you include a sitemap to every page of your website, and link to your sitemap FROM every page of your website (usually in the footer).

The text that you link with is an INCREDIBLY important signal for search engines. It helps tell them what that destination page is about. So instead of linking to your Products page with just “products,” link instead with “vintage tables” or “antique chairs.”

V. List your contact information in HTML on every page of your website.

Your contact information should be placed consistently across your website. This is good for visitors, as it gives them a way to contact you and reassures them that you are indeed a business in their area. It also gives search engines a strong local “scent” as to where your site is located, and can help boost your rankings in the Local algorithm.

  • Include your full address and phone number with local area code
  • Use both geographic AND product/service keywords in your business title. For example, if your real business name is “Foster’s Supply,” adjust it on your website to read “Foster’s Office Supplies – Salem, OR.”
  • Images won’t work as well because they can’t be read by search engines (yet).
  • When coding your address, use the hCard Microformat if possible.

VI. Submit your website to respected directories in your industry and geography.

Very few people actually use directories anymore (back in the early days of the internet, when there were no search engines, directories were really the only way to find anything), but their main value today lies in the link back to your website. Search engines count links as “votes” for a website, and the more votes your site has, the higher it’s going to rank.

  • Dmoz — It’s free, although increasingly difficult to get a listing in Dmoz because there aren’t enough editors to review your listing.
  • Best of the Web — In my opinion the most cost-effective, potent directory link you can buy. BoTW is exceptionally well-reviewed and you can get a permanent link to your website for around $200.
  • Other directories depend on your industry and geography. Do a search for “my-business-keyword directory” or “my-location directory.” See what websites show up near the top. Chances are, those are good places to get a listing.

You can also search for neighborhood organizations or promotion entities like Chambers of Commerce or Convention & Visitors’ Bureaux. It never hurts to ask for a link from anyone.

VII. Submit your website to Local Search Engines.

As I mention on my SEO Consulting page, the Local search engines’ algorithms are, for the most part, independent of the main ranking algorithm. Thus, it’s essential to get your business listed and ranked in both, if you are even partially-dependent on local search traffic. At a bare minimum, you should submit your business to the following:

You should submit your website using the same contact information listed on your website. Remember to use both product/service AND geographic keywords in your business title.

Note that many or all of these companies will try to sell you something as you input your business information. My advice: decline anything you have to pay for, but make sure that you get a confirmation that your FREE listing has been entered into their database.

VIII. Add or verify your business information with data providers for the Local Search Engines.

Moz Local is the easiest and most efficient way to complete this commandment.

Again, be consistent and submit your website using the same contact information list on your website. Remember to use both product/service AND geographic keywords in your business title.

IX. Don’t neglect your offline marketing.

As print subscribership and traditional newspaper revenues drop, offline and online PR efforts are merging at a rapid rate. Print content is increasingly being syndicated across multiple web properties online, and often includes links to companies that are quoted or featured in articles. Additionally, print outlets are now starting to hire bloggers, who routinely link out to content that interests them. Remember that links coming into your website have a direct impact on your search engine rankings.

Additionally, sponsoring non-profit events or making donations to charitable organizations in your area may lead not only to positive associations by your customers, but to links from these organizations’ websites to your own.

X. Engage your community.

Stemming off of Commandment IX, it’s critical for long-term online success that you are an active member of your community, both locally and in your industry worldwide.

  • Read industry or geo-focused blogs. Make insightful comments on blogs you enjoy reading. If you make enough of them (or even one or two good ones), the author is bound to take note and you can begin to develop a relationship with him / her.
  • Write blog articles about emerging or un-publicized topics in your industry or region. Either syndicate them on other popular blogs and content sites (with a byline that includes a link to your website, of course) or publish them on your own blog.
  • Don’t forget about capturing customer email addresses and marketing to your subscriber list.
  • Don’t hesitate to ask for customers to review your business on the Local search engines and other sites like CitySearch and InsiderPages.

  • Matt McGee

    I’ve always said if you don’t blog often, you should make it count when you do … and that certainly applies here. 🙂 Great stuff, DM.

    You might look into TrueLocal a bit, I believe they’re on their last legs. Greg Sterling (I think) posted something about the parent company going bankrupt or out of business. (My memory is shaky….)

  • GeoSign, parent company of TrueLocal, imploded after they received a $160 million investment, had their business model fail after Google stopped their arbitrage model, and the investment was pulled.

    They split off into two companies, and … well just read this:

  • Awesome job and your advice is excellent for all business, not just small business.

  • David, what a way to get blogging again after your break.

    This was a beautiful, clear, wonderfully correct blog post! Great job.

    Going to go Sphinn it.

  • Hey, thanks for all of the comments, guys.

    Re: TrueLocal. I used to submit my clients to them but haven’t done so in several months. Partly because I haven’t taken on any new SEO clients in several months, but even before that, it didn’t seem to be as important as some of the other local SE’s & providers like G Local and Localeze. That is interesting to know that they are on their last legs, since I was on their site yesterday & no mention is made of their going out of business…the copyright does say 2007, though, which isn’t good.

  • David, your link to InsiderPages actually goes to Yelp.

  • Not only that, but the Merchant Circle Link went to InsiderPages. Not sure what happened there, WordPress doesn’t usually make mistakes like that.

    At any rate it is fixed now. Thanks for the heads-up, Will!

  • David…awesome post! I think the last couple points are where a lot of small business owners fall off. It can be tricky if you’re not an Internet savvy business owner.

  • David,
    Can you give me any more info about Universal Business Listing? Have you used them? Or know people that have? Do they have profile pages that live on the net? If so, where?

    At about a third of the price of similar services, I’m definitely interested in learning more.

    Thanks! Mary

  • These are all important lessons for all small business owners, but even more so for those in the community that either don’t see themselves as businesses (service agencies, arts organizations, and the like) and those in the community who don’t identify themselves first and foremost as business people (artisans, massage therapists, personal chefs, etc.). For many of them, the lure of creating websites in purely visual ways is a powerful elixir that renders them blind, for the most part, to their very real need to be found and connected to others.

    Embarking on conversations about SEO with these communities can often feel like one is trying to explain how a phone book works (for both parties), but as deeper content, number of indexed pages, and age of site becomes more important to the search algorithms, these communities will be left out of the equation when it comes to searching and finding through the internet.

    I urge all SEOs to adopt a local community and give them the benefit of your knowledge.

  • Great information thanks, I found your Site through sphinn… of course I did sphinn it.

  • Thanks for all of the feedback guys!

    @Mary Bowling (and others who are interested in UBL) — here are some FAQ’s for their service, as well as contact information at the bottom of the page:

  • Thanxs for this piece, i found it through Sphinn, and will follow your tips for my father-in-laws restaurant website i created, using WordPress.

    Will come back and provide feedback, once i’ve read and tried all the tips above.

    Thanxs! Missy.

  • Wow definitely classic and simple. Most of the techniques there seem to me to apply to a Main web site domain and not a blog. how can we improve our normal blogger or wordpress seo? Unlike most other seo blogs i’ve visited, you seem to reply prompt and even at all.

  • @Jaystar — I probably respond more promptly because I’m not as busy as all of the A-list bloggers! 🙂

    There is a great plugin for SEO put out by NetConcepts that gives you complete control over your Title tags. This will help a bunch if you want a creative title for your post without some of your keywords (which you can put in your Title TAG separately).

    But one of my biggest issues with WordPress, Blogger, other blogging platforms and CMS’s is that it’s harder to control internal anchor text (and put together a comprehensive strategy) than with statically-coded pages. I LOVE WordPress, don’t get me wrong, but I think internal anchor text is the most underrated SEO strategy there is.

    The best advice I can give you is to link to OTHER posts within the body of your content using good keywords. You can also create a sidebar chunk that lists your “money” posts with the right anchor text & place that on every page. I’ll try to write another “WordPress SEO tips” followup to explain more.

  • David,

    Great post. Wasy to follow strategies and a great reminder to make sure we are on the right track. Found your post through Sphinn.

    Amy Chorew

  • David:

    Excellent post. I missed this when you published it but fortunately caught up to it via Mike Blumenthal’s reference.

    I’ve been working on a new local business site for a local city that covers the same business as one with killer local visability and tracking. The difference is amazing. I’ve also done a ton of back analysis on the sites. A couple of things I’ve noticed in addition to your sage comments: (I’ll call them amendments to the Commandments….and frankly it doesn’t see appropriate to go beyond 10 commandments) 😀

    1. Work, work, work to get high rankings. That ultimately means getting anchor text links to the site. Its not easy. There are some various references to this in some of the local blogs that address these topics. The increase in targeted traffic is incredibly valuable.

    2. As valuable as appearance in local versions of maps or Local are, it appears that an authoritative one map is incredibly valuable way beyond that of appearing in the current version of a 10-pac, or Yahoo’s 3 pac.

    I reference this over at seorefugee. The traffic volume for a term accompanied by an authoritative one map is quite impressive versus terms that don’t have the onemap. Granted its one example, but the difference in traffic threw me.

    Thanks for getting back on line. You often write incredibly insightful information.


  • David: With regard to investing in Yahoo directory, I noted where you had questions about this at a different time and place. At least one of your friends noted this, in that venue and spoke to his/her experience in that regard 😀

  • Clear, simple, concise….good job! I would add YELLOWPAGES.COM as a vehicle for traffic growth & exposure. Their network rankings are growing and unlike the accessibility thru a IPhone is HOTT! I prefer there platform.

  • I’ve been involved with internet marketing for a few years and this is a great guide. I would definitley share this post with anyone creating a new site and wants to have a good start with seo techniques.

  • Bob Richards

    All 10 commandments right on. There’s just one problem with the keyword searching. Most small business dont serve 300 million Americans; they serve a niche. So when I see that there are a lot of seraches for the term “financial planner” that tells me the public at large does a lot of searching on that phrase. But my customers, financial planners, I doubt ever search on that phrase. So the question is–how does a small business find out what THEIR customers and POTENTIAL customers search on?

  • Hi Dave. Great information here. It’s great to re-read something like this before letting a website loose into the world. Stumble thumbs up.

  • Thanks for all of the kind words, guys.

    @Rick, can definitely be good, but their listings don’t seem to be leveraged very well across multiple platforms like G & Y Local, which is why I’m more partial to Superpages and some of the other data providers.

    @Bob – You can typically use general traffic #’s nationwide (“financial planner”) and extrapolate on a relative basis to local (“financial planner portland oregon”). Or, the best way is to run an Adwords campaign for a month or so to get hard #’s before REALLY optimizing your website. As far as what your customers actually search for, do some market research and ask customers how they found you, as well as looking deeply at your analytics for things like low bounce rates and traffic paths to your contact page.

  • Mal

    Found this later than sooner but still super relevant. Excellent advice on directories – I tried them all. Thanks – Cheers

  • Great post!! A lot of ideas to improve my existing blog/website and lot of new strategies learnt for building a new one.

  • Great advice. We’re trying to help local business in Australia with these issues. The environment is not as well established unfortunately.

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  • As always, great advice. I often wonder how many local companies have any idea how this works.

    Aloha, Bob Sommers
    Maui, Hawaii

  • What’s the latest wisdom on submitting a blog to blog directories? Necessary? Unnecessary? If so, who has the definitive list of Top X# of directories to submit to?

  • Great Post, I like it how you even show people which sites you are talking about in each step. Do you have any good tips on professional service (MD, DDS, DMD…) reputation management?

  • Hey David,
    I’ve been enjoying reading your blogs about SEO and such, as I am working on my fathers companies website to try and get up in the big competition for google #1. I was wondering if during some of your posts you would consider your Canadian users, due to the fact that, for instance, in this article you talk about American Business listings sites, which for the most part, only work for American business’. I’ve googled for different opportunities of such sites and usually end up with dragged out sign-ups for a crappy link from some not-well-known website.
    Thanks for reading this,

  • I am based in Brisbane Australia and would like to say that your tips are as relevant here as they are anywhere in the world

  • I am having the same issue as Erich.. not sure if this is just a Canadian thing??

  • Erich and Jerry — you might check this post out on Canadian Citation Sources.

  • Hey David,

    Great article! Besides using Yelp and InsiderPages for citations, they are also great places to send customers to leave reviews for your business. These reviews also have a large impact on your local ranking. Some other great review sites and citation sites include CitySearch, YahooLocal, DealerRater, Judy’sBook, TripAdvisor, Edmunds, and Open Table. Urbanspoons works for restaurants too. There are more but these are important ones. It seems like we are always finding more places for reviews and citations to get our clients ranked highly in Google, Bing and Yahoo. Thanks again for the information.

  • Bob

    Someone commented on reputation management. In the realm of google places and local listings, a well put together campaign of past and current customers can overshadow any negative comments. I have an article Do you know your online reputation? You may want to look at to find out where to find out where your reviews are being aggregated from on google.

  • Bob

    Sorry. Here is the correct link for Do you know your online reputation? posted above. Thanks again David. Hope this input helps.

  • Clark Bateman

    Even though this blog was written 8 years ago, it still holds true. It’s good to see that the main principles are still true and hold strong. Though it’s getting more complex these days to stay at the top in more competitive industries, especially for small businesses that don’t have big marketing budgets. There are very few agencies that have pricing for the smb’s. Maybe places like are a better fit.

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