No. 72
April 15th, 2008

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.