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Many small businesses are trapped. They know their companies could grow by marketing online more effectively but they do not have a big enough annual budget to get an agency to work for them.
So what can they do? Knowing they are missing out on considerable potential revenue but not having enough spare cash to chase that revenue must be frustrating.
Hire a fresh face
You may not have sufficient monthly budget to afford the work of an agency but you might be able to hire in your own talent. This gives you a full-time SEO service – so even if you could afford a basic agency package, this could be better value.
SEO is becoming an increasingly competitive sector and there are many hungry graduates and marketers out there who want to add success stories to their own portfolios.
Consider hiring one to work on your online marketing – and explain during recruitment that you’re looking for a self-starter who’s as hungry for a successful project as you are.
New graduates especially may accept a lower salary if they are offered the freedom to spearhead an SEO campaign. You aren’t exploiting them – you both get something you want.
If your budget won’t stretch this far, consider recruiting someone part-time. You may also want to consider your existing staff. Do you have a marketing or PR executive, for example, who recognises the value of SEO and wants to expand his or her experience?
Find a freelancer
A growing number of low-level search executives are all trying to raise their heads above the competition to bag jobs at major firms and agencies.
Like fresh graduates, many of these would be willing to take on a freelance SEO project in their spare time in order to boost their portfolio, as well as earn a little extra cash.
It’s very important to find the right freelancer. As above, you need someone hungry for opportunity and not someone who just wants to do the minimum work for some extra beer money.
Small firms using this route should use a freelancer with some demonstrable experience and check that his or her current employer is happy for them to work on your pages. After all, you don’t want the risk of them ditching you as a client because their boss has suddenly warned there’s a conflict of interests.
Do it yourself
There are plenty of ways a small business can enhance their own search engine rankings, even without bringing in some outside help.
Admittedly, you’re a beginner and so you’re less likely to see rapid success than you would by bringing in some expertise. However, there are plenty of ways that you can work the web without outside help.
But it does take time and effort. That means it’s usually the fantastically dedicated business owners that are most likely to fit this kind of additional work into their day – and still do it well.
So what can you do? Here are a few starting points – and there are mountains of articles and beginner's guides online to help you.
Paid search advertising
If you want some instant success and easy wins, paid search (the paid-for adverts at the top and sides of the search results) can bring immediate results.
Take the time to work out which keywords are best to bid for (Google AdWords has a tool that will help) and read some guidance on best-practice strategies. The search engines themselves have some good advice.
Paid search success can help you see a clear profit for each pound you spend, making it a good way to gradually ramp up your budget.
Build a blog
Using a blog can help both with social media marketing and organic SEO – a term that means boosting your rankings in the free search results.
To put it very basically: Google and its peers want to see what kind of searches your site is relevant for and how valuable it is. Encouraging people to link to your pages by writing a useful, industry-specific blog will fulfil both those needs.
By providing advice, guidance and industry news, you can create a useful resource that people link to.
Write guest blog posts
You can also start offering guest posts to other relevant blogs, also building links back to yours.
This will be easier if you have already built up a bit of a reputation as an authoritative voice through your own website.
Make sure you only guest for popular industry blogs, though, don’t waste too much time writing content for weak websites – it rarely helps you.
While you may want to embrace SEO in order to target a wider audience, don’t overlook the value of increased marketing to your local community.
Targeting local search terms (for example, ‘Oxford bespoke jewellery’ instead of the more competitive and therefore expensive ‘bespoke jewellery’) can still grow your customer base. However, it’s cheaper and there are easier wins to be had.
You may not know much about the more technical aspects of SEO, but you can talk, can’t you?
Communicating through channels like Twitter won’t just help you gain those online customers you interact with, it can also help with your SEO.
By tweeting links to your pages (where appropriate - Twitter isn’t a spam engine), you can encourage people to share and discuss your online content.
This helps Google see the value of your pages, helping you rise through the ranks.