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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.

Go local

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.

Get social

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.

Kevin Gibbons

Published 8 March, 2011 by Kevin Gibbons

Kevin Gibbons is UK Managing Director at digital marketing agency BlueGlass. He is also known as an SEO speaker and can be found on Twitter and Google+.

102 more posts from this author

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David Quaid SEO

My own thoughts on this - SEO doesn't cost anything - it's free. Hiring someone else who has developed their own strategy and is either going to train you or implement it will cost you.

There's a fine line between SEO, Social Networking, Self Promotion and Spam.

If I was to be cynical, I could suggest this article is borderline self promotion tbh. Here's an example: I could "guest write" a clumsy article about the cost of PR and then link to my own beginners PR course, offering little of value in my article :-) But of course, I'm not that cynical. Others might be....

over 5 years ago

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James Greenwood

Whilst I agree with most of this, lots of people we work with know that a blog/social media/etc is a good idea, but still have no idea how to go about it.

It's possible to "roll your own" SEO but in reality, I think it's the thought processes which are needed when SEO'ing that most aren't capable of.

So what's the lo-fi answer?

A friendly freelancer who will point you in the right direction, give you SEO "homework" to go and do as well as being a guiding hand on the rudder to prevent SEO crashes...

JG

over 5 years ago

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Ascenseon search

The feedback I have from a lot of businesses, is that business owners either don't have the time themselves, don't know who or what skillset they want to recruit, have dabbled with outsourcing and not understood what they have achieved. Having worked for many businesses over many years and in an attempt to address business owners concerns, we operate a performance points system for SEO, PPC and SMM. Essentially we identify base benchmarks for certain metrics, when we achieve pre-defined targets over and above we are paid on a sliding commission scale in arrears, this is over and above a very small monthly management fee. This puts the onus on us to continue to grow the clients business for extra rewards.

over 5 years ago

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Stream20.com

I agree that a lot of SEO is 'free' (maybe not effective link-building), and that an interested individual would be able to pick up lots of great information on this subject.
However, the reason for either hiring an SEO or out-sourcing it, is because it should not be a stand-alone strategy, it works best as part of an overall online strategy:
Input into site design & build
Work with PPC to get good keyword focus and range
Conversion/Landing page optimisation
Email input in links back to the site
Natural Link-building campaign
etc etc

Having a strategy that gets SEO working with all your other channel efforts is the key...

over 5 years ago

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Torsten Christ, crealytics

In Paid Search there's a tendency that companies start charging based on their success. Especially startups and SMEs appreciate the fact that they don't have to huge sums to see that Paid Search is not profitable for them.

We go a step further and even invest our own money to advertise the shop of our client. Our remuneration consists of a share of overall net profit generated through our campaign. It pays for itself without risk of loss for our clients.

This is just an example to prove that starting Paid Search isn't as cost intensive as it used to be. Anyone knows of similar approaches in SEO / SMM?

over 5 years ago

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The Digital Consultant

The biggest problem facing the industry is the perceived low barrier to entry for SEO/PPC and Social Media Marketing.

A couple of comments have picked up on the main issues; people don't have the time and don't really know what they are doing.

Of course people can spend hours trawling the Internet and looking at Twitter to pick up on these bits of information, but that doesn't make them an expert. Cynics would say that these posters are only doing so for SEO purposes and to get potential customers to their own site, a little hypocritical perhaps?

If I want to install a new kitchen I can, I can go and buy the materials and look online at some videos posted by an expert giving enough information to hang myself in a spectacular style. I'll no doubt give it a go and end up on a heap on the floor crying on the phone to my local builder.

It's far more cost effective in the long term to get an expert in. Less stress, better job done and leaves you to concentrate on your job!

Freelancers shouldn't cost the earth and if they are any good they should be only offering you what you need and can afford.

over 5 years ago

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James

I can see how doing it yourself would be cost effective, but I think hiring an agency would be cheaper than hiring a full time employee. Even if you pay them $12 an hour ,which is sad, then that is $24,960 a year. If you paid an agency $500 a month it would only be $6000 a year. Not to mention if an SEO Specialist is willing to accept $12 per hour they may not be the most experienced and you may have poor results.

over 5 years ago

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David Quaid SEO

@James Outsourcing is very rarely cheaper than hiring unless you're doing so for a short time - for example 10 hours per month or just for 3 months. An Agency/Freelancer has overheads over and above an employees - Taxes, Rents, Insurance, Business Risk and Admin.

If you are going to pay a person less than they can earn themselves online - wouldn't you be taking a larger risk by outsourcing to them?

If you're going to pay someone $12 an hour to assume risk (of being in business - winning new clients etc) and stay at the top of the curve - wouldn't they be better off in McDonalds?

Just because there are people who will do it for $12 per hour doesn't set the market rate :)

over 5 years ago

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Colin Welch - Silicon Beach Training

I agree that hiring someone full time is more cost effective in terms of return on investment than hiring an agency.
James - on the face of it hiring an agency is cheaper yes, but I'd always question the amount of time that agency will spend on you as a client. If you're hiring someone full time, you'll get just that - FULL TIME - not someone spending perhaps a day a month on your account at an agency.
Plus - with so much more emphasis required on social now, having somone full time in-house means that they can learn your product or services inside out and become a more effective social networker and brand ambassador for your company.

over 5 years ago

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Manish Mandhyan

My experience has been that different companies have different needs. I've worked with companies who have hired a full-time in-house digital marketing person, and i have worked with companies in helping them outsource to the right agencies/freelancers. It boils down to what is best for the individual company in terms of objectives and budgets.

The primary challenge has been to get the right "person" i.e. someone who knows online marketing from each aspect. You can get a web designer who has no idea about social media and vice versa. So, most companies end up having to outsource one or the other function.

over 5 years ago

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Rebecca Haden

SEO, including hiring someone for some well-targeted professional work, is cheaper than PPC ads and also cheaper than the opportunity cost of having a poorly optimized website.

Sometimes it's also cheaper than diverting your staff from the things they're good at.

It's worth at least talking with an SEO pro. Your ROI might be better than you realize, and you might need less of an investment than you imagine.

over 5 years ago

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Jason Matthews

Most elements of SEO are pretty standard and can be learned by anyone willing to take some time to understand it. Matt Cutts of Google says it's all the little things adding up that make great SEO for any site or blog.
Check out some good guides like Get On Google Front Page.

over 5 years ago

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James

@ Colin, I completely agree with you, many times it is better to have a full time person that works for the company, especially when dealing with social media. But the following along with the topic of the article (What to Do if You Can't Afford SEO)I just don't see hiring a full time employee as a viable alternative to the other alternatives listed. If you can hire a full time person then you can afford SEO.

@ David, I will agree to dis-agree with you. My understanding of why companies outsource are for two main reasons, primarily-to cut cost and secondarily-for expertise. I believe that sometimes outsourcing may be more expensive but not in most cases. If outsourcing was more expensive then we wouldn't have an enraged American public angry about their jobs being moved oversees.

over 5 years ago

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Colin Welch - Silicon Beach Training

@James - good point. And continuing the theme of the post - "what to do if you can't afford SEO" - The key point I think is that there is no way of getting SEO for 'free'(unless you have people volunteering for you!). The message we try to get actoss in all of our training courses is that If you choose to DIY, doing it properly will take up a LOT of your time - and that will cost you money. If content is king (which it is!) the people best positioned to write about your company/products/services are often your own people - but do they have enough time within their roles to do this?
You could also turn the question around and ask that in an increaingly competitive online marketplace, can you afford NOT to have some form of SEO?!

over 5 years ago

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David Rankin, OWNER at Photogold ecommerce photography

a lot of SEO is common sense. There's an amazing amount of information online including top level sites like SEObook and SEOmoz . As a self-taught SEO there's plenty of resources for learning the subject

over 5 years ago

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Promotional Products

Do It Yourself!!
If you are running a small business you can really do it yourself. There are chunk of tutorials available on the internet to learn. Use it and progress with your efforts. But remember that mistakes are meant for learning and discovering and not regretting.

over 5 years ago

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Timothy Laws, Lawyer at Hi5lawyers

If you install CMS like joomla ,its like half the onpage SEO done.

over 5 years ago

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Chris

As with all businesses you get what you pay for... Would you get your mate down the gym, the keen amateur DIY expert, to fit your new central heating system? Or hire some kid as a DJ for $60 for your wedding?

over 5 years ago

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Bill Rowland

I enjoyed the article, but I think that it may be a bit overly simplistic. I agree that it may be possible to cut some expense by hiring a fresh face or taking on some DIY SEO, but I think it's being penny wise and pound foolish.

From a business standpoint, I suggest that an owner should focus on what he or she does best, like making sales, deliveries or finding customers. In my opinion, I'd say find a freelancer/consultant that can help you make good early choices (how to set up a blog, create a solid website structure, etc..) and then build a level of knowledge. In time, you'll know where you can add value and when it's worth paying someone.

over 5 years ago

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