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Search Engine Optimization
by gregprice
 Official RadiateLocal Blog
The Most Cost-Effective Way to Reach Your Online Audience -

Hello everyone, my name is James Moon and I'm a Regional Director at Radiate Media, the technology source behind RadiateLocal.com. With the launch of this exciting new site and the potential it offers businesses looking for a digital presence, I thought it would be timely to write a blog on this very subject.

It's well established that businesses are spending quite a bit of money these days on search engine marketing (SEM) hoping to drive more traffic to their websites and more sales for their companies. Unfortunately, as you may have already experienced, these campaigns require expertise and an extensive budget to be done correctly, and therefore can be difficult to sustain. In fact, a recent study by Borrel Associates indicated that over half of small business owners quit paid search ads within six months for these very reasons.  

So the million dollar question is "what should businesses do?" Two things. First, if you are going to invest in paid search, educate yourself. A good starting place is at smallbiztrends.com, where Lisa Barone has posted several useful tips for running effective, paid search campaigns. And while you're there, be sure to check out the comments added to her post for additional perspective. The key here is to arm yourself with as much data as possible so you can run a smart ad campaign.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, focus budget dollars on search engine optimization. Commonly referred to as SEO, search engine optimization involves optimizing your website in such a way that it shows up higher in the non-paid, or organic search results. There are a couple of real benefits from an online strategy that focuses first on SEO.

For starters, consumers are becoming increasingly knowledgeable on finding information online. More and more, they associate "sponsored links" and other forms of online marketing with paid advertising, and are a bit more skeptical about these options. Conversely, they view organic, or non-paid search results, as trustworthy and therefore more helpful.

Here's why - the major players in search, Google, Bing and Yahoo!, use complex mathematical equations called algorithms to reach out across the world wide web, index web pages, and deliver results according to subject matter. When we input a certain combination of words into their search boxes, the engines quickly identify the most pertinent information in their databases and then instantly deliver it to us via organic search results. Consumers have figured this out, increasingly relying on this useful, pre-qualified information.

A second advantage to SEO is that can be very cost-effective in the long run. Done correctly, SEO continues to work for you, well after you've run out of budget dollars, so then what's the next step?

Do your homework. Research SEO online, and talk to the experts as well as other businesses that have deployed a successful SEO strategy (hint: you'll know who they are because they show up high in the organic search results). This baseline of information will serve you well as you develop your SEO strategy. Once you've built this foundation of knowledge, my recommendation is to focus on three key areas: your domain name, your website content, and your inbound links.

As a starting point, consider investing in a functional domain name rather than a vanity, or branding domain name. A functional domain name tells search engines what your business does and where you are located. For example, AutoInsuranceRomeGA.com is far more telling than ABCAssociates.com. (If branding is important, you can also purchase a vanity domain for $10-15 annually and have it pointed to your site.)

Even more importantly, make sure you have good content that ties back to popular key word searches for your business. (Google's keyword tool can help with this). Along with relevant text, search engines place high value on photos, videos, blogs, ratings, coupons, social content, online stores, etc., so include anything that a consumer would find helpful to the decision-making process or for taking action. And while you're at it, make sure your title and description tags, as well as your meta-descriptions clearly state your line of business and location while emphasizing the valuable content on your site.

Finally, secure as many inbound links from respected organizations as you can. The search engines place tremendous value on these links to your site; after all, if lots of other businesses refer their users to your site, you must have good information, right? Ask your suppliers, customers, colleagues, etc. to link their websites to yours. Join the Chamber of Commerce and other groups that add credibility to your business, while offering links to your website with membership. And be sure get your business listed on Google Places, Wikipedia and other online players that offer links back to your site. (With the risk of sounding self-serving, you may even want to consider tying into Radiate Media's vast network of over 1,400 sites partners through a storefronte on RadiateLocal.com or one of our partner sites).

So let's land the plane. What should a small business do to get more exposure online? First and foremost, educate yourself. Whether you are leaning toward SEM or SEO (or a combination of the two), information is power. Use the tips outlined above and other relevant data points to become a savvier online marketer. And lastly, if your budget is limited and you can't afford a large, sophisticated SEM campaign, we recommend using your silver bullets on an effective SEO strategy.

In the final analysis, you'll be glad that you did.

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