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There are small businesses, and there are “micro” businesses. Micro business is a term I use, for example, to distinguish a small nail salon employing 3 or 4 people from a small manufacturing plant that employs 100 people. In conventional terms, both are small businesses. In reality, and certainly when it comes to marketing, they are worlds apart.
The micro business is not alone, however. In aggregate terms, the total sales volume of micro businesses around the country may well exceed the the entire next rung of small businesses. Today, more and more micro businesses, most of which are local or regional in terms of sales and distribution, are going online with a website. It’s a logical move – as more and more consumers search locally online, the micro business community needs to follow. But once they are online, how can they best promote themselves to their local audience?
The key point to remember is that most micro businesses, individually, are extremely limited in terms of time and money for online marketing. Realistically, a micro business has three options to consider: search engine optimization, paid-inclusion (including pay-per-click, or PPC), or some form of directory-type advertising, commonly called Internet Yellow Pages. (IYP). For most micro businesses, the IYP route is the only one that makes marketing sense.
The big lie on the Internet is that successful search engine optimization (SEO) is affordable. It’s not. It’s very expensive, and getting more so every day. It is obvious why this is so: with dozens, perhaps hundreds of websites in any given category all trying to optimize themselves for the top ten spots on Google, the prize goes to the ones with the biggest budgets, who are able to hire search engine optimization firms. And even then, playing the SEO game is dicey, as the following example shows: try searching on Google for “house painter Atlanta.” Most, if not all of the results will do little to make your house the envy of suburban Atlanta. For house painters in that city, using SEO as a marketing tool would obviously be an expensive proposition.
So how about Adwords? They’re the paid Google ads next to the search results, and most of the Adwords advertisers on the above search (though not all) actually do paint houses in Atlanta. Here, the problem for many micro businesses will be the issues of budget, again, along with time and technical savvy. Certainly, some small businesses will be able to manage a self-serve ad campaign (unless it’s on the incredibly complicated Overture network) – but most probably won’t. They either don’t have time, or they’re not aware of the opportunity, or they don’t know how to. Frequently, it may be a combination of all three. To make a PPC type program feasible on a micro budget, it requires a lot of tracking and tweaking by the micro business. It may come as a surprise to the developers at the major search engines, but not all small business owners spend half their day on the Internet. They are taking care of their own businesses.
If SEO and PPC are not good marketing avenues for micro businesses, where can they turn? Currently, their best bet is the IYPs. The IYPs, broadly speaking, are an extension of print yellow pages into the online sphere. While they still have some major improvements to make, they offer a familiar, quick, and affordable way for micro businesses to begin showing up online. With many IYPs, a business that is listed in the local yellow pages will get an automatic free listing online. For a fairly reasonable cost, perhaps $25 - $150 per month, listings with many IYPs can be upgraded to better visibility, just as in the yellow pages phone book. It’s not a panacea: certainly, at this point in time, traffic is far heavier on the search engines than on the IYPs. However, the IYPs offer some unique advantages besides low cost and relative simplicity: the traffic to the IYP is more qualified, because it is clearly focused on a particular category; the IYP listings often show up in search engines results (“free” SEO!), and the ability to tailor the advertising to a micro geographic location is generally better. It’s early days for micro businesses on the Internet, but the trend is picking up, and the avenues provided to these businesses for their online promotion is already one of the hottest topics in internet marketing.
Neil Street is co-founder of Small Business Online, based in Wilton, CT., a website design, management, and promotion company dedicated to the Internet needs of the small business. His website is at http://www.smallbusinessonline.net Send email to email@example.com He can also be reached at (203)761-7992.