How small companies should be using search

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The tremendous potential of search advertising lies in its ability to advertise to a highly-targeted audience looking for very specific products and services. One big downside, however, is cost. Because only the largest companies can bid on the most popular keywords, like "CRM" or "antivirus," for small companies, the key to search advertising is focusing on "long-tail" keywords that tend to be significantly cheaper.

If search advertising is prohibitively expensive for your small company, what else can you do in addition to a long-tail keyword strategy? Thanks to the explosion of content available on the Web, powered by free tools like blogs and content management systems, you can find Web sites on just about anything today. For example, Glam Media is an ad network focused on women. Most of these Web sites sell advertising directly or through an advertising network. An advertising network is basically a network that represents websites in a certain niche or category.

Your goal is to find a community that is has a need that your product directly addresses. Next, you need to focus 100% of your non-search online marketing efforts to this extremely targeted audience. This is not as easy as one might think.

For example, let's say you sell software tools for e-commerce merchants. Your first instinct might be to advertise on technology-focused networks like CNET. But think about this carefully. Is an e-commerce merchant (and more importantly – a decision maker like the CEO or VP of business development) likely to hang out on one of these networks? The answer is yes, but you can do better. Look for a site focused solely on e-commerce merchants and the issues that pertain to them specifically. Now you have a highly targeted audience. The next step is to become laser-focused on this marketing channel.

First, design ads and other media that cater to your audience. Look at the Internet Advertising Bureau's guidelines for a list of the most common ad dimensions. Next, design creative that displays your marketing message in one sentence (or less, if possible). For example, “Increase sales by using the world's #1 e-commerce engine!” Keep testing different designs and messages until you find one that delivers targeted leads. And don't try to fool your leads with deceptive advertising designed to drive lots of traffic. If your ad says you will give away a free iPod Touch for every signup, make sure that you do.

Now that you have found the most targeted non-search audience, keep testing different customer acquisition methodologies. Most sites offer a menu of advertising opportunities such as sponsored Webinars, e-mail list rentals, banner ads and even live events. If your advertising is not working, keep trying. You've found the most targeted channel out there, so be open-minded and keep brainstorming different ideas until one clicks.

The key to search advertising for small companies is to continuously test new things, look for related Web sites, refresh your ad designs, and fine-tune your marketing message.

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