Getting the Little Guy Online Is Still Tough

We’ve written before about how search engines want to tap into local markets and include those small businesses that aren’t even online in search results. It’s a big challenge I recently saw illustrated firsthand.

My wife does garden design work. Her fencing contractor stopped by to talk about a job. She wasn’t home, so I answered the door. While we were chatting, the contractor spotted “Inktomi Web Search” on an old vest I was wearing. He asked, “Oh, do you know about this Web search stuff then?”

He’s an older man in his 50s. He just got his new one-page Web site up. It promotes his family-run company that does small-scale fencing work in our part of Wiltshire, England.

Out of the blue, he got a call from someone claiming to be able get him listed on search engines for a £400 ($750 or so) setup fee, then £5 per month maintenance. Yeah, I can just see all those search marketers with smiles on their faces. Stay away, stay away!

“Listed for what?” I asked. He didn’t know. The caller, of course, didn’t really say. They’d just get him on those search engines he’d heard about.

Curious, I took him over to the kitchen computer to do a few quick checks. Yep, not listed in any of the major three search engines. As it was a new site, never submitted and no links, I wasn’t surprised. So I spent all of three minutes submitting him to Google, MSN, and Yahoo myself, then charged him only £200.

No, of course I didn’t charge him. It was my good deed for the day! I then looked at his page. He thought he wanted to be found for “fencing services,” but he didn’t use those words on the page. He also didn’t name the local area he’s in, or have a local address on the page; strikes against being found by those who might seek him locally. I gave him a few tips that may or may not make it back to his designer. If they do make it, he may — or may not — do well.

What he really needed was something simple. I showed him briefly how ads work, with Google as the guinea pig. We quickly found “fencing services” isn’t something people look for in the U.K., but “garden fencing” is a top term. He could get a top listing for about $1 per click.

That would be an ideal way for him to easily find out whether there’s an audience looking for him: run an ad, set a $25 per month budget, and see how it goes. He should do the organic side as well, but that’s harder to grapple with.

Then again, ads aren’t that easy. Set up a region, select terms, choose some negative terms for “fencing” if you don’t want to pay for visitors looking for the sport.

And how to get started? Google Jumpstart is supposed to ease new advertisers into the world of search ads, but that’s U.S. only. Even if it were in the U.K., the $10 per day recommended budget may be too scary. Yes, you can change the amount, but it still might be off-putting. The $300 setup fee is even scarier, despite the fact you’d get it all back in clicks.

Yahoo does have Fast Track in the U.K., and costs are a bit easier. The $35 or so per month minimum might be a bit high, and the $150 or so setup fee (that doesn’t give you clicks) even more so. Still, it’s something he might consider.

Maybe I could point him toward Yell, the large local U.K. search engine. He can get an ad for about $300 for the full year, no Web site required. It looks pretty interesting, but, sadly, he couldn’t test it for a small price were he to go the self-serve route.

The crux of the problem? His business is too small. He doesn’t even do Yellow Page advertising right now, having gained his clients through word of mouth.

People are probably looking for him online, but the time for the search engines to service him hasn’t yet arrived. It’s the same for getting him to a good search marketing company. Ultimately, he really needs the help of a good individual who won’t charge a lot and is trustworthy. That’s a tough challenge. Until the products get simpler, he probably won’t going to jump into the search marketing world for another year or so.

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