Google AdWords can provide great online exposure for some small businesses, but if you’re in an industry with a high cost per click (CPC), the tool may not be worth the money you’ll spend. Wired recently revealed the priciest 20 keyword categories on Google, based on CPC, and found that keywords like “insurance,” “loans,” “mortgage,” “attorneys,” and “credit” lead the pack on price, costing as much as $50 per click. While you might reason that these businesses typically involve a high lifetime customer value that justifies the cost, consider that arguably less profitable services like “classes” and “treatment” round out the top 20 most expensive words. And remember that with an AdWords campaign, nothing is guaranteed; you’ll pay Google for every click, whether any of them materialize into paying customers.
There are some alternative ways to increase your small businesses’ presence online, for a fraction of the cost. Here are few tactics to try:
Optimize your website – Optimizing your website means a variety of different things, including making your site easier to find and use. Painless (and free) ways to increase search traffic include submitting your URL to Google and Bing, and creating sitemaps to ensure content is easily navigated by visitors and crawled by search engines. Work to understand how people search when looking for a business like yours, and integrate those terms into your site. While Google+ for business is still evolving, it can’t hurt to get ahead of the game and add the “+1″ icon to your site now.
In related news, Google recently announced a new fee-based tool called Page Speed Service, which promises to decrease site load time by up to 60 percent. Although currently limited to selected participants, you can test your current load times and how they might be improved to determine whether your site could benefit from it.
Give customers what they want – The most highly clicked AdWords campaigns won’t generate actual business without linking to a relevant offer and an appealing landing page. Use your existing traffic to test various offers and content using Google Analytics to better understand what brings visitors to your site, where they exit, and what keeps them coming back. The more you know about your audience, the more relevant your site will become.
Get engaged – While social media won’t replace your marketing activities, it is inexpensive, and can build online traffic — if you understand how to use it. Robyn Sharp of Sharp Social Media suggests highly targeted Facebook ads that direct users to your business’s Facebook Page, and integrating a custom landing page into Facebook just for fans, offering exclusive content once they “Like” you. “This way you can continue marketing to them through your Facebook updates, rather than losing them at your website,” says Sharp. She also recommends experimenting with contests on Facebook to boost interaction, and posting a picture of winners to increase “viral” content.
If you use Twitter, make sure you understand its nuances. (For example, putting the @ symbol at the start of a missive means the tweet will only appear in the feeds of people who follow both you and the person you’re referencing.) Confirm that you are following all of your followers, and remember that social media is based on a two-way, ongoing conversation.