Marketing and advertising on the internet are an integral part of running a small business, one many owners handle themselves.

It does require some knowledge and skill. Owners may need to take short courses in digital marketing — in particular, online searches and advertising — at local colleges. Or, they may be self-taught, says Cathy Petersen, director of search engine marketing at Surefire Local, a digital marketing company based in Vienna, Virginia.

“There are a lot of good resources for people who are just getting started,” Petersen says.

It might make more sense for this task, like keeping the company books, to be outsourced to a consultant if owners need to devote themselves to working with customers or developing their products and services. Or, if they have employees, owners might make sure that one of their staffers has the time and know-how to do the work.

At its simplest, getting good visibility in an online search requires a company to use what’s known as search engine optimization, the use of keywords in a website that are frequently searched. Which words to use will differ from company to company.

Google’s algorithms that rank companies in search results also take into consideration how relevant a company’s website and individual pages are to people who are searching. Businesses that get publicity or are on review websites can improve their rankings.

Advertising on Google involves bidding for specific keywords. But small businesses may not be able to pay for keywords that are extremely popular and that larger companies want. But they may have advantages, for example, location. Google can place a local business on its maps that are often part of its search results, Petersen notes.

Online advertising needs to be an ongoing commitment if it’s going to be effective. Companies must monitor how well their search listings and ads are leading to visits to their websites. Some businesses hire digital marketing consultants to handle this task, while others rely on analytics programs including Google Analytics.

If owners aren’t satisfied with the traffic to their websites, they need to consider changes in the site or advertising and/or they need to find ways to get publicity that help Google algorithms give them a better ranking in search results.


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