Search Marketing In My Kitchen -- Or It's Still Tough To Get The Little Guy Online

We've written before of how the search engines want to tap into the local market, those small businesses that aren't even online. It's a big challenge that I just had illustrated for me first hand a couple of minutes ago.

My wife does garden design work, and her fencing contractor stopped by to talk about a job. She's not here, so I answered the door. While telling him when she'd be back, he spotted "Inktomi Web Search" on an old vest I was wearing, picked up from a visit to Inktomi back when we had Inktomi, many years ago. He asked:

Oh, do you know about this web search stuff then?

He's an older man in about his 50s and just got his new one-page web site up, talking about his family-run company that does small-scale fencing work in our part of Wiltshire, England.

Out of the blue last week, he got a call from someone saying that they'd get him listed on the search engines for a £400 ($750 or so) setup fee, then £5 per month maintenance. Yeah, I can just see all those search marketers getting a smile on their faces. Stay away, stay away!

Listed for what, I asked? He didn't know -- and they, of course, didn't really say. They'd just get him on those search engines he'd heard about.

Feeling curious, I took him over to the computer in the kitchen to do a few quick checks. Yep -- not listed in any of the major three search engines. Being a new site, never submitted and no links, I wasn't too 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 anything. 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 use the local area he's in or have any local address on the page, strikes against doing well for those who might seek him locally. I gave him a few tips that may or may not make it back to his designer. And if they do, he still may -- or may not -- do well.

What he really needed was something simple. So I thought I'd show him very quickly how ads worked and grabbed Google as my guinea pig. We quickly found that "fencing services" wasn't something people were looking for in the UK -- but garden fencing was a top term that stood out. And he could get a top listing for only like $1.00 per click.

To me, it would be an ideal way for him to easily find out whether there was even an audience looking for him. Run an ad, set a budget for $25 per month and see how it goes. Do the organic side as well -- but that's a harder thing to grapple with.

Then again, the ads aren't that easy. Set up a region, select terms, make sure you do some negative terms for "fencing" if you don't want those looking for fencing of the sword variety to come for you.

And how to get started? Google Jumpstart is supposed to ease new advertisers into the world of search ads with help from Google, but that's US only. And even if it were in the UK, the $10 per day recommended budget might be too scary. Yes, you can change it -- but, it still might be off-putting. The $300 set-up fee is even more scary, despite the fact you get it all back in clicks.

Overture does have Fast Track in the UK, and the costs are a bit easier. The $35 or so per month minimum might be a bit high, still -- and the $150 or so set-up 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 UK's large local search engine. He can get an ad there for about $300 for the full year, no web site required. It actually looks pretty interesting, but it's sad that unlike with the major search engines, he can't test it out for a small price to begin with, if he were to go the self-serve route.

In the end, the crux of the problem is that he's 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 really isn't likely there. To get him to a good search marketing company, the same thing applies. Ultimately, he really needs a good individual who won't charge a lot and who is trustworthy. That's a tough challenge. The reality is until the products get more simplified, he's probably not going to jump into the search marketing world for another year or so.