The difference between being on Google and being in Google is vast. There are essentially two sections on the Google search engine results page, ORGANIC LINKS and SPONSORED LINKS. Organic links live in the area right in the middle of the page. Sometimes there is a map but most of the time it’s just a list of results. They are called ORGANIC results because they happen “naturally” (not paid for). Google has an algorithm for organic search results. It’s based on hundreds of factors and if you think you know what the factors are, you can game the results. Gaming your website to get better results is called SEO (Search Engine Optimization).
There are hundreds of companies (individuals mostly) that can get your site IN Google. These people are SEO people. SEO people take your website and add loads of text related to your businesses topic as well as “optimize” little elements of your site (meta data, title tags, headers, image tags, etc.). All this text and all these little tweaks can add up to big results if it is done correctly and ONLY if you constantly maintain these elements. It’s a perfect business because it’s a service that never really finishes. You can always “optimize” something else on the website and Google is always making changes to it’s algorithm so you have to go back and make those changes as well. Your site can be on the first page of “Baltimore Homes for Sale” one day and on page five the next day simply because Google made some changes to the formula. You could spend thousands of dollars (if you hire someone) and countless hours (if you do it yourself) only to find your site the victim of Google’s whims. But large companies do spend these large amounts of time and money because you can SEO your way to the top of Google’s search results. For the small business operation, this is not going to be an option. You have other things to worry about (like helping your old customers and acquiring new customers).
On the other part of the search results page are where you find the SPONSORED LINKS. These links (technically they are ads) are paid for. You can pay Google to be in this section and give your business exposure. This section is where Google makes most of their billions of dollars. Tell me no one clicks on these links and I will tell you that Google made $2 Billion in the last 3 months (last quarter) of 2009. People look at and click on these ads.
When I talk about getting ON Google, I am referring to using Google AdWords. Using Google AdWords is the easiest, most complex thing you can do for your business. Here’s what I mean. In it’s basic form, Google AdWords requires you (the business owner) to create an advertisement (text only), pick some keywords or phrases related to your business, and set a daily or monthly budget. Piece of cake, right? Well, no. You’re not an advertising specialist, or a keyword analyst. You can build a great ad but pick the wrong keywords. Or you pick great keywords, set your budget at $100 a day (not expecting to get THAT many clicks) and find yourself with a $3000 bill at the end of the month ($100/day * 30 days).
Just like there are SEO specialist, there are SEP (Search Engine Placement) specialist. If you are a small business, I would put my money with an SEP specialist before I put it with a SEO specialist. With a SEP specialist, you can set a budget and let them run your ads. You only have to worry about answering the phone and running your business. Similar to SEO, SEP specialist are usually individuals, but there are a handful or large SEP companies. I would recommend using one of these larger companies.
There are a lot of things you can do as a small business owner to increase your Internet exposure. Take advantage of all the free options, then slowly dip your toe into the service options. Don’t spend more then you can afford on Internet marketing and never spend money on print advertising (yellow pages, newspaper, etc.) until you have exhausted all your online options.