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Small business can cast wider net online

Dan Caterinicchia,
June 19, 2006

Small businesses are exploring ways to grow online via Internet advertising and using techniques to rise through the ranks of search-engine queries.

Placement in localized Internet classifieds and directories is still the most popular method of online advertising, but more savvy and aggressive companies can branch out to target global customers, said Emily Riley, advertising and marketing analyst for JupiterResearch in New York.

Getting free links on reputable sites such as Google can be time-consuming, and buying key words for ads from the search engines takes time and money

But such links can help a skateboard shop in Southern California, for instance, market to potential customers based on their age or the videos they are downloading, Ms. Riley said. The sites and ads for such businesses should feature easily accessible contact information and buying options, she added.

The rewards can help offset the advertising costs

Ryan Wyrtzen, 21, is the founder of Cheap Travel Consulting, a fledgling online business that charges for assistance in booking hotels, flights and car rentals. He used Web site creation software from Homestead Technologies to build his 15-page site (www.cheaptravelconsulting.com), which went live about six weeks ago.

Mr. Wyrtzen also signed up for SearchLight, an online advertising service from Homestead that guarantees a certain number of visitors annually.

SearchLight provides key-word selection and management of bids to optimize search-engine returns, development of advertising copy and reporting. Searchlight can be set up in less than an hour, and packages start at $30 per month for 240 clicks, said Manvinder Saraon, vice president of marketing and business development for the Menlo Park, Calif., company.

Yahoo Small Business is Homestead's largest competitor, he added. Advertising.com and other companies also offer search-engine optimization services for businesses.

Internet advertising revenues reached a record $3.9 billion for the first quarter of the year, the Interactive Advertising Bureau and PricewaterhouseCoopers announced last month. Total Internet ad revenue reached $12.5 billion last year, up from $9.6 billion in 2004.

Mr. Wyrtzen paid $50 for 400 guaranteed clicks via SearchLight and attributes all of his approximately 30 sales to the online advertising program.

"The third or fourth day after I signed up, I got an e-mail from a guy in Oregon who was planning a trip to Hawaii. I made $75 off that one customer," said Mr. Wyrtzen, who lives in Duxbury, Mass., and just finished his sophomore year at Brown University in Providence, R.I.

"You can track where your traffic is coming from, and aside from relatives, all of mine is coming from the ads," he said. "The problem with search engines is that you need a high page rank, and that's hard for a new site, so you have to rely on advertising.

Sheila Adkins, a spokeswoman for the Council of Better Business Bureaus Inc. in Arlington, said her organization has not studied Internet advertising techniques for small businesses but would consider distributing a general tipsheet on the subject as more information is sought and becomes available.

Placing ads may not be for everyone. Most small companies are not enabled for electronic commerce and should stick to local directories until they can conduct business in cyberspace, Ms. Riley said.