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by Alec Sharratt on 31st August 2012
Online marketing should be for everyone and even if you can’t afford to outsource to a large agency there are still ways of making online marketing affordable for small business.
One of the most costly aspects of SEO for small business is the tools; agencies have economy of scale with their tools, being able to use the same tools for multiple clients. As such, pro subscriptions and the best software are often available. Good tools allow you to work better in any number of ways; improved efficiency, having greater visibility, insight in competitors and backlink profiles, automation, and the list goes on.
So getting a hold of either free or cheap tools is crucial both for keeping down costs and improving workflow. Time is money, as they say, so if you have to spend a huge amount of time on online marketing then it is effectively costing you money, so working quickly and efficiently is essential. Below are tools to help in different areas of your online marketing strategy and each one is either free or affordable.
Price: Free to $9.99 Per Month
Description: Hootsuite is a social media tool allowing you to link up multiple social accounts such as Facebook pages, Google+, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. This is a powerful tool for time management, in order to keep a consistent level of social media engagement without having to be constantly doing it.
It is possible to schedule posts and tweets to go live days, weeks and months in advance, meaning that you can spend a few hours setting up updates for all of your social media profiles. This isn’t an alternative to replying or responding to queries, you will still have to engage but it does mean that consistent updates can be made across all platforms. This is a great time saver and the free version allows a lot of automation and up to five accounts to be added.
The pro version of HootSuite enables you to add more profiles and also enables some other useful features such as bulk updates and custom URL shortening. The Pro version is still very cheap, after the exchange rate you are looking at around £6-£7 per month.
Price: $10 to $20,000 Per Month
Description: Onlywire is a submission service for social bookmarking sites and RSS Feeds, similar to HootSuite. It allows you to schedule on bulk the posting of bookmarks, status updates, etc to a range of social sites.
There is quite a bit of setup involved in initial stage of preparing Onlywire as you will have to either already have or setup 30+ accounts with all the major social bookmarking sites. This is useful anyway for securing brand related profile names.
For a natural link building strategy, scheduling posts is the only alternative to performing them manually over time. Producing 30 links in one second across all platforms will not look natural, so staggering the delivery of these posts to multiple sites over weeks will allow for a more natural link profile.
As you can see from the pricing above, there is a huge difference between the basic and the biggest packages offered. This is great for small businesses as you can scale your usage with your growth, initially you will be unlikely to need anything other than the basic plan though.
Description: Cuterank is a keyword rank checking tool; it is simple in both design and functionality but does produce the data you need to understand your keyword rankings. Without visibility of your rankings it is almost impossible to measure the success of your keyword strategy. Google Analytics data will provide you with some insight into this with regards of the value of search terms; but really ranking statistics should be used in conjunction with other data to build a complete picture of the search landscape.
The Free version of Cuterank is, in reality, just a trial version and as such it doesn’t offer enough functionality to be useful for everyday use. But for the £38 it costs to go pro it is a very affordable and offers invaluable insight. Compared to other products on the market, Cuterank is cheaper than most and does the same basic job. It can also be improved by using proxy servers to hide your IP and perform more keyword rankings checks.
Price: Free to £99.99 (ex VAT)
Description: Screaming Frog is a great website crawler or spider that will crawl a website for all of the on-page SEO elements. This tool is great for making an xml sitemap as well as checking for broken links and producing a complete list of URLs, Meta, etc.
Screaming Frog is also great for analysing competitor sites to understand their structure, keyword strategy and analyse other on-page SEO elements.
There is no need to buy the pro version of this tool for most of the functionality is included in the free version.
Description: As well as being intrinsic to any SEO campaign, Google Analytics is totally free and will endlessly provide data for analysis. There are a huge amount of free resources available for Google Analytics online to help with learning how to utilise all of its functionality and power.
Description: A free and easy alternative to Microsoft Office products is Google Docs. For creating spreadsheets and text documents it is a great tool and it makes sharing those documents very easy. Google spreadsheets also have inbuilt functionality that allows integration with Google data and again resources for this are very prevalent online.
Description: Although there are many internet browsers, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, Chrome is my personal favourite. That is not to say it is without problems, it’s more that it has more acceptable problems than all of the other web browsers!
One of the main advantages of Chrome for use with SEO is the abundance of easy to install and use free extensions, such as;
As well as having an extension for almost any purpose, Chrome also has a profiles option within the settings that allows you to run multiple sessions in parallel. This is hugely useful if you are managing several Gmail accounts, Google+ pages, and Facebook profiles because you can have them all loaded in different Chrome windows.
Price: Free to £250 per month
Description: Majestic SEO provide a “link Intelligence Database” and are the largest source of link data available on the net. Most other backlink analysis services use Majestic to get data on who links to who.
There are a range of applications for this type of data, from competitor analysis to understanding where your links are coming from, anchor text analysis. If you ever need to analyse a link profile for a reconsideration request, then something like this would be necessary.
The minimum package that would be of use to a small business would cost you £29.99 per month and the services are completely scalable with your business.
Summary of Tools
So getting set up on the lowest costing package that will suffice for a small start-up will cost:
This is a pretty small investment for any SEO campaign, but it will cover the costs of the basic tools needed to perform in depth complex SEO work. You will have visibility of all relevant data including Google Analytics, keyword rankings, on-page, competitor analysis, and link profiles. As your business expands and your demands for online marketing grow, these tools are able to scale with your needs.
Once your business expands to the point where you could benefit from more costly pricing plans, it is likely that hiring an agency or someone in-house would now be an option.
Doing Online Marketing yourself will never yield the same results as getting a professional to do it for you, but that doesn’t mean you cannot get results. Many agencies and professional online marketers will provide a huge amount of information on how to do or improve your online marketing plan.
Using online resources like our digital marketing videos or YouTube to watch instructional videos can help to enhance your own activities. Keeping up to date with the latest SEO blogs is also a great and free way of gaining credible information on the topics that interest you. Credibility is something I have touched in previous posts; because so much of SEO specifically is prefixed by the words “In my opinion…” finding credible sources can be half the battle.
Saving Money – Things Not To Do
In an effort to reduce your online marketing costs there are a few things that you should avoid at all costs. In much the same way that I would avoid budget eye surgery, I would also avoid budget SEO companies. Unless you have a personal recommendation endorsing a consultant or an agency offering less than cheap SEO I would steer clear. Paying someone £50 per month or £100 per month is a small amount of money to pay for professional services.
There are no true shortcuts when it comes to marketing your business online; granted, you can automate aspects of it and use tools to collect or analyse data but these aren’t really shortcuts. A shortcut implies by definition that a corner has been cut, i.e. something is not being done properly in order to reduce time and at the cost of quality.
A great example of cutting corners or shortcuts is copying content from other websites; all content should be unique or accredited to its source. Duplicating content also applies to Meta data and any other content on the website.
Buying “Likes”, Links, and other social signals like Google +’s and followers are a sure fire route to disaster. Yes it’s quick and superficially appears to make your business look popular and publicised, but in the long term you will likely get hit with a penalty from Google or have your Facebook pages banned.