My Frustration with Small Business Online Visibility

During my five years as an Internet Advertising Specialist at AT&T Advertising Solutions (formerly, now I had the opportunity to talk to tens of thousands of small business owners across the country. My job was to sell premium business listings on our online directory, as well as websites and “clicks” (adwords) packages. I found there was a tremendous need for small businesses to increase their visibility on the internet. I also found that most businesses were poorly represented across the many popular internet platforms, and even those who were obviously spending thousands of dollars for their websites and online marketing campaigns were totally missing the boat on some very basic coverage areas.

For example:  Before calling a business, I would sometimes look them up on several of the more popular sites to see how their information appeared.  Some would come up with high positioning on a couple of online directories like or but would do very poorly on Google or Yahoo organic search results.  Some would not even appear at all on many popular directories, or their information would be inconsistent, incorrect or incomplete.  Working for AT&T, I was only able to sell or correct their listings on our own directory, and their options for websites or adwords were very limited (and also very expensive!)

Value for the Money

Just to experiment a little, I took a few of my favorite clients and listed them on (what is now) Google my Business and got them to appear on the local search results on Google Maps. This made a tremendous difference in their search traffic, but unfortunately was a free service on my part.  I also found that depending on their industry and location, there could be very little difference in search traffic (and resulting business) between a basic listing costing $15 per month and a “top of the page” premium listing costing upwards of $400-$500 per month.

I also came across many business owners who were die-hard fans of one particular site or another, having been convinced (by some sales guy) that the one they chose was the best.  It was very hard to for them to see they could greatly benefit from our site as well and get even more customers.  Although has slipped in rankings over the past several years, it remains to this day the most popular of the many online business directories.

Ok, I admit that I was the “sales guy” trying to sell businesses all the bells and whistles.  But I also tried to remain conscious of the business owner’s “return on investment”, or ROI. Consequently, I sold a lot of small packages or basic listings (hundreds of them, in fact).  My average sale may have been lower than some of the other salespeople, but I had a lot of happy customers and one of the highest renewal rates in the company.  What I usually didn’t tell them, of course, was that their results would be almost as good with just their free listing, if they made sure their information was correct and included a link to their website.

My Business Philosophy

So, now’s my chance to create an effective package of services which I have found to produce the greatest ROI for small businesses.  My goal is to maximize the business owner’s investment by putting their limited budget into the areas that will produce the greatest results.  Like the 80/20 rule, I want to get you to the 80% level with 20% of the time and money.  There are four areas which I will be covering:

1. Websites

This is just common sense.  Most people now search for information about a business on the internet.  You’re much better off with a website than without one.  A user-friendly, up to date basic website is better than a flashy one that’s hard to navigate or takes too much time to load.  You can spend literally thousands on a website that looks really cool but doesn’t perform any better in the search results.  Our goal is to simply get you visible and provide the basic information about your business that your customers want.

2.  Listings

This one is kinda fun!  I now have the ability to list your business on 20 or more of the top directories out there, and provide additional content and links to your website wherever possible.  You never know where someone is going to come across your information.  Even if the directory is not as popular as you think, you can bet that directory is doing everything they can to optimize their own search results to generate more traffic to their site.  For example, someone may start out their search for a local business on Google, but end up clicking and finding you on CitySearch, Merchant Circle, Mapquest, or one of the other top directories.

3.  Social Media

More and more people are joining the social media craze.  Even the older generation!  They may start out logging on to see the most recent pictures of their grandkids, but eventually, find just about anything they could imagine.  It’s a great way to get additional exposure for your business and the more traffic you get through the social sites the higher you will rank on search engine results.

4.  Search Engine Optimization

This is an area where a business owner could spend an unlimited amount of money.  I’m not an SEO expert, but there are a few basic things we can do to minimize your cost and still get you to that 80% level.  I will be focusing on the basics – good website design, optimized titles, descriptions and pictures, relevant content and keywords and fast response time.  Google and the other search engines readily share their suggestions on how to best optimize a website and I will stay up to date and follow their lead.  It all starts to kind of tie together!

Again, my goal is to keep these services affordable and reachable for the average small business owner, focusing on the simple basics and doing them well.  Watch for future blogs as the business develops and we start getting some results and testimonials!