Google and the US Small Business Administration (SBA) today announced a partnership aimed at providing entrepreneurs and small businesses with resources, training and tools to help them leverage the Internet to grow their businesses.
At a press conference and Webinar today, the two entities unveiled Tools for Online Success, a Google Web site featuring an array of videos and tips on subjects ranging from establishing a Web site to using free online marketing tools, paid advertising, social networking and search engine optimization (SEO).
"SBA has taken steps to put new technologies and tools in the hands of small business owners," said Karen Mills, SBA administrator. Mills added that the videos "feature the tips and tricks that small business owners should know to succeed online."
John Hanke, vice president of product management at Google, concurred, noting that entrepreneurs and small business owners cannot afford to ignore the Web in this day and age, even if their business is entirely brick-and-mortar.
"People are turning to online to find information about their local places," he said. "More people are actually using online rather than a phone book or printed resource to get that sort of information."
He added, "People are going to find your business online. People are going to form an opinion about you based on how you look online."
In the past, establishing an online presence required a degree of expertise. But Hanke said there are now plenty of Web tools that entrepreneurs and small business owners can turn to that are free or inexpensive and easy to use.
"Twitter is an amazing story," he said. "A few years ago, it was all about building a Web site." Now, businesses can use Twitter to push messages to interested customers simply by signing up for an account. And even businesses that don't think they can establish and manage a Web site can go to Google places and write a profile for the business, ensuring customers who search for it online can find the address, business hours, phone numbers and so forth. Facebook and Yelp provide other options.
"You want to have your profile in every place and you want to make sure it's accurate," Mills said. Additionally, he noted, these online tools allow small business owners to keep track about the conversations that customers are having online about their businesses.
"There's a whole dialogue that's happening by your customers about you," he said. "You can participate in that conversation. You can hear really honest feedback. You can hear praise and love."
Small Business SEO
Once businesses are online, they can use free online tools like Google Analytics to optimize their Web sites to ensure their Web sites are among the first users find when searching the Web.
Susan Holt, co-owner of CulinAerie, a recreational cooking school in Washington, D.C., said that optimizing her Web site was extremely beneficial to her business. "Our business increased 300 percent almost immediately," she said. "We did search engine optimization almost a year ago and it has been consistently 300 percent since. I can't even imagine not doing it."
On the paid front, online advertising is now readily accessible to entrepreneurs and small business owners, and it is extremely scalable as well.
"There are a number of ad products out there that are a lot easier to use than they used to be," Hanke said. "When you get into search advertising, you can start with a budget that's really small, like $5 or $10 a month."
And from there, he said, it's totally transparent. Business owners can spend incrementally and then use free online tools like Google Analytics to track its effectiveness.
"You can get immediate feedback and then adjust," Mills added.
Thor Olavsrud is a freelance writer and a former senior editor of InternetNews.com. He has covered operating systems, standards, telecom and security, among other technologies.
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