Jan. 16 2012 09:36 AM

Question from a reader: “When I search in Google for landscaper, my company isn’t showing up. My brother-in-law says this can be easily fixed if I submit my company’s web address to the search engines. My site doesn’t get much traffic and doesn’t generate many leads. Will his suggestion fix the problem?” There’s an easy way to find out whether Google has found your site; just type in: site:www.yourcompany.com into the Google search box. If you show up, Google knows you exist.

But maybe there’s a more important issue buried in this question. How can small businesses optimize their effectiveness within search engines? What can you reasonably expect to achieve? Are there easy one-time fixes that can help your results?

Improving your search marketing begins with understanding how prospective customers might search for you. What keywords or phrases would someoone enter into the Google search box for a solution to a problem or to make a purchase?

Let’s say you need to buy a replacement handle for your broken kitchen faucet.

What would you type in the Google search box? A phrase, right? And probably a fairly detailed phrase? You know, the more specific you can be in your search, the better the results you get.

As a marketer, you want to think the same way: the more specific you can be, the more chances your site will land in the first page of search results. For broad search terms like “landscaper,” it is difficult for a small business because you’re competing with many companies, trade associations, etc., for placement in the search results. But a more specific search phrase (and one one that’s more likely to be searched) like “Sewickley landscape contractor” (Sewickley is a prosperous suburb of Pittsburgh) has much less competition and therefore, a much greater chance that you could get your company on the first page of results.

Sometimes the most powerful search phrases are framed in terms of a problem or task. Searches like “updating foundation plantings” or “winterizing lawn sprinkler system” can be magical sources for new customers. Think about what problems or tasks you help customers accomplish.

Optimizing your website for interaction with search engines like Google (called Search Engine Optimization, or SEO) is neither a one-step process nor is it something you can do once. It involves the structure of your site (page titles, tags, etc.), valuable and fresh content, and credibility factors like inbound links and much more. For many small businesses, SEO is difficult to understand and time-consuming. Don’t rely on hearsay or “quick fixes.” Buy a book on the topic or hire a pro to help you map a strategy.

If you have a defined market area and a defined list of search phrases, pay-perclick advertising (also called search engine marketing or SEM) is something you should strongly consider. It’s the fastest way to instantly boost your company to the top of search results for specific search terms or phrases that you know are good sources of leads. Check out adwords.google.com for more information. Before setting up your Google campaign, read my past columns on common mistakes so you get started correctly and avoid unnecessary expenses.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Jeff Carowitz leads a landscape industry marketing agency. Find him on LinkedIn or at Jeff@StrategicForceMarketing.com.