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Online Ad Deals Are Clicking

Use these lean marketing tactics to grow your business during lean times.

The internet is humming with great ways to advertise your business on the cheap. Since the economic downturn many major websites have seen ad sales decline, and they're ready to make a deal. Here's an arsenal of low-cost online marketing tactics for lean times:

SEO
One of the cheapest forms of online marketing is to improve your company website's search rankings on portals such as Google and Yahoo!, Sarah Baehr, a vice president at Seattle-based interactive marketing firm Razorfish , says.

One tip from Baehr to boost your company rankings: Make sure you're in popular online directories such as YellowPages.com and DexKnows.com . While physical phone books may be passé, busy online directories are still popular and will build your online presence.

"Being all those places Google reads makes you more relevant in searches," she says.

Banner Ads
Consider paying for plain-text ads that appear on top of or to the right of search results. Google's popular AdWords program is small-business friendly: it's self-serve, there is no minimum budget, and you pay only when customers click on your ad, Baehr says. Since many other web pages use Google for searches within their site--and display the ads as well--you have another way to increase your visibility.

If your business is primarily local, consider using niche sites such as CitySearch or Yelp ; packages on the latter start from $300 a month.

"They have very exciting local listings products," says KSL Media digital media director, Ed Kelly.

Most of these portals allow businesses to create custom profiles for free or a small fee--CitySearch even includes video. You can also buy ad results on Yelp and CitySearch that pop your company to the top of relevant search results.

Hidden bonus: because these sites are heavily trafficked and constantly changing, search engines rank their pages high, so you get increased search visibility too, at no added cost.

Negotiate
If you want to appear on a major website that carries ads, approach the advertising representative directly and make an offer. According to Kelly, chances are they'll have some unsold space and might be willing to cut their prices. A good clue: if you see a lot of "house ads" promoting the site's own wares, they have empty space.

"For them, getting $5 will be better than getting zero," he says.

Ad Networks
The emergence of sophisticated ad networks has been a boon to budget-conscious small-business owners, Kelly says. These networks use advanced software to identify very precise demographics of internet users--say, women 18 to 21 who buy lingerie--and can then sell you a precise slice of that online audience. This precision means lower rates for you.

Through these networks, you can target advertise to web-surfers in one city or in a single zip code. The networks buy ad space in bulk, so they can pass on some of the savings onto you.

Ad networks can also employ "retargeting," says Joe Apprendi, CEO of the ad market Collective Network . Their software can track the visitors to your site who don't buy, analyze their internet use and place follow-up ads on sites they frequent.

Because they're so precise and computerized, these ad strategies are cheap--they can run as low as $4 to $8 CPM instead of $40 like more general online ads, Apprendi says.

Pay-Per-Click
KSL's Kelly likes pay-per-click, or even better, pay-per-lead advertisements, as some clicks don't come from legitimate customers. If you can provide tracking tools for verification, you may even work out a pay-per-sale deal. In these cases, if your ad isn't productive you pay nothing, and you can easily change your ad copy using new tools such as Tumri and try again.

Kelly says, "[Just] about any of the major advertising networks or big online publishers will give you performance-based advertising."

The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.

Carol Tice, a freelance writer, is chief executive of TiceWrites Inc. in Bainbridge Island, Wash. She blogs about freelance writing at Make a Living Writing. Email her at carol@caroltice.com.

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