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Two factors greatly affect your rank at the search engines:
  1. How focused and relevant your page's content is to a given search, and
  2. The number and quality of incoming links (links from other Web pages to your page).

Most major search engines see incoming links as votes of confidence and will rank a page higher due to these "votes." Let's say two Web pages cover a single topic—whether it's "brand loyalty" or "Vermont cheese"—with equal quality and focus. If the first Web page has hundreds of incoming links and the other has few or none, the search engines will see the well-linked page as having more value. Otherwise, why would all these sites link to it?

This, of course, has led to a lot of Web site owners scrambling to get incoming links. They try to set up reciprocal links (in other words, trade links with other businesses). They pay for links (certain directories, including Yahoo, may sell links for a specified period of time). They send out hundreds of emails to other Web site owners begging for incoming links (which in some cases borders on spamming).

Sometimes they make the mistake of getting listed at "link farms", sites that are in business only to create links to other sites for the purpose of search engine rank. Often being listed at a link farm will lead to being removed from the search engines entirely.

Some site owners even hire special link-building firms to find, qualify and make inquiries to related sites for incoming links. While this can prove effective, the expense is often well over a thousand dollars or more; too high for many small businesses or entrepreneurs.

So what's a small business owner to do?

Article Marketing

With article marketing you provide articles you've written to other Web sites, blogs and eZines for free. In return, you get to include a short bio and links back to your site in the "resource box" that appears at the end of your article.

Article marketing has several benefits, including establishing yourself as an expert, lead generation, increased site traffic and improved search engine rank. In fact, it's so popular that there are software packages and Web sites available to help you syndicate your articles easily to hundreds and even thousands of other sites.

My Experience

Recently, I submitted a repurposed article I had written to iSnare, a Web based article distribution service, entitled "Your 2006 Web Marketing Plan." (Some article marketing experts warn against repurposing material published elsewhere, but because the article was so recent and relevant, I felt that only some small changes were required.)

While submission to iSnare is free, I chose to spend another $2 on their distribution service (yes, just two dollars!) My article was then sent to over 150 other distribution lists, which in turn distributed the article even further.

Within just a couple weeks, a Google search on "Your 2006 Web Marketing Plan" (quotes included) returned about 650 results, mostly other sites that have posted my article and created links back to my site. That's a lot of links for two dollars!

Two weeks earlier I distributed an article through iSnare on podcasting (certainly a hot topic these days) but as an experiement, didn't shell out the two dollars for further distribution. Only a few sites picked it up. It's not difficult to make the case for paying extra for distribution.

Article marketing isn't just for just Web marketers, either. iSnare's recent articles list covers topics such as how to win at poker, home business ideas, scrapbooking, and pit bull training techniques. Whatever your area of expertise, there's an audience out there who wants to learn more, and publishers who are looking for free or cheap content.

Good Article Tips

Your article is your opportunity to establish yourself as an expert. The best articles (and the ones that are most often picked up) are focused, easy-to-understand and helpful to your readers. The article is not the place to be promoting your product or service...at least not blatantly. If your article is too self-promotional, or filled with too much hype, many sites will choose not to run it.

Although some links can be helpful, too many links will often detract from the article itself. If most of those links point to your site, many publishers will be turned off. Also, many publishers will strip out all links except for those that appear in your resource box.

At the risk of sounding obvious, spell check your article and have a friend or colleague--I use my mom--double-check it for grammar, punctuation and coherence. What may be clear to you may not be clear to a layperson. That's why the best authors rely on great editors.

Good Resource Box Tips

The resource box is where you get "paid" for your expertise. It's for lead generation and link building. And like almost every other type of marketing out there, it's best to keep things simple and uncluttered. Most experts agree that if you try and get too promotional here you may turn off potential publishers.

A good resource box contains your name, business, and a description of your services. If possible and applicable you can include your unique selling proposition...assuming you have one.

Also, make sure you include a link back to your own Web site. If you have several Web sites it may be best to just choose the one that is most closely aligned to the topic of the article.

Some Places to Start

Two of the more popular article distribution sites include iSnare and The Phantom Writers, but a quick Google search on article distribution service will bring up hundreds of additional resources.

In Conclusion

Article marketing is a cost-effective method of marketing your Web site and services, and driving up your search engine ranking in the process.

And unlike most other Web marketing techniques, you don't need knowledge of HTML or the help of a Web developer to achieve success. So what are you waiting for? Get writing!

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