When we launched MSPmentor back in 2008, a lot of managed services providers (MSPs) ask me for guidance on such topics as search engine optimization (SEO), Google Adwords, pay-per-click advertising campaigns and online marketing. Some of that chatter died down over the past year or two. (Maybe readers realized I was clueless.) But the SEO and online marketing chatter is starting up again -- especially as MSP marketing budgets somewhat improve. Still, I wonder: Are MSPs really ready to master online marketing?

I pose the question based on two email that hit my inbox this week. First, Nimsoft's Phil LaForge and Ken Vanderweel sent across a blog describing how MSPs can transform their websites into lead generation systems and sales engines. Then, Ulistic's Stuart Crawford sent across a note describing his latest SEO service for VARS and MSPs. Vanderweel is a marketing master. LaForge is an MSP sales leader. Crawford is a former MSP-turned-social media expert.

Talent Pool

But I wonder: How many MSPs have in-house talent available to help drive SEO, social media and pay-per-click advertising programs?

When it comes to long-established tools like Google Adwords, I think many MSPs suffer from mass confusion (or mass denial). Folks like Ulistic, Kutenda and MSP University have worked hard to fill that void, teaching MSPs about SEO tools and tactics or building MSP-centric websites for their clientele.

But as the old saying goes: You can only lead a horse to water. You can't make it drink.

During a webcast in early 2009, ConnectWise CEO Arnie Bellini mentioned a few Google Adwords tactics that drove success within his company. The webcast system nearly crashed (a slight exaggeration) as attendees piled on with Adwords questions. It made me realize: Most MSPs had yet to launch highly targeted, highly regional online advertising campaigns.

Three Baby Steps

So where do you start? I recommend three steps:

1. Your Web Site: Redeploy your web site on a platform that's ALREADY search engine optimized. Before you pay thousands of dollars for a site developer who uses basic HTML templates, demand an industry standard platform like WordPress or Drupal. Those systems have so-called plugins that automate multiple SEO functions. Imagine that.

2. Your Goals: Ken and Phil at Nimsoft do a great job describing how to launch a campaign on your web site that captures traffic and qualified leads.

3. Your Target Audience: I've already mentioned a few SEO experts in the paragraphs above. But I also recommend opening up a Google Adwords account and playing around with the system for three months on your own. Set your online advertising budget at a scant $100 a month, choose your target terms, select your region, type in a text ad ... then check the account each week. Don't change a thing for the first month just to see how the Adwords perform. Switch things up every four weeks and measure your performance all the way through.

I concede: Adwords can be incredibly confusing. It's easy to over-think the system. Instead, start simple: Four search terms, one ad, one region, a low monthly budget. Get started.

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