10 Inexpensive Ways to Advertise Your Small Business

Banner ads and print ads can be expensive. And they are not necessarily the best way to advertise your small or mid-size business. So to find how to get the greatest return on your advertising investment, Small Business Computing surveyed small business owners. Below are 10 of their top suggestions for how to advertise on a budget.

1. Invest in Google AdWords

“AdWords and PPC [pay-per-click] can give you crazy amounts of traffic if you are tight with your campaign and run niche ad groups,” explained Andrew Riker an SEO specialist at WordStream. “Focused, long-tail keywords that are specific to your industry will cause the highest possible click-through rate and in-turn conversions.”

Riker adds that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to get a lot of traffic.  “A small daily budget — $10-$20/day — can provide you with a large amount of traffic and in turn qualified leads, as long as the ad is relevant,” he said.

2. Try Facebook Ads

“We tried print ads and banner ads, but for our money Facebook ads provide us with the most focused consumers,” explained Chris Knollmeyer, Web manager for Carolina Rustica. “Being able to target specific demographics lets us pinpoint people we have not reached yet and provides us with a platform to reach out to them. This kind of targeting allows us to minimize extemporaneous clicks from consumers [who are] just browsing or searching for information and gets us the most for our money.”

“Facebook ads have definitely been the most successful overall,” concurred Megan LaBant Abrahamsen, the owner of Blue Star Bazaar. “I can set a small budget (less than $10 per day) and target specific customers – [by] age, gender, education and interests similar to my product categories.”

Even if people don’t immediately make a purchase because of the Facebook ad, many of them wind up “liking” her business, she said, which lets Blue Star Bazaar create a database of potential customers.

3. Look into StumbleUpon Paid Discovery

“One of the best ways to advertise and get traffic to your website is by using StumbleUpon ads [StumbleUpon Paid Discovery],” noted Chris Wise, the online marketing director at CustomerRave. “They cost as little as $0.05 a click, so for $5 you can get 100 unique visitors to your site. While the bounce rate is more often than not higher when using these ads, it’s a great way to advertise contests, giveaways and big promotions,” he said.

And if the content you are promoting proves to be popular and receives a lot of “likes,” you will start receiving free traffic from Stumbles, which can go on for months, even after you have stopped advertising.

4. Get Published Online

Another great way to advertise your business is to “submit articles on topics your customers may be interested in to reputable websites, such as Ezinearticles.comArticlesbase.com or TheFreeLibrary.com,” said Matthew Kostanecki, a marketing specialist at Archon Systems.

“In exchange for the content, they allow you to include a couple of back links to your website. Not only does this provide you with potential traffic and leads to your business, it also helps establish you as an expert in your related field,” said Kostanecki.  Can’t come up with a subject to write about? He suggests asking your customers about their biggest pains and problems.

5. Donate Products or Volunteer Services to a Worthy Cause

“I got the equivalent of $1,000 in advertising by building the website for the Rhode Island Rally for Recovery,” explained Benjamin John Coleman, founder of The Origami Bonsai Company. And his investment of time really paid off — resulting in $5,000 in new business. That’s because when other vendors who participated in the Rally saw what a great job his company did building and maintaining the Rally website, they hired Coleman to help them with their websites.

6. Cultivate Bloggers

“Find influential bloggers in your industry and ask them to review your product or service,” suggested Daniel Weaver, the president and owner of Daniel’sPromise. “Many will be happy to do so if you give them free product for them to use.”

That’s what Juppy, the maker of the Juppy Baby Walker, did. “When we started out, our company we didn’t have a lot of cash on hand to spend on advertising,” explained Mayra Sotelo, the COO for Juppy. “So we decided to seek out mom bloggers who would review The Juppy Baby Walker. This worked out great for us…because there is no better [endorsement of] our baby walker that fits in a purse than by a real mom who loves our product.”

And if you can’t find a blogger who will review and write about your product for free, there are also bloggers “who will write about your site/product/company in exchange for a fee,” noted Mike Scanlin, CEO of Born To Sell. And even with a fee, that kind of endorsement is typically more effective and less expensive than a banner ad.

7. Claim Local Listings on Google Places, Yahoo Local and Bing Local

“You’d be amazed at how many small businesses forget to sign up for services like Google Places, Yahoo Local, and Bing Local even though it’s free!” explained Mandy Boyle, the SEO manager for Solid Cactus. “Claim your local listing, fill out the information and take advantage of people searching for businesses in your area,” she advised.

8. Use Community Sites and Local Directories

“Community-based online networks [such as Thumbtack and Quentin’s Friends] are a great way to cost-effectively get the word out about your business to a more targeted group,” explained Dana Leavy, CEO ofAspyre Solutions.

Leavy uses a site called Quentin’s Friends, an invitation-only network where members can post recommendations and offers for their products and services for a very small fee ($15). “The service is location-specific, so my ad is going out to thousands of people who are specifically in my geographic area, New York,” she said. And Leavy’s return on investment has been an impressive 6,500 percent.

9. Link Up with LinkedIn Ads

If you own a B2B company, a good way to reach your target audience is through LinkedIn advertising, “We are a small business and our target market is small business users,” explained Damian Raffele, vice president, marketing, AnyMeeting.

LinkedIn Ads has worked well for the company, because it allows them to target a specific audience by geography, demographics, job title or LinkedIn Group. “Being able to target users who belong to specific LinkedIn Groups… allows us to design ad copy that is tailored for them, which has resulted in great conversion rates, providing us with a great ROI on our marketing spend.”

10. Distribute Flyers

“If you have a small business that focuses on a particular area, flyers are a great way to advertise,” said Nathan Letourneau, co-founder of CampusBooks4Less. And they needn’t be expensive. Chances are you have someone in your company, or a friend or family member, who can help you design the flyer inexpensively (or for free) – and you can print the flyer in house or find an inexpensive printer.

As for distribution, “hire some high school or college students and have them put the flyers on parked cars, attach them to house entry doors and distribute them inside area businesses (to employees and on any bulletin boards, if allowed) and apartment complexes,” he advised. “We saw huge increases in traffic after having students distribute flyers on parked cars in our target areas.”

While not every method will work for every business, each advertising strategy is inexpensive enough that you should be able try a few to find out what works for you. Also, many of the sites mentioned, such as Google AdWords and Facebook, periodically offer advertising credits or discounts, which small business owners should use to their advantage.

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WittyCookie is an award-winning digital agency that specializes in affordable web design, graphic design, and SEO solutions to help small businesses grow.

Service plans start at just $19/month, all-inclusive with web design, web hosting, email setup, ongoing maintenance, and unlimited updates. We charge no setup fee, no cancellation fee, and no term contracts with a full money back guarantee.

Visit wittycookie.com to get started.

Choosing a Designer: How to Review Portfolios

It’s easy to spot a beautiful portfolio. Designers know that looks sell, and many people sell themselves that way. Of course, the ability to make something that looks good matters, especially for visual designers. But the challenge is that great images say nothing about what it will be like to work with someone, or whether they’ll be consistently able to produce good work.

Hiring a designer is a challenge. As a founder without firsthand design experience, it’s hard to know what skills to value and how to judge a candidate. You likely have experience reading résumés and interviewing candidates, but how should you judge a design portfolio?

It’s possible to look past the pretty imagery — you just need to balance first impressions with a bit of rigor and analysis. A portfolio isn’t a collection of pictures. (Writers have entire portfolios without a single image.) A portfolio is just a collection of past work. And it’s a great complement to a résumé because it shows you the actual work instead of just listing responsibilities and top-line accomplishments.

Actually, start with the résumé

Before I look at the portfolio, I usually look at the résumé to establish some baseline expectations:

  • How many years of experience do they have?
  • Any formal design education?
  • Any companies or agencies I’d recognize?
  • How are they positioning themselves? (Interaction designer, visual designer, etc.)
  • Any job titles or responsibilities that seem overstated?

Based on the résumé, I’ll look at the portfolio to challenge possible biases, look for clues to questions I now have, and get a more nuanced picture of what type of designer this person might be.

Then I dive in. After seeing a couple hundred portfolios, there’s a set of questions I ask myself. Some are about the portfolio generally, and the rest are about the work.

Look at the portfolio design itself

Did they treat this like a design problem? Too often, designers don’t think about their portfolio as the solution to a design problem. Let’s phrase it as one: create an experience giving the person screening you enough insight into your unique set of experience, skills, and approaches that he or she feels reasonably confident that interviewing you won’t be a waste of time.

Did they build it themselves? Yeah, building it yourself gets you more credibility, but only if it’s well-designed. An interaction designer might suffer here by putting their lackluster visual chops to work, though there’s more room for building thoughtful interactions. Portfolio sites — CargoCollective, Behance, any number of WordPress templates — tend to only emphasize images, and even a visual designer should have a good story to tell.

What’s the navigation like? If it’s custom, are they communicating that they understand the nuances of portfolio browsing? Whenever I drill down on one piece, I look to see if I can move to another piece directly, and whether they’re placing that navigation in a thoughtful location, such as the end of a long page. If you’re using modal lightboxes, have you tried to make the image bigger and the navigation better than the defaults? If they’re grouping work, is it by theme, by job, or arbitrary?

Look at each piece of work

Did they communicate their understanding of the problem they were solving? Very few people do this, and it sucks. It sends the message that they were either lazy, not user-centered (where the “user” is the person looking at the portfolio), or that they value the wrong things about design: making pretty things and not solving problems through clear communication.

Did they understand if and why their solution was successful?Success can be defined a number of ways: meeting the goals originally laid out, improving on a key metric, recognition by the press or users, etc. Can they be self-critical and assess the outcome of their work? Can they communicate what makes something effective?

What was their contribution as part of a bigger team? This is especially tough if it’s a bigger project where other designers played a similar role. It’s great to know how much collaborative work someone has done, and it’s even better to know that a person can gracefully share credit with their peers.

Generalize: What kind of designer is this?

There are a few portfolio stereotypes I tend to see. Does the design candidate fit into one of these categories? Which category best fits your company’s need?

Visual/UI designer: Likely the lowest word-to-pixel ratio of any designer, and the greatest use (and misuse) of trendy type, color, and visual effects. They can make your homepage hum and your buttons sparkle, but can they create a consistent and comprehensive brand and visual system?

New grad: The portfolio is heavy on student projects. Most often it’s an HCI Masters student, or possibly an industrial or graphic design undergrad. How much work in your domain have they actually done? Can you discern their contribution to group projects? If they have an HCI background, they may have better research skills than actual design chops.

Web designer: Comes off as a real all-arounder. They’ve most often worked at agencies or freelanced. Mentions their front-end skills and visual design skills, but might be bluffing on their UX chops. Have they tackled more challenging, stateful, and conditional interactions, or have they just built content sites?

Experienced UX designer: They’ll throw out big product or company names you recognize, and you may see inflated job titles. Hopefully they’ve tackled longer projects and more challenging feature sets. However, if they’ve been at big companies, they may have moved much more slowly. Either way, set your standards high, but be hopeful.

Making the decision: Should I interview this design candidate?

Think hard about what a designer is communicating — deliberately or not — based on what they’re showing you. What are they saying and how are they saying it? Their focus and delivery tells you a ton about what they value. Will that align with — or be a complement to — what you and your company value?

Who to hire depends on the specifics of your situation. Different products need different skills. It’s easy to go with the wrong set of skills, and easy to be swayed by the wrong things.

What if they don’t have a portfolio?

Lots of great designers don’t have portfolios, including some of the best ones I know. They’ve been working somewhere for a long time, or have great connections, or otherwise haven’t felt the need. Among web and software companies, portfolios weren’t used commonly as a screening tool until a couple of years ago. The portfolio was presented as part of the interview, but not as a requirement to get the meeting.

But times are changing. When I screened candidates at Google from 2004 to 2008, I didn’t expect portfolios. Now I see online portfolios frequently enough that I do. If I don’t see one, I feel comfortable asking for one, usually expecting a PDF. If they’re hesitant or too busy but it still seems promising, I usually ask for a quick screen-sharing session over Skype to walk me through a project or two. It’s not ideal, but it’s better than wasting time on multiple in-person meetings if you learn too late that the person is clearly not a match.

Some advice for designers

Stop selling sex. If you’re not showing how you think, all you’re selling is your good looks, and you’re setting the tone for the relationship between yourself and the rest of the team going forward. Pretend your portfolio is an online dating profile. What would it say if you looked at someone’s profile and all they had was a bunch of perfectly coiffed photos of themselves, with nothing written and little else — visual or verbal — to give you a better sense of personality?

Show that you’re a great thinker, not just a great Photoshopper. You are not a voice controlled mouse cursor for the client. Show that you can clearly frame a problem, establish goals for success, and explore solutions in a way that inspires confidence.

Vary how deep you go. Show a wide variety of work. Do a “case study” where you spend more time on problem framing and process work — everything that shows that you’ve got a great brain, not just good eyes and hands. Then mix it up with shorter project descriptions — something that piques my curiosity and leaves me wanting to hear more. Surprise me with a section that’s shallow but broad, say a collection of your best sketches.

Write about what’s unique. Don’t just say that you follow best practices: Personas, Contextual Inquiry, Card Sorting, blah blah. Everyone has that same list. Show me why your persona doc is better than any other, or why the way you capture behavioral states should be signed and framed. If your design solution is novel, tell me. If none of them are, that’s not so great, but then tell me why working with you is different. You are a unique snowflake, dammit, so hand me the magnifying glass.


Choosing who to hire is arguably the most important decision a startup makes. Given the high-risk nature of startups, the kind of collaborative work involved, and the small size of the team, the team you pick (and the team who picks you) has a huge impact on your success. Hiring is important at large companies, but at startups, it’s absolutely critical.

Designers have never been in more demand, so I feel conflicted about telling you to be more rigorous when looking at portfolios. But as demand rises, there’s always the risk of quality taking a dip. I want a generation of creative, thoughtful, disciplined designers making continually bigger contributions to startups, and your hiring choices will make that happen.

What have you learned in your time spent perusing portfolios? Anything you’ve seen more than once that makes you wonder, “why’d they do that?”

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WittyCookie is an award-winning digital agency that specializes in affordable web design, graphic design, and SEO solutions to help small businesses grow.

Service plans start at just $19/month, all-inclusive with web design, web hosting, email setup, ongoing maintenance, and unlimited updates. We charge no setup fee, no cancellation fee, and no term contracts with a full money back guarantee.

Visit wittycookie.com to get started.

Value of Local SEO for Small Businesses

SEO can be challenging for small businesses. They must compete for the same market share against larger brands that often have more prestige, brand recognition, and consumer affinity.

That doesn’t mean that organic search is out of reach for small businesses as a powerful inbound marketing channel with high potential for return. In order to compete with large brands, small business owners must have an SEO strategy that offsets the often large difference in marketing budget. Because small businesses will not be able to outspend their larger counterparts on media acquisition, they must take a much more targeted and refined approach.

When it comes to short-tail SEO—general phrases with a high amount of search volume—the search engine results pages are dominated by big brands. There is little that a small business marketer with limited budget can do to change these results.

Despite various limitations, small businesses can gain meaningful search engine result real estate with a focus on areas of lowered competition. When geography is taken into account, there is often a much smaller big-brand presence in search results. That opens a window of opportunity for small businesses to gain useful organic search visibility.

Focusing on consumers looking for products and services in specific locales is a great way to limit the competition and give small businesses the ability to gain valuable real estate on search engine results pages. If the business also has an offline presence in a specific locale, there is even more opportunity in targeting these consumers. Consumers trust of a business they can visit in person, which will lead to higher conversion rates.

Geo-Modified Keyword Targeting

Part of the opportunity of location-based SEO for small businesses is to utilize geo-modified search queries. Better yet, in order to benefit from this method, the business does not necessarily have to be location-based. Geo-targeted search phrases are typically very low in competition and are often searched at the purchase stage of the buying cycle, which means they carry high-conversion rates.

Let’s use “home security” as an example. There are 22,200 Google searches for “home security” each month in the U.S.m according to Adwords. However, a small business typically would not have enough budget allocated to SEO to rank on page 1 for that query. When the geo-modifier “miami” is added to the query the monthly search volume drops to 210. This is still a decent amount of search volume and can certainly lead to home security sales.

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The interesting part of this example comes when we look at competition. Examining the number of online pages that have each of these phrases in both the title tag of the page and the anchor text of an inbound link (this metric is known as In Anchor and Title) offers a picture of the relative competition for each phrase. This data can be pulled from MajesticSEO’sKeyword Checker tool.

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The In Anchor and Title data show that the business will only be competing with approximately 51 other pages for the phrase “home security miami” as opposed to 248,328 competing pages for the more generic “home security.”

A business likely will not  be able to rest on the 210 monthly searches for “home security miami.” This strategy, however, can be implemented at scale. Building geo-targeted content on the site for multiple geographic areas that the business can service provides the opportunity for several page 1 rankings within a specific budget.

Marketers should start by optimizing for the geographic areas that have the highest demand for the specific product or service that is being sold and working down from there. This can be identified by looking at the location report in Google Analytics to see where the majority of existing customers are coming from. You can also use keyword suggestion tools, such asGoogle’s Keyword Tool or Wordtracker, to see the search demand of various geo-modified phrases.

Local Search

If the small business has physical locations that consumers can visit, local search is an absolute must. Local search campaigns are ideal for capturing consumers searching on mobile devices because they can get directions and call the business with a simple click. There is no excuse for any local business to not have an optimized presence in local search engines, particularly within the major ones (Google +, Yahoo Local, Bing Local).

By creating and optimizing listings in local search engines, small business can get a great deal of search engine presence with a limited budget while increasing their rankings within aspecific region.

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WittyCookie is an award-winning digital agency that specializes in affordable web design, graphic design, and SEO solutions to help small businesses grow.

Service plans start at just $19/month, all-inclusive with web design, web hosting, email setup, ongoing maintenance, and unlimited updates. We charge no setup fee, no cancellation fee, and no term contracts with a full money back guarantee.

Visit wittycookie.com to get started.

Who to Hire: Web Design Agency or Freelance Designer?

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Since the dawn of the Information Age (circa 1970s) and the birth of the modern day Internet (circa 1990s), specialized services like website design, online marketing and computer programming have been in high demand. As companies continue to move their efforts online, the need for web savvy individuals will continue to increase – which is where we step in.

There definitely aren’t any “set in stone” rules about when and why you should hire a web design agency versus a freelance designer, but just like any situation, the choice should depend entirely on your individual project needs and the overall needs of your business.

While some companies prefer to work with larger teams, others may opt for more of a “one on one” approach to meeting their web requirements. To help you decide, we’ll list some of the benefits to hiring a web agency versus a local (or overseas) freelancer.

Extensive Portfolio

A definite plus to hiring an agency over a freelancer is that agencies will typically have a larger portfolio of websites and clients. This can give you a more accurate picture of their design, development and project management capabilities – as well as any high-profile clients they’ve worked with.

Though a freelancer could boast a list of established clients and diverse creative, the odds of them having sufficient experience in a wide range of industries (like finance, real estate, engineering, automotive) is pretty slim.

Project Management

Probably one of the major benefits and deciding factors for hiring a web design agency is project management. Different from working with a freelancer, web agencies often designate an account manager to oversee your entire project from start to finish; including discovery, design, development, and deployment.

If you have the technical know-how, hiring a freelancer may be a good choice as you would have direct contact with the designer, but the management of a project is often what ensures that every requirement is met, both technologically and creatively.

Expertise & Services

While a freelancer can draw from their own personal and professional experience, a web agency often has a plethora of additional services and resources that they can bring to the table should the occasion arise. On the other hand, an agency could be limited due to strict internal process, whereas a freelancer is more likely to “roll with the punches” – once they put their creative ego to the side.

A key difference is when it comes to additional services. Agencies usually employ in-house strategists, SEO analysts, social media managers, copywriters, illustrators and branding experts who are all available to contribute to the success of your website. Though your freelancer may “know someone”, having the talent located in one place is always a bonus.

The Truth

The truth is we’re not in any way discounting the importance or capability of freelance web designers – because many of us started out as freelancers. If you’d like to be more hands-on with your website design, and don’t really have a strict timeline, then hiring a freelancer is the way to go.

But if you’re company that employs more than 10 people, chances are you need a web vendor that has the experience and track record needed to meet your budget and deadline – not to mention keeping the “suits” happy throughout the process.

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WittyCookie is an award-winning digital agency that specializes in affordable web design, graphic design, and SEO solutions to help small businesses grow.

Service plans start at just $19/month, all-inclusive with web design, web hosting, email setup, ongoing maintenance, and unlimited updates. We charge no setup fee, no cancellation fee, and no term contracts with a full money back guarantee.

Visit wittycookie.com to get started.

How to Decode Website Metrics to Pump Up Online Marketing

Internet Marketing

To understand how your online marketing efforts are performing and how you can improve them, you’ll need to regularly track and analyze the metrics from those campaigns. These metrics highlight the areas on your website, blog or in your online marketing program where you’re doing well, what needs additional tweaking and processes that need to be scrapped.

Understanding metrics can help enable you to identify big problems such as poor timing, inconsistent search phrases, incorrect prospect definitions and flawed audiences. Most importantly, it can help avoid wasting time and money due to poorly-executed websites or marketing campaigns.

The tricky part is knowing the different types of metrics and how they affect your business. Here, I’ve assembled a glossary of terms you’ll need to know to successfully track, analyze and improve your online and email marketing campaigns.

Google AdWords Metrics
If you are using Google AdWords — which offers pay-per-click advertising and site-targeted advertising for text, banner, and rich-media ads — then you should get familiar with the following terms:

  • Click thru rate (CTR). This is the percentage of people who clicked on your advertisement. For example, a 5 percent CTR means five out of every 100 people who saw a particular ad clicked on it. An average CTR for e-commerce sites is 1 percent to 3 percent.
  • Average position. This tells you the placement of your ad in search results. Most retailers find positions three through five have the best results.
  • Impression share. Want to know how many times your ad displays per number of searches made on a particular search phrase? Then this is the metric you’ll want to check. For instance, if your impression share was 50 percent, that would tell you that your ad was displayed half the time. A strong impression share generally is about 80 percent.
  • Bounce rate. This tells you the percentage of people who clicked on your ad and went to your landing page, but did not visit a second page. A bounce rate of 30 percent means three out of 10 people clicked on your ad and left after visiting your landing page. The lower your bounce rate the better, but a good rate is 40 percent.
  • Conversion rate. This tells you the rate at which visitors are converted into buyers. Typically, 1.25 percent is the low end for e-commerce sites.

Email Metrics
For email campaigns, many of the metric names are different but track some of the same things. It’s useful to uncover what your industry’s standard numbers are so that you can compare your own success rate. The terms you’ll need to know include:

  • Opens. This tells you how many recipients opened your email.
  • Clicks. Check this to know how many recipients clicked on your offers.
  • Bounces. An email usually gets “bounced” when it’s sent to an incorrect email address. If you’re receiving a high number of bounces then you’ll to verify the emails on your list.
  • Non responders. This tells you who did not open your email.
  • Forwards. This notifies you of how many people passed your email along to someone else.

Website and Blog Metrics
You can also track visitor activity on a website, blog or landing page. Google Analytics supplies much of this information at no cost. Some of the metrics it follows are:

  • Total visits. This is the number of first-time and return visitors to your site. “Unique visits” tracks the number of first-time visitors and “return visits” refers to the number of visitors who return to your site.
  • Leads. The number of prospects who filled out a form or downloaded an offer.
  • Popular pages. Want to know which pages are resonating best with your visitors? This tells you which ones get the most visits.
  • Search engine key phrases. These are the top phrases people used to reach your site or landing page.
  • Geographic locations. This tracks the parts of the country and world your visitors are from.
  • Referring websites. This refers to other websites — other than search engines — that referred people to your site.
  • Page rank. A criteria created by Google and one of the determining factors of a web page’s strength in search.
  • Number of inbound links. These are links from other sites that point to your site or specific pages.

Deciding which of these metrics you wish to analyze will depend on the campaign you are undertaking. Once you determine your methods and metrics, download a sample metrics report and begin analyzing them monthly. This can help you identify how your efforts are improving and where additional effort might be needed.

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WittyCookie is an award-winning digital agency that specializes in affordable web design, graphic design, and SEO solutions to help small businesses grow.

Service plans start at just $19/month, all-inclusive with web design, web hosting, email setup, ongoing maintenance, and unlimited updates. We charge no setup fee, no cancellation fee, and no term contracts with a full money back guarantee.

Visit wittycookie.com to get started.