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Top Dog on the Web

By Joe Dysart

Top Dog on the Web
How personal trainers have found a back door to top-10 status on Internet search engines. Given that there are scores of ways to promote your personal training business on the Web for free, actually paying for an extremely high ranking on a search engine rankles a lot of people. But for firms with Web promotion funds to spend, paying for guaranteed, high-ranked exposure on search engines may prove more cost-effective. “Sponsored links have been very helpful for us,” says Mike Mercurio, principal, Personal Training Associates (PTA) (www.pta1.com). “I’d estimate we’ve been getting five new clients each month from the sponsored links we run on the Web.” Fortunately, even firms that don’t have a mother-lode of Web promotion funds can still get into the pay-for-exposure game on one of the Web’s most popular search engines. At Google (www.google.com), for example, a $5 activation fee enables any business to bid on the ownership of any keyword or keywords under its “AdWords” program. Under the arrangement, the highest bidders are guaranteed to be among the top links returned whenever their keywords are typed into certain search engines. “AdWords is a great program for advertisers with limited budgets, and for those interested in trying out keyword-based ads before making a larger buy,” says Larry Chase, coauthor of “Essential Business Tactics for the Net” (www.wdfm.com). The program is popular among even very small businesses, because each AdWords client has the ability to place a firm ceiling on the amount of clicks it will pay for on any given day. Essentially, once you exhaust your prearranged, daily and/or monthly promotional budget, Google AdWords no longer includes your business among its sponsored links. Similar sponsored links promotional programs are also offered by other big-gun search engines like Yahoo! (www.yahoo.com), MSN Search (www.msnsearch.com) and AOL Search (www.aolsearch.com). Key in “sponsored links” into any of these search engines for more information. “The secret is to pay for a sponsored link that has a geographic modifier,” says PTA’s Mercurio, who does personal training in home and at his studio and has been advertising his services with sponsored links for about a year. For example, trying to bid on an extremely general phrase like “personal trainer” could be costly. Much less expensive are phrases like “personal trainer, Virginia,”

“personal trainer, Reston” or “personal trainer, Northern Virginia,” since far fewer personal trainers are bidding on such qualified searches. “Plus, you stand to get higher-quality referrals if your sponsored links have geographic modifiers,” Mercurio adds. All told, Mercurio says he spends about $40/month on Google’s AdWords program, and perhaps $20/month for sponsored links on other search engines such as Yahoo!, which uses Overture Advertising (www.content.overture.com) for its sponsored links program. Jeff Rutstein, principal, Custom Fitness Personal Training (www.custom fitness.com), also participates in sponsored links programs with Google and Overture–although he is not quite as enthusiastic about the concept as Mercurio. “I know it’s helping. We’re getting good-quality leads,” he says. “But the fact is, since we spent a good deal of time programming our website with keywords, we tend to place high in the search engine returns with or without the sponsored links.” Nevertheless, Rutstein, who trains clients at their homes, at their offices and at his facility, says he has no inten-

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