Back in June 2012, Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land, wrote a terrific post (a rant, actually) about how effective link building is hard (Link Building Means Earning “Hard Links,” Not “Easy Links”).

For years links have been the holy grail of SEO. Google’s PageRank is built on links — e.g. the more authoritative inbound links a site had, the more value Google placed on it and the higher the site went in the search engines.

So, the race was on to get links — any kind of links.

Those days are now over. Google is cracking down and companies that used less than desirable tactics to build links are getting smacked down.

In the end, Danny says, building effective links isn’t easy. I know this to be true, because while I don’t actively build links for clients, I do create the content that gets linked to. It’s a tough job — creating the content and finding ways to market it so that people find it and want to share it with others.

What’s even more difficult is being happy with the “small” wins — a link here, a comment there, an RT or a mention in another post. Small isn’t sexy, especially today with social media hype. (Then again, “big” engagement is also a myth, something Gail Goodman, CEO of Constant Contact, covers in a recent post.)

I’ve had Danny’s post in the back of my head for awhile. I’ve had so many companies contact me of late because their sites aren’t doing well.

What always amazes me is that many small businesses have little or next to nothing in the way of marketing budget — but they expect to be on page one of Google.

It reminds me of the “old” days when companies wanted to be on page one of the Wall Street Journal — but had nothing in the way of news that merited such placement.

It’s the best of times

We’re living in an amazing time. The Internet and its associated technologies have significantly lowered the cost of starting and maintaining a business. The Internet and social media have made it easy to connect with people all over the world.

In between the banter and fun of Facebook, Twitter and G+, business happens. I closed a small gig through Facebook last week. If you had told me 12 months ago that this would happen, I would have laughed. I’m not laughing now.

On the other hand, this small gig didn’t happen by magic. I’ve worked for months to build “small” wins on my FB page: Creating engaging content, welcoming people by name, and putting in some real time to understand how FB marketing works. I find it incredibly satisfying that I have “only” 198 fans — many of whom engage with me on a personal level.

It’s also the worst of times

It’s now harder than ever to market a business — especially if you’re the owner of a small company. Marketing today is confusing, chaotic, and constantly changing. What worked yesterday may not work today. Google is cracking down — but what exactly are they cracking down on? “Should we be doing Web rings?” a prospect asked. “What about articles — I heard we should be submitting articles,” said another.

The fact that people are asking me these questions in the third quarter of 2012, when so much has been written about effective online marketing, tells me that we marketers aren’t doing a very good job of educating people.

Or maybe the bad guys have just done a better job of selling their sleazy marketing tactics for too long.

I don’t have any answers to this problem. I work really hard to get solid results for my clients. I don’t know how to do “unethical” SEO or marketing, so I’ve never had to stoop to that level to get results — although I have lost a client here or there who went down that road.

For a long time I prided myself of getting results despite having to work with tight budgets. I’m a small business owner, too. I know what it takes to make the decision to spend money on a custom-built Website versus putting that money back into your family, house or other endeavors. I’ve always given fair pricing — I’m not out to gouge anyone.

I’m beginning to realize, however, that tight budgets no longer work. Effective marketing takes time, it takes consistency, and it takes money.

I’m sorry to say this, but you’re not going to get on page one of Google with a monthly marketing spend of $500 or even $1500 a month. You won’t generate leads by letting your site sit neglected month after month year after year.

For a small B2B business to succeed today, a mind shift has to occur. It begins with realizing the game has changed.

The second shift is knowing that marketing is an asset — not an expense. It’s an asset because marketing is about building relationships — way before a sales conversation even takes place.

Once you see marketing as an asset, you realize that your budget has to increase too. I look at my own personal budget: far more money goes into my biggest asset — my house — than anything else. This is because my house sustains me and my son. It’s the same for marketing. Marketing, which used to be the poor step-child to sales, now builds those relationships that pave the way to ongoing sales.

Seeing marketing as an asset means you hire someone with real marketing chops — and yes, you’ll have to pay some money. It means outsourcing things that are complicated, such as Google AdWords, versus trying to do it yourself (you can’t, trust me).

It means hiring content writers who can create content for you, because let’s be honest — you don’t have the time or the specialized expertise to do it yourself.

Most important, it means you have to resist the siren call of fast and easy for pennies on the dollar — and then expecting stellar results. It means when you do call someone who has real marketing know-how and a solid track record, that you aren’t surprised when that person has to charge to help you get the results you want.

What do you think? Leave your thoughts below.

Dianna Huff is the founder and president of Huff Industrial Marketing, a full service agency that tackles a host of marketing and communications challenges for manufacturing companies.

See more articles by Dianna »