By Mark Smiciklas
As consumers continue to use search engines as the primary tool for researching products/services and for finding solutions to their problems, are small business owners keeping pace with a commitment to search engine marketing (SEM)?
Research posted on Search Engine Land suggests a search gap between consumers and small business advertisers. If this holds true, what are some of the reasons causing reluctance to SEM?
Lack of SEM Appeal
Tim Cascio, owner of Chicago based GS Marketing Group Inc., sees most of his clients benefiting from search marketing – but some still feel that SEM doesn’t apply to their business. Tim feels there are four classifications that help define why search engine marketing may not appeal to some small businesses:
1. Status Quo
- Members of this group have built successful businesses spanning generations.
- They are often risk averse and have a high degree of confidence in last year’s print media schedule, regardless of how the media landscape has changed around them.
- And, because of their profitability and past success, they don’t get excited about being responsible for a new initiative that they have to manage.
2. Lack of Expertise
- Members of this group’s first and last attempt at search marketing was years ago and they love to describe how search marketing simply doesn’t work for their business.
- This group is not likely to be familiar with the ever-increasing capability and sophistication of Google AdWords, includingÂ Geography targeting, conversion tracking, ad scheduling, A/B pages and ad rotation. They likely ran 100 search terms or less with only one ad, pointing to their home page.
3. Half Way There
- Members of this group underestimate the benefits of professional copywriting, compelling design and strong calls-to-action on their website.
- Without these components, even the best search marketing implementation will fall short.
4. Conversions Too Costly
- Members of this group feel that the paid search cost per sale is too high.
Regarding cost, Cascio goes on to say that “online consumer product stores should consider it a success to break-even on the first sale to new customers. When effective in-touch programs reach out to new customers and good products are offered at a fair price, it seems reasonable that many will become repeat customers, some for life. A low percentage of repeat customers would use paid search to order again so long as branding is reinforced throughout all packaging and communications. The original PPC investment pays off as soon-to-be loyal customers return year after year.”
In many cases, it seems that ignorance prevents small business owners from adopting SEM and other online marketing strategies. Kelly Seiler, an engineer with Northrop Grumman in San Diego, has a personal story that helps illustrate this point.
Kelly’s father owns a transmission shop and always felt that a website and online marketing was not necessary – and not really worth his time and effort. “It took him attending a session at a conference to see the advantages of having an online presence,” says Seiler. “As a result of amazing returns in terms advertising dollar to sales generated he has scaled his yellow pages ad down to just a one-line listing and moved that money to search engine marketing.”
Corinne Montgomery, an internet marketing specialist at NetBiz in Portland, OR, agrees that lack of knowledge is holding some small businesses back from the benefits of SEM. She feels that many owners don’t really understand online marketing fundamentals and how the internet could be of value to their business.
Another component of education that may prevent small business owners from delving into SEM is trust – How many online marketing practioners lack the proper experience or qualifications, offer poor value or distribute bad advice?
Flyn Penoyer, a San Fransisco based website marketing expert, feels trust can be a major issue. “I think the main reason (small business) is reluctant to embrace SEM is that owners have seen too many people get ripped off by folks that claim expertise and fail to deliver,” says Penoyer. “It is obvious that many of these individuals are not working in the best interest of their clients.”
David Gray, principal and strategist at DIG360, a retail consulting firm based in Vancouver, offers a different perspective. Gray feels that not all businesses may gain their initial or primary exposure as result of SEM. In these cases, online marketing tends to round out (rather than dominate) a consumer’s experience with a brand.
“I don’t question the premise that many consumers use search and that many small businesses don’t optimize websites for search,” say Gray. “But the two facts may not align as nicely as we would like.”
He goes on to say that consumers do not necessarily use search to facilitate every single interaction with a small business. For example, many people still prefer to go to brick and mortar establishments i.e. the mall, downtown retail stores, etc. to engage in the shopping experience first hand.
He adds another example: “Neighborhood dining is often triggered by passing by a restaurant – the physical media and the website are simply there to confirm a cross-street, menu or hours of operation.”
When it comes to business-to-business transactions, Gray feels that “the first exposure may through a more trusted route than search i.e referral, and a website visit acts to provide further information and credential checks.”
“I think each case needs to be vetted on its own merits… what are the high impact cases for SEM/SEO and where can other approaches yield as good or better result,” concludes Gray.
What to do think? Is there a SEM gap?