Search marketing -- an intent-driven approach driving the highest returns -- should come as an easy decision for small businesses, but many still don't understand the benefits and the pitfalls.
So it came as no surprise to me that 56% of small businesses that plan to allocate marketing budgets toward search or social media advertising in 2011 admit they need help with some part of their campaigns. And despite a need for assistance, only 25% use SEM tools to manage their campaigns.
The findings come from a joint American Express OPEN Small Business Search Marketing Survey with Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization (SEMPO) released Tuesday. The survey, conducted by Echo Research between March 14 and 17, 2011, asked 400 small U.S. business owners using some type of online marketing for their thoughts.
Search engine marketing (SEM), which includes search engine optimization (SEO), and paid search or pay per click (PPC) marketing, isn't the easiest online marketing tactic to learn. Complete books are written on each. Marketers spend years perfecting the medium. It takes an understanding of traditional marketing techniques as well as how search engines and online advertising work. Nor is it easy for small companies to find a reputable small agency to outsource the work.
There is a dizzying array of strategies, knowledge and tactics required to plan, budget and execute on SEO and PPC campaigns. For starters, marketers delving into paid-search marketing first must know whether the campaign aims to brand, generate leads, or generate revenue. Will the campaign rely on impressions, clicks, return on investments, or cost per leads? What tools are required to test and optimize campaigns? What keywords should the marketer bid on, and how will she set budgets for each campaign?
Small business owners who plan to use online marketing this year will spend on average $5,260 for search or social media advertising. Nineteen percent said they do not plan to spend any of their budgets in this area. Sixty-six percent admit that new customers find them through search engines, compared with 82% who said word of mouth is still the main source.
Three-quarters of small businesses plan to add some form of online marketing in 2011, according to the survey. Roughly 36% will add a company Web site; or 29%, social media strategy. About 23% plan to add search engine optimization strategies; 22% plan to add mass email campaigns; and 16% are planning search advertising campaigns.
Although 21% of small businesses report using search advertising, 73% said they handle search campaigns internally, with 47% admitting to doing it themselves. Some companies do not have dedicated resources, which can lead to major headaches when a campaign misfires. One in five, or 22%, said they have a staff member handling SEM in addition to other responsibilities.
Company Web sites are the most common online marketing techniques, at 86%, followed by social media at 44%.
Search marketing is not easy. It takes time, patience and knowledge to accomplish goals. Luckily, there are tools and experts available to help.