Small Business Owners Still Don't Get Search Marketing


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.

5 comments about "Small Business Owners Still Don't Get Search Marketing".
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  1. Chris Nielsen from Domain Incubation, March 23, 2011 at 4:41 p.m.

    The term "search marketing" should not include SEO. Marketing is generally understood as paying for some kind of advertising. If you stop paying, you stop getting the advertising. SEO or search engine optimization is different because a) Anyone can do it and basic SEO is easy, and b) even if you pay for SEO, the effects should continue to work for an extended time with no further expense if done correctly.

    Small businesses that are scared off from search marketing are the lucky ones. Most that try it wind up spending a lot of money and getting very little in return. Aside from the complexities of creating an effective PPC campaign, there are traps that you won't even beware of without experience and research.

    For example, we now know that if you have broad match keywords, Google may show your ad to people who are searching for things that are not in your account, but also not even related (in your opinon) to the topic of your site. The things that can trigger your ads on broad match (not to mention "session match") can easily seem like Google just wants to keep the meter running even when you are out of the cab. :-) True, one or both of these match types may be desired, but the fact that they are enabled by default seems deceptive at best.

    Search marketing really is not all that hard, what makes it seem so is the lack of good, clear information and a system that lacks a design that helps you avoid mistakes ( "Stop my ad if CTR is less than .5% or cost per conversion is > $15").

    To Google's credit, they now provide the option to show ads more based on "conversions" and not just "clicks". That was a suggestion I made several times over the past 2-3 years.

    No, search marketing really is not hard at all. What's difficult is what we are given to work with.

  2. Laurie Sullivan from lauriesullivan, March 23, 2011 at 10 p.m.

    Thank you, Chris, for sharing your insight. I agree with many of your points, but my 25 years in product marketing and covering marketing as a reporter tells me search engine optimization is a marketing technique (strategy). As for the tools to optimize paid search campaigns, the ad industry is catching up with innovation. It's just taking a little more time than some would like.

  3. Mark Johnson from Bionic Egg Design, March 24, 2011 at 7:16 a.m.

    I recommend making your site in HTML, and get away from Flash. That has been proven as one of the issues of a site design that HINDERS you natural Search Engine Listing. Promote your site too bloggers that are in the field that you service or product would be best suited. Send the bloggers a small sampling of your product. In turn they will usually review your product for you, and the more that do that, the more portals you have coming to your site, therefore the higher ranking you will receive from the search engines. Go to for more information and to read more about our services.

  4. Edward Lagodzinski from eM-360, March 24, 2011 at 2:40 p.m.

    I completely agree with both statements “there is a dizzying array of strategies, etc...” and “they (SMO’s) admit they need help.” We all know how many hats people wear in the corporate landscape these days, just think about how many the small business owner wears. Since they wear so many hats, it can be a daunting task to keep up with this ever changing medium. Small biz owners can also be hesitant to get help from agencies due to perceived expensive fees. First, SBO’s need to really assess the workload their own and their teams to determine if they can even pull off managing search on their own. We all can recall that DIY project that we did tons of research on but took forever for us to complete. When finished we thought about how much of a breeze this would have been for a pro and what we could have been doing with our time if we just sub’d it out! Moreover, SMO’s need to decide what their goals are and network with the pros for advice and services before going all in alone. Great place to find pros is twitter. Follow me at There are many freelancers and small sem companies out there (like myself) that are willing to help out the little guy. This can save you time and more importantly money. In my experience with SMO’s, they want instant results. Usually, search and social take time to optimize but having a well organized diverse plan, goals and pro you can bounce ideas off of can really be helpful when trying to get a search marketing plan off the ground and show ROI for your small business.

  5. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, April 19, 2011 at 12:24 p.m.

    As Ken Rutkowski always says, "Experts are expensive; amateurs are a fortune.". Also, there is a great many small businesses that because the owners have an expertise in their own field, they wind up with the business bellying up because they are underfinanced and have underplanned from the get-go from poor location choice, to having plan B's for supplies, customer needs outside of a small core base and to market their business or to whom not to mention lack of funding and know how and where to get more besides the bank. It is not easy and getting more difficult. Believe me, even very local DM inserts and newspaper got many flustered.

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