One of the benefits of being a small business ourselves is we get the opportunity to see a lot of the marketing efforts of Search Engine Optimization / Search Engine Marketing (SEO/SEM) companies first hand. It has helped us understand the array of sales pitches and piles of confusion that small business owners suffer on a daily basis.
The biggest challenge is that small business owners are looking for magic – they want a way to attract customers online without having to do any work of their own. And many marketing companies know this, so you’ll see local advertising email headlines such as:
- AdWords is a guaranteed way to have your website on the first page of Google.
- Do Your Competitors Rank Above You? We can fix that!
- Get Your Business Listed With Us for Instant Visibility!
- We have 15M people searching our site every day. Want to be seen by these people?
Let’s break down these 4 sentences and how realistic it is for a small business owner:
- AdWords is a guaranteed way to have your website on the first page of Google – Always be careful of guarantees! This is a case in point. AdWords is not guaranteed to get you on the first page of Google. It will depend on how competitive your keyword is and how much you are willing to spend. In addition, your appearance on the first page of Google is via an ad, not an organic search result. Too many small business owners don’t know the difference, and this is crucial. The click through rate on Google Ads is in the very low single digits (typically less than 1%).
- Do Your Competitors Rank Above You? We can fix that! In what way do your competitors rank above you? For which keywords? How big is your budget? Paying for an ad does nothing to help you with organic search results. If the focus is organic results, then there are dozens of questions that a marketing agency would need to get answers for before they could give you any indication of how they could help.
- Get Your Business Listed With Us for Instant Visibility! Sure, you will be instantly visible on a directory site once you add your listing, but who is going to see you and when? Make sure you can get metrics of who is finding you (and why). Online tracking is so much easier than offline tracking, and yet business owners still rely on anecdotal results (e.g. if somebody walks into your store and says “I saw you on XYZ site”, then they believe their presence on XYZ is worthwhile. Make sure you are tracking how many leads you get from your presence on each site. It can be done – if the provider you are talking to can’t offer this information, walk away.
- We have 15M people searching our site every day. Want to be seen by these people? This is very similar to the previous sales pitch. Where are these 15M people from? If you’re a plumber from Evanston, IL then 14.9M people outside of Illinois don’t matter to you. Too many small businesses fall for the “theory of big numbers”. If a site has a lot of visitors, you only need a small handful to make a difference, so that is better than a site with fewer visitors, right? Not necessarily. If that same plumber can have a presence on an Evanston local site, nearly every visitor is a potential customer.
Even Google sends misleading ads. I received a postcard from them that said “Right now, people are looking for businesses just like yours.” Fair enough, I buy that. So I keep reading, and I see this:
Make sure your business shows up on Google the moment potential customers search for what you have to offer.
The problem I have with this statement is that they’re talking about AdWords. And it’s not false – if you pay enough for your target keywords, you will indeed show up on the first page of a Google search. However, you’ll show up as an Advertisement. And what Google doesn’t say in their promotion is that less than 1% of users will click on their ad (on average). What’s even more surprising is when you open the postcard they show a few statistics about search results that I’m very confident have to do with organic search results, not paid search results.
I really do wish there was a simple and easy way for small businesses to spend a few dollars on local advertising and get instant new business. But since there is not, the best we can do is offer this strong suggestion – don’t spend advertising/marketing dollars on programs to get new customers unless it can be measured. And actively measure it! THAT will be money well spent.