A couple weeks ago, a New York Times article considering the worthiness of Google AdWords (and similar platforms) for small businesses was published on the newspaper’s blog. It follows a narrative between three small business owners (of a high-end bridesmaid dress shop, an event planning firm, and an online shopping tool start-up, respectively) who discuss their woes and failed attempts at search marketing, reasoning that AdWords is not a marketing initiative fit for small businesses, mostly because it’s too expensive (“It’s a pretty expensive channel for small companies,” according to one entrepreneur) and doesn’t reach the right people (their words, not mine).
Naturally, the search community exploded with angry responses.
Many SEM bloggers have pointed out that perhaps these business owners did not utilize AdWords correctly, quoting pieces of the article that refer to the owners’ somewhat half-hearted efforts. Others have gone into further detail, pinpointing the issue as an inability to manage the platform rather than the platform itself. While the grievances of these small business owners have merit in their own right, there is another perspective that should be examined. Part of the issue here may be that these business owners are missing the point of paid search.
SEM is meant to be flexible. While Ms. Blumin (an entrepreneur interviewed for the article,) noted, “…you can’t set your AdWords for ‘people who really want to spend a ton of money,’” this is an issue for many marketing channels, but can potentially be addressed by more concentrated optimization efforts like targeting. With search, you can set your own campaign budgets, decide where they run, when they run, and who sees them. You can easily evaluate which efforts are successful and which aren’t, giving you the ability to focus time and funds in the right places. The point that these small business owners were missing is that SEM requires time and attention, not huge budgets.
The crux of SEM is figuring out how to meet the “hand-raisers” halfway. If someone is searching for a product or service, the potential is already there. SEM is therefore about learning how to get to those potential customers, not necessarily just sticking a huge budget on AdWords (although we never mind those either). Therefore, SEM is worth it for small businesses – it gives you the ability to capture these potential customers in an easy and targeted way. It just requires effort.
Obviously, there is a caveat – not all businesses run as well with paid search as others. This is a natural part of marketing; we all know that some mediums work better than others for different types of businesses. Perhaps there is a small business out there that has tried paid search and failed – this really could be because search just isn’t the right initiative for that business. But SEM shouldn’t be written off for all small businesses due to its seemingly high price tag. Know your customers, and know if they’ll be searching – and how they’ll be searching. This is a pretty unique role in the marketing space – and if you dive in deep enough, you get some pretty amazing results.
By Sarah Weg, Assistant Search Analyst