As a recently as a few years ago, the owner of a small or local business could legitimately ask, “Why should I buy search ads?” After all, he or she first faced the hassle of setting up an ad campaign in a relatively foreign platform — then, assuming they got ads served, maybe people clicked. But at the cost, what benefit was the advertiser really receiving?
If you are not an online business, how do you translate a click into something an SMB can understand — and place value on? It was simply impossible to know. And who can blame them? According to our research, proving ROI is the top need for local advertisers, especially small businesses.
Since that time, however, search advertising has reached a tipping point. Today, the search advertising industry has products and features that make it easy to use, affordable and relevant to small and local businesses regardless of location, business model, number of storefronts or the digital sophistication of its employees.
Plus, search advertising platforms and tools now provide real clarity and insight into how advertising dollars are performing against metrics they can understand.
Put Yourself On The Map
First, any local business is missing out by not taking advantage of free listing services on Bing and Google. These allow businesses to input local store information and even upload pictures, list specialties and services.
These listings fuel many of Google and Bing’s products and services — including the search engine results page experience and map tools — which are used by hundreds of millions of consumers every month. Simply put, local businesses are missing out on impressions, clicks and possibly leads by not participating.
Search Is Going Mobile
It pays to understand just how the search world is evolving. A few years ago, search was a PC-centric function — someone would sit at a keyboard in their home or office when they searched for [Seattle Italian restaurant] or [shoe stores in Santa Monica].
That’s changing — fast. An IDC release earlier this year showed smartphones now out-sell features phones worldwide, with 216 million smartphones sold in the first quarter of 2013. In that same quarter, tablet sales also surged, growing 142 percent, with more than 49 million sold. In fact, tablets are the fastest-growing tech device ever released.
What does that mean for small businesses? It means your potential customers now are connected regardless of their location. They could be in a car a mile away, or walking a block away, when they search for a service or product you might be in a position to provide. According to comScore, 86 million people used a mobile device to search for local businesses in the past year.
Now, search advertising platforms such as Bing Ads and Google AdWords offer tools that can help small and local businesses more effectively reach those on-the-go customers. For instance, both platforms have a Call Extensions feature, which shows searchers your phone number within your ad. On Google, users with mobile devices that support phone calls can simply tap on the number to call you. Bing call extensions are powered by Skype, allowing users to place a call to your business from any device.
These ad products only charge you when a call is completed, including providing reports to help you track and manage the performance of these ads. This is a KPI that SMBs can understand: I pay each time my phone rings. This is hugely powerful, as searchers will make an estimated 70 billion phone calls from search results (using mobile devices or PCs) by 2016.
Make It Easier For Them To Locate You
Another advance in search advertising for local companies is its ability to send customers directly to your doorstep. In fact, 85% of consumers use the Internet to find local businesses. Similar to Call Extensions, AdWords and Bing Ads offer ads called Location Extensions, which give searchers an address, phone number and a link for directions.
Local information continues to be the primary information customers look for, and clicking on directions provides them an easy way to physically get to your business whether they are at home or on the move. Like Call Extensions, advertisers only pay when consumer click to get directions — another action that local business will not only understand but also see the value in.
Target Those Around You
Both Bing Ads and AdWords provide many options when it comes to targeting — time of day or week, age or gender and so forth. Of all these options, local businesses can really benefit by taking advantage of Location Targeting to ensure that their ad gets in front of the right customers — this makes the best use of advertising dollars by reducing waste.
You even can specify the size of the radius around your location where you want your ad seen. So, if you want only searchers within, say, five miles to see your ad, you can make that happen. That kind of “geo-targeting” simply didn’t exist a handful of years ago, and it’s perfect for the small business. Getting your ad in front of the right people — that is the value of targeting.
Search Is Easier Than Ever
Search providers understand that small businesses don’t have the time or resources to deal with the complications of creating search-advertising campaigns. So, Bing and Google both provide tools that make campaign creation easier, removing the complexities of things such as figuring out what keyword modifiers to use.
Our offering is called Bing Ads Express, and it’s just the thing for most time-starved small businesses. You start by telling us about your business – name, address, phone number, business category, etc. Then, you create an ad based on templates that are all ready to go. Finally, define your budget and the distance from your location which you want Bing Ads to reach people.
Then, Bing Ads Express takes all the power of Bing Ads to create an effective ad for your business. You can check in whenever you like to see how your ad is doing and who is responding to it.
Understand Your Ad Spend
My last point applies to what I wrote at the top of this piece: That it used to be hard for a small business owner to understand the return on investment from search advertising.
Today, Bing and Google take much of the mystery out of understanding your search-advertising spend with analytic tools and ad products that make it plain what your ad dollars are doing, such as driving phone calls and helping people locate your store. And, this is only the beginning as both companies make substantial investments in evolving their platforms to meet the unique needs of traditional SMBs.
With all that search advertising offers a small business firm today, it’s clear that there is no better time to take the next step toward making your business more successful. For small businesses, search advertising is no longer a luxury – it’s an everyday essential.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.