Here’s the primary thing on my mind as we begin 2008: If we, the search/online marketing industry, don’t do a better job of helping the small business owner understand and adopt the best practices of search marketing, we are doomed to irrelevance.
“Oh, but there’s no money in small businesses,” you say. Or, “Small business owners are too busy to be good clients, they have too many other things on their minds.” I know it’s easy to dismiss small business clients as a “good fit for someone else,” and I know small businesses aren’t always good for your company’s bottom line. But before you disagree with me wholesale, let me explain why I think we need small businesses to understand and appreciate SEO and search marketing.
Your big clients will eventually disappear
If you read the In House columns here on Search Engine Land, you’ve probably noticed the authors making regular references to the “growing number of in-house SEOs” working for large companies. You may also recall the most recent SEMPO industry report, which shows that “in-house marketing programs continue to grow.” You can also look through the Internet Retailer 500, the magazine’s list of the biggest online retailers. In many of those business profiles, the search marketing provider goes by the name “in-house.” Your big clients are realizing the value of search marketing and are deciding to handle it internally.
Who’s going to be left to work with? Small business owners.
Small businesses are/will be increasingly interested in search marketing
Just last week, a MediaPost article said print Yellow Pages “will continue to bleed dollars to their various digital counterparts” in 2008.
Last year, Yellowpages.com opened 11 new sales offices across the U.S. because of “dynamic growth and rising demand for more local search advertising products.”
Greg Sterling wrote last year about the trend of real estate agents and brokers using online marketing, with search marketing being the most popular choice in that small business industry.
A couple months ago, Google said more than a million businesses have interacted with its Local Business Center.
It’s inevitable that small businesses will continue to be more interested in using the Internet as a marketing tool. But we have a real problem:
Finding accurate information about SEO and search marketing is tough
I can already hear your objections on this one. Yes, those of us inside the industry know exactly where to go to find certain types of information. We know the great link building writers, we know the great local search writers, and we know the great social media writers. But those of us who’ve spent many years working with small business clients also know that the average business owner has no idea that Search Engine Land and Search Engine Watch exist. And the Google SERPs for things like seo information, seo help, and seo articles are hit and miss. The reality is that there’s a lot of SEO noise online, and no guarantee that the small business owner looking for help will find anything of value.
So, since small business owners don’t know all the great industry resources, they’re likely to rely more on known, trusted sources like traditional media. It’s great when a USA Today writes about SEO and gets it right, but for every time that happens, it seems another Big Media outlet gets it wrong.
Earlier this month, BusinessWeek published an article that is so completely off the mark, it may have set search marketing back five years. Author Gene Marks throws RSS, blogs, SEO, PPC advertising (AdWords), online video, and more under the bus, calling them “overhyped and underwhelming” technologies “that don’t work.” It’s bad enough that such poor advice was given out on BusinessWeek.com; worse, the article was syndicated to MSN.com, where it no doubt reached an even larger audience of small business owners.
As small businesses continue to migrate online to find customers, if that article is the kind of information they find about SEO and search marketing, we’re in deep trouble. We need small businesses to understand what we do and to succeed when we do it for them, for our own benefit as much as theirs.
Matt McGee is the SEO Manager for Marchex, Inc., a search and media company offering search marketing services through its TrafficLeader subsidiary. The Small Is Beautiful column appears on Thursdays at Search Engine Land.