Can small businesses compete in the current search marketing environment? That was the question I addressed in my presentation earlier this month at SES in San Jose. Regular readers of Small Business SEM will remember that my answer was “Yes,” with a combination of working smarter, working harder, and being more creative. If you read this blog regularly, those are the three tenets that guide most everything I write to help small businesses succeed online.
Todd Malicoat recently shared on his blog a list of 11 Rising Barriers to Entry for Small Businesses on the Web. It’s a thought-provoking list, and as someone concerned about small businesses succeeding on the web, I find it reply-provoking, too. Unfortunately, there are a couple items on Todd’s list I find ambiguous enough not to be able to reply to with any intelligence. So, here’s how I’d reply to 9 of Todd’s 11.
1. Highly intelligent PPC automation tools and arbitrageurs
Success in AdWords isn’t based strictly on bid amounts, thankfully. Click-thru rate and landing page quality are big keys to PPC success. Yahoo’s new platform will be similar to AdWords, giving small businesses a chance to overcome automated tools used by the Big Boys. I’ll take an intelligent small business owner writing custom copy, combined with a well done, highly relevant landing page any day over a piece of software.
Story: My wife is a real estate agent. 2.5 years ago I launched a comprehensive AdWords campaign for her, targeting dozens of keywords with separate ad copy for each of the cities in the local market. Each ad has a custom landing page that matches the ad copy 100%. (I trust Google scores her landing pages incredibly high on their quality scale.) I started out with ridiculously low bids (for such a competitive industry) and a low monthly budget. Her ads proved very popular and quickly grabbed the top spots, above Big Real Estate sites with bigger budgets and automated tools at their disposal. And her ads have stayed there, even though I’ve never once upped her bid prices. As long as the system rewards quality, a human had better be able to beat a computer program.
2. Age factors impacting trust score
But age is just one factor in determining trust. Great content, quality inbound links, etc. can help even the newest sites score enough on the trust meter to rank well on semi-competitive terms and get traffic organically. (On highly competitive terms, agreed that age is a bigger barrier.)
3. Ad agencies catching on to SEO
Newspapers are also “catching on” to the web, but that doesn’t seem to be stopping online news sites from finding an audience. If I’m a small business owner marketing on the web, ad agencies learning SEO would be among the least of my concerns.
4. User data validation for trust score
Pass. (Unless Todd wants to clarify the direction he’s going with this.)
5. Savvy affiliates with established sites that don’t like competition
If I’m a small business owner selling, say … computer accessories (an industry with lots of affiliates), the sheer quantity of sites using PPC and taking up organic spots would be a challenge to overcome. But that’s where the small business owner can:
A) Work Harder — affiliate sites don’t have physical addresses and can’t take advantage of local search marketing, for example. Affiliate sites also can’t benefit from user-generated content such as customer reviews and ratings that are becoming so prevalent today.
B) Be More Creative — most of the Yahoo Groups I’m on (almost two dozen) don’t take kindly to affiliate folks coming on the list and promoting (spamming) their affiliate sites. But they generally do take kindly to actual business owners participating in the conversation. Most savvy web users and shoppers would tend to trust a real business owner more than Affiliate Guy out to make a quick buck.
6. SE’s shifting of the content revenue model
Pass. More details, please.
7. Diminishing conversion rates for link requests
But the flip side of that is the incredible ease and low barrier to entry of creating a blog as part of your small business web site. For many small businesses, time spent sending out link request emails would be better spent writing linkable content.
8. Just like the “real world” $$$$$$ will again = trust
As quickly as the Big Boys can buy trust, they can and do lose it right back with pitiful customer service. I work for a small ISP / webdev shop. On the ISP side of our company, our competitors are: AOL, MSN, the phone company (DSL), and the cable company (cable Internet). You may start with one of them because they’ve bought your trust, but many of you will end up with us because you need to be able to speak to a human and get help. Have you ever heard anyone rave about the phone company’s customer support? Or the cable company’s?
Hmmm. On the other hand, if Todd is referring to the Big Boys being able to spend a lot of money to build a high-quality web site that people trust … I don’t buy that, either. We just redesigned a client’s web site — a retired mom and pop home business — for very low 4-figures, and since the redevelopment, they’ve had orders from 15 different countries in the past 3-4 months. That’s trust.
9. Ad agencies playing ball with SEO’s
Same thoughts as in #3 above.
10. The day Aaron retires from building free tools
Hee-hee! Very true! We’re all in trouble when the free tools dry up, from Aaron and others.
11. Leveling of information between buyers and sellers
I think this is to the benefit of small businesses. Small businesses are the ones better able to get necessary information out to customers who seek it. They can reply to email requests much quicker, and with a human touch that the Big Boys usually can’t touch. This gets to one of the points I wanted to make at SES, but didn’t have time to discuss in my presentation:
The successful small business has to take perceived weaknesses and convert them into strengths. You’re small? Great. Smaller = quicker. React quickly to new opportunities and challenges.
Thanks to Todd for a good discussion point. Those 11 items are things small businesses should be aware of whether starting out or not.