A well-thought-out marketing plan is a key factor in the success of your small business—and online marketing should be a key piece of that plan. If you haven’t already put such a plan together for your small business, then now is definitely the time to sit down and think it through.
Whether you run an e-commerce store selling to anyone who finds you, or whether you are a small local service organization targeting a single county—or even a single zip code—it is important to have a solid online presence. While that used to mean having your own website, it can now be accomplished with a Facebook Page, a blog, or even just a Twitter account. The important things are for your customers to have a place online where they can connect with your business, and for you have some mechanism by which people looking for your products and services can find out about your business online.
While there are certainly many ways to search for a specific business, a type of business, or a particular product, search engines remain the primary way people locate things online—with respondents in a recent Forrester survey indicating that they used organic (54%) or paid search (18%) results to find the websites they visited in 2012. While the year-over-year growth of using natural search was small, finding sites via paid search results more than doubled from 8% in 2011. That paid search is growing is further supported by a recent IgnitionOne study which found that search advertising spend in the US was up 12% in Q4 2013 vs. Q4 in 2012.
Knowing that showing up in search engines is important is just part of the puzzle—you need to know how to focus your search engine marketing efforts and budget. One thing to look at is a search engine’s market share. According to ComScore’s latest data, Google grew market-share in December 2013 to 67.3% of all searches, with Bing far behind at 18.2%, and Yahoo losing ever more market share at 10.8%. All other search engines, including Ask and AOL, combine for the remaining 3.7%.
Another important consideration is whether you will devote your time to ranking well in organic search, or whether you will devote your funds to buying top spots in paid search results. Seeing Between the Lines…of the Search and the Click, a recent study from Kantar Media Compete, provides some statistics that can help with the decision. For example, the first position in organic search results gets 53% of the clicks, with the second a distant second at 15%. For paid results, the first paid listing at the top of a page will get 59% of paid clicks, and the first listing on the right column will get only 4% of paid clicks if there are also listings on top. Interestingly, only 24% of paid search ads will appear on top of the search results yet they result in 85% of clicks on paid search ads, while 61% appear on the right side but account for only 13% of all paid search clicks.
Of course, there is more to online marketing than just search engines. The Forrester survey found that use of social networking sites to search the web grew from 25% in 2011 to 32% in 2012. Thus, having good reviews on social media sites like Yelp (which just inked a deal to be included in Yahoo local listings), and managing your business listing on sites like Google Maps, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Pinterest, is becoming increasingly more important.
If your company sells products online, you should also consider Google Product Listing Ads (PLAs). PLAs enable your company to show up in Google Shopping searches, as well as shopping boxes in regular search results, with pictures, descriptions, and pricing. According to the IgnitionOne study, U.S. PLA advertising in Q4 2013 grew by 380%, clicks grew by 312%, and spend grew by 618% compared to Q4 2012, significantly outpacing traditional PPC search ads.
And, don’t forget more traditional marketing methods such as email. The Forrester survey found it to be one of the highest growth areas for finding company websites, almost doubling from 15% in 2011 to 26% in 2012.
Further, while exposure is important, you also need to consider how your efforts will be received by your customers and prospects. Another Forrester study found that many U.S. consumers do not trust online marketing messages. For example, only 15% trust social media marketing, 10% trust website ads, and 27% trust paid search ads. Yet U.S. consumers do trust recommendations from friends and family (70%), professionally written online reviews (55%), and organic search results (43%). With that in mind, you may want to consider focusing on organic instead of paid search. Or, you might invest in getting your product, service, or company reviewed by a reputable online site in your industry.
All those studies and statistics may seem overwhelming. But, don’t let it stop you from putting together a marketing plan and working to promote your small business online. If there is one thing the studies all agree upon, it’s that to be successful you need to be found.
See weekly Small Business Tips like this one by subscribing to our blog.