Interesting survey results were released this week by MerchantCircle and Reply.com. Some 2,500 small businesses in the United States were asked which marketing vehicle they would choose if they could pick only one to promote their businesses.
The winner? Search engine optimization. In fact, I admit to being surprised by how easily it beat everything else:
- 32.9% Search engine optimization (SEO)
- 19.7% Traditional media
- 17.9% None of the above
- 16% Social media
- 9.8% Paid search advertising
- 3.7% Mobile marketing and advertising
(If you want more detail on the survey, Search Engine Land has a great summary.)
It’s worth noting that these companies are indeed small. Unlike the places that list $10-million companies as “small business,” only a fifth of these had more than four employees, and almost two-thirds had annual marketing budgets of $2,500 or less. When you’re that small, you don’t make marketing decisions casually. You really want to know you’re giving your dollars the best possible chance to generate a return. So when one channel wins a vote this easily, it’s worth exploring.
Should SEO be your company’s main marketing vehicle? Definitely maybe. It’s getting harder and harder to find any business or organization or government department that would not benefit considerably by being found easily by people who are actively searching. But every industry, market, and consumer type will of course be unique. Most of my clients are based in Atlantic Canada, in Newfoundland and Labrador. and more specifically in or around St. John’s. Search engine optimization — properly done —can make these companies much easier to find online, by potential customers two blocks away and in Timbuktu. If they’re breaking into a new export market, SEO can help establish a footprint there before a sales rep ever books an airline ticket. Backed by solid Website content, SEO can help establish their products as viable solutions to recognized problems, and position their companies as thought leaders and credible choices in a crowded marketplace.
However, SEO does require that good content in order to work well. You cannot climb to high search engine rankings in a competitive industry if you are not offering any substance for the people or search engines who find you. In the long run, your search engine optimization will never be better than your Website content deserves.
Also, as hard as it may be to believe, there are still some people who prefer Yellow Pages or word of mouth when looking for certain types of product. There are still some people who do not use search engines at all, or even computers. I firmly believe that that number will decrease as time goes on, but as an example, if you’re a corner store — or even a $10-million company — marketing to seniors in a rural area that has limited Internet access, SEO is not going to reach your market as well as more traditional channels will. Yes, that example may seem overly obvious, but equally true situations may not be so apparent.
Most companies in St. John’s or in any community should see SEO as a very promising marketing channel. But too many companies have lost too much money pursuing new marketing channels just because they worked well for other businesses. Make sure you understand your company, your industry, your customers, and the marketing vehicle itself, before you commit to SEO or any marketing channel.
Without that proper level of planning, you may succeed in making your small business an even smaller business.