‘Noise’ in the Market for Local SEM

Here’s a verbatim comment that was offered by someone responding to my WebVisible post yesterday:

I am a small (tiny) business owner in Florida. I’ve done a little adwords on my own, but all of these search providers who call (and there are A LOT OF THEM), tell me I’m wasting my time, they can do it better. I’m just trying to make some sense of what the differences are, since NONE of them can provide me with any real details on the one true value proposition that separates each of them from the pack. It’s getting to the point where the most time wasted, is time answering all of these marketers calling for my search business.

I thought it was worth highlighting because I suspect her comments are representative of an emerging and very real problem: how to distinguish among the competing channels that want to sell SEM services to SMBs? And we’re still relatively early in the rollout of these products in the market.


15 Responses to “‘Noise’ in the Market for Local SEM”

  1. Malcolm Lewis Says:

    SEM services are quite easy for SMBs to compare since everything boils down to a cost per lead and a cost per sale. If I were an SMB I would test 2-3 leading SEMs and compare them on those two metrics, particularly the latter if it can be tracked accurately.

    As a side note, I imagine it would be useful for an independent third-party to conduct this test using some popular keyword/location combinations (eg san francisco hotels, LA attorneys).

  2. Greg Sterling Says:

    But nobody’s got time, from an SMB standpoint, to, say, spend $500 per month for three months across three platforms and watch the analytics.

  3. Malcolm Lewis Says:

    There’s no way round it if the SMB wants to make an informed decision. There’s only three options:

    1) The SEMs provide the info (unlikely).

    2) A third-party provides the info (not currently, but an opportunity per my original comment).

    3) The SMB does it themselves.

  4. Sarah Says:

    Malcom – I think you are missing the point. There is a huge opportunity to engage local businesses in the interactive space, and it begins with search. As a small business owner, it’s not my job to interpret the “noise” in SEM, as Greg succinctly put it. SEM providers, and all that are focused on us local businesses as “the next big thing”, have a responsibility to provide clear, concise value propositions. If they can’t verbalize their own marketing value, I have little confidence that they can help with mine. I’ll dabble in search on my own, thank you, and continue to “waste” my time with Google directly. I’m pretty clear on the value they bring to the table.

  5. Malcolm Lewis Says:

    We agree 100% on both the opportunity and the vague language used by some SEMs.

    Strip out the noise and all SEMs are selling you the same thing, namely clicks and calls which hopefully lead to sales.

    My point is that SMBs can cut through the noise by performing their own comparisons of SEM services, and that the most relevant metric to compare SEMs on is cost per sale.

  6. peter caputa Says:

    This points out the major problem: most of these companies don’t provide much value. I personally think that if you’re in business, you should be able to figure out how to do atleast basic SEM by logging into adwords and starting. It’s not rocket science:
    When you run into a problem, hire an expert to look at your campaigns and have them make some recommendations. Most small businesses just need some help building better landing pages that convert and then measuring which keywords/ads/landing pages converts into leads. That’s where most small businesses fail when it comes to ppc. Not setting up the campaign. What idiot can’t set up a ppc campaign that really deserves to be running a business?

    Now, where it gets really confusing for small businesses owners, is all of the jokers out there pretending to be experts at SEO.

  7. Greg Sterling Says:

    I think that PPC isn’t hard once you devote a little time to doing it. Doing it well is another story. But getting these SMBs to “look up” from their day to day is hard and where the DIFM channels come in.

  8. Eric Says:

    I couldn’t agree more, Greg. The difference for these business owners is time availability and focus; and in some cases it could also be related to eduction… for Peter (above) who has an engineering degree and who spends his whole day on the Internet it’s simple… your typical restaurant owner (for example) probably has a high school degree and maybe a couple years of college, has to manage a cash-driven business with demanding in-person customers who don’t want to wait for their food, with a staff that’s making slightly above minimum wage. It’s a different world from us Internet-types.

  9. Hal Rucker Says:

    We have found that busy local merchants, who must quickly filter through all the local advertising opportunities pushed on them every day, tend to respond more positively to salespeople who live and work in their community. They meet at Chamber of Commerce mixers, Little League games and PTA meetings. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the SMB owner will trust someone they know personally over a stranger cold calling on the phone.

  10. Greg Sterling Says:

    The key concept in my mind is “trust,” and if not trust than familiarity.

  11. Will Scott Says:

    As I talk to SMBs like Sarah it’s feeling very wild-west-y out there. It reminds me to a great extent of when we were selling SMB websites with telemarketers in the late 90s.

    Kirsten Mangers of WebVisible used to give a presentation about what they were doing with the hook “It’s just like the Yellow Pages (except when it’s not)” which sums it up pretty well.

    Ultimately as Malcom says it’s about return on investment. So how do you know?


    I apologize Greg if you already reference this and I missed it but I recommend any SMB read this series at the SEO Igloo blog http://www.solaswebdesign.net/wordpress/?p=189

    Miriam Ellis talks with a few local SEOs gathering their impressions. This is more organic focused than paid, but in my opinion it’s a healthy combination of both (up to that ROI inflection point) which is the ultimate win.


  12. Greg Sterling Says:

    I had not so thanks for the link Will.

  13. Will Scott Says:

    After I hit “Submit” I realize I misquoted Kirstin it was actually “It’s just like Yellow Pages, only different”.


  14. MiriamEllis Says:

    This is, indeed, a problem.

    If the business is in immediate need of services, they come to you, and you can’t take them on, it’s a real kindness if you can refer them to someone you trust.

    If the need isn’t pressing, what I do is give them a short list of blogs/sites they need to start visiting so that they can begin educating themselves. Even if their goal is not to become an SEO/SEM, frequent reading of quality writing by industry good guys is going to help them to start distinguishing the legitimate specialist from the con.

    They will hear people snort about meta keywords tags, run into the controversy on link buying, read ‘content is king’ enough times and a host of other topics so that correct suspicion will be aroused by any company contacting them offering services that stand in opposition to what they are learning about.

    Case in point: a fellow we designed a website for got approached recently by a text link purchaser. He wrote to me and said he’d read on Search Engine Land that engaging in this could harm his site. It was us who’d introduced him to SEL in the first place, so job well done!

    This is a really important topic, Greg, and I appreciate Will mentioning that series of interviews. I was very lucky to get to do that.


  15. Brian Kraff Says:

    Greg –

    I have to echo some earlier sentiments. Trust is the key factor – most of the local SMBs who are spending sizable amounts are going to look to a vendor for help.

    We see affinities and personal relationships as key. If a YP rep has a personal relationship or an SEM sales rep can work the ‘in person’ mojo, then that will do it.

    If not, then SMBs will end up relying on some affinity for ‘trust’, be it Brand, Association, Peer Groups, whatever….

    Glad to see 14 comments on this important topic.

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