Selling Search to Small Businesses

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local-searchIt’s no secret that national brands are investing heavily in local marketing and small and medium sized businesses (SMBs) are feeling the increased competitive pinch. After all, there are only so many people looking for a given product or service in one’s neighborhood.

While national brands will likely continue to dominate TV, print and radio advertising, digital marketing offers SMBs a rare opportunity to compete with national brands on equal footing. A BIA/Kelsey report shows that SMBs are putting up a fight for the digital real estate on Google search results pages. SMBs are increasing their digital advertising spend, reaching on average about 28 percent of their total advertising and promotion budget (up from 26 percent in 2012 and 23.6 percent in 2011).

This race for local marketing dominance has spurred a variety of businesses to try selling search marketing to SMBs. The products, however, are largely undifferentiated and commoditized, the result of offerings such as $100/per month PPC packages from Sam’s Club. These companies seem to think that anyone can craft a quality, lead-generating search campaign with a few keyword templates and a credit card. Well, they can’t.

In a crowded market of poorly conceptualized and executed programs, publishers and SMB service providers must step up to the plate with quality offerings. Putting SMBs on an affordable path to success will help grow and maintain a consistent and satisfied customer base. But to do so, publishers and SMB service providers need to be realistic about costs and differentiate their offerings with services and support.

Through their Expertise, Publishers Can Empower SMBs
Most SMBs don’t have dedicated search marketers on staff to run their digital marketing programs and therefore need a quality partner to help them achieve their goals and avoid pitfalls. While their monthly budgets may seem small when compared to their larger corporate counterparts, publishers can reap many benefits from a positive relationship with SMBs, so long as they follow these three golden rules.

1. Skip the DIY Options
When taking on SMB clients, some publishers try to offer a completely DIY option at a low price point; this is a poor choice for the SMB and the publisher alike. First, these offerings struggle to differentiate themselves from Google AdWords Express and Bing Ads Express. In addition, the search engine Express products have no fees on top of ad costs, putting publishers at an immediate disadvantage. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the small budgets and template-based creation prevalent in DIY options don’t create a meaningful amount of conversions. The SMB therefore doesn’t feel the impact of the advertising and the publisher has minimal data to use for optimization.

2. Avoid Standard 3rd-Party Software Solutions
When sourcing a software platform to power your SMB solution, stay away from those build solely for managing large national or global campaigns. Publishers need advanced custom technology to handle the nuances of managing local campaigns at scale and stay ahead of emerging trends. How do you quickly and reliably create 500 new Google, Bing and call tracking accounts each week?  How can you optimize for phone calls for a small business with only a handful of conversions? How can the search budget be aligned to your fee structure and billing cycle to ensure accurate spending?  Software built explicitly for local agencies adeptly solves these problems with flexible bid policies and budget management options, as well as custom tracking metrics and campaign templates. Off-the-shelf solutions lack the tools necessary to consistently win in the ever-changing local marketing arena and handicap publishers who rely on them for client campaign management.

3. Go Beyond Fully Automated Accounts
To be sure, relying solely on automation to manage SMB accounts can lead to trouble. Automation should help enable human talent, not replace it. Fully automated accounts often rely on website accuracy, similarities between businesses and consistent market conditions, all of which can be inconsistent for SMBs. For example, with an automated tool, if a local mechanic’s website mentions they sell tires, those keywords are added to the campaign and drive traffic based on tire searches. This is great! Unless of course, tire sales make up a small or unprofitable part of the SMBs business; then most of the traffic and the associated investment are wasted. While automation technology is a critical tool, SMBs still need someone to translate the results and ensure they are utilizing the appropriate channels, ads and keywords. Automation should focus on making this easier for the publisher by removing mundane repetition through the automation of copy changes, keyword bids, daily budgets, reporting, etc.

Publishers Should Require Adequate Budgets, Differentiate on Service
Having ruled out the options of DIY, standard software, and fully-automated search campaigns, how can publishers most-effectively help SMBs harness search and still make their margins? First, enforce minimum budgets that will produce tangible results for the SMB. If the client can feel the impact of the SEM efforts, it will be much easier to keep them happy in the future. Second, find a way to offer something that is unique or improved over the competition. Use proprietary targeting data, integration with other media channels, best-in-class support, or custom optimizations to show that the firm is different. Finally, create an operational workflow to ensure the allocation of the proper amount of service and support time to each client. It’s easy to sink hours of manual customization into a small account, quickly turning it unprofitable. To avoid this, leverage advanced technology and use a structured workflow to package offerings into tiers. Pricing tiers will vary by vertical, geography and level of competition, but consider these general classifications.

Bronze Service ($150 – $499/month)

This basic offering will rely largely, but not entirely, on automated services to streamline workflow and campaign optimization. Automation technologies should include self-learning keyword and ad copy libraries to produce easily managed campaigns. Account managers will focus efforts on updating ad libraries and addressing critical accounts.  Most communication with the client will be managed though a general mailbox so we recommend you to look for commercial mailboxes for sale and get one for your business.

Silver Service ($500 -$4,999/month)

The mid-level product offerings should provide individual service by relying on automated budget and bid management technology and tools that monitor performance and generate reports. The increased budgets demand more human review and validation than the basic offering resulting in increased customization and flexibility throughout the campaigns. An account manager should be able to quickly review performance a few times per month, for example, to proactively identify and address any problems or challenges. At the silver service level, clients will expect access to the account manager or a live customer service representative that can answer detailed questions about their campaign.

Gold Service ($5,000+)

The upper echelon offering should pull out all the stops and provide a full range of services, including proactive marketing strategies and creative services. Publishers should utilize advanced algorithmic bid optimization for keywords and path-to-conversion tracking.  At this level, detailed reporting and analysis of all program elements should be expected. Clients will expect a named account manager to be on-hand to answer questions, make changes and respond to changing market conditions.

In the final analysis, publishers’ success aligns with that of their customers; they should do everything within their power to ensure SMB clients meet their search marketing goals. By leveraging the right partners and providing quality service at sensible budget levels, publishers can keep their SMB customers happy and successful.

Paul wickerPaul Wicker directs product management for Kenshoo Local, a local marketing software solution designed for companies managing large volumes of search engine marketing (SEM) listings and local place pages. You can contact him at [email protected].