Many small businesses have implemented a variety of online marketing efforts to attract new customers and increase overall sales. As a $16 billion industry, Search Engine Marketing represents a substantial opportunity to connect with customers at the moment they are looking for products and services to buy.
While Search Engine Marketing presents an attractive opportunity to grow online sales, many businesses are hard pressed to keep pace with the frequent changes and trends affecting decisions about where to allocate specific search marketing budget, time and effort. Fundamental knowledge about the basics of SEO and Pay Per Click are not enough to retain a competitive advantage in the online marketing world. Here are five search marketing trends worth paying attention to:
1. Customer search online influences offline purchases. As reported on TechCrunch, Forrester Research estimates that $917 billion worth of retail sales in 2009 were “Web-influenced.” That's in contrast to $155 billion of consumer goods sold online in the same year. Small businesses must pay attention to the influence of search on brick and mortar sales as well as the influence of the in-store experience on searching and purchasing online.
2. Beyond Google: Importance of diversifying paid search – Google attracts the majority of paid search advertising spend, but Microsoft Bing advertising has realized notable gains. Search audiences at Bing and Yahoo differ from Google in ways that can offer advantages for certain businesses. A recent report from WebVisible showed that Bing click-through-rates for small businesses grew 109 percent and Yahoo 123 percent, compared to Google at 32 percent between Q4 2008 and Q4 2009.
The same is true with diversifying online marketing efforts that promote content and drive traffic through other channels besides Google. In effect, not focusing too much on Google can lead to better performance in Google's organic search results as long as content is linkable and optimized.
3. Local and mobile search explode – While "fish where the fish are" ranks as one of the most over-used cliché's in the marketing world, it's important to recognize consumer trends towards mobile search with the proliferation of smart phones. The web experience has definitively extended beyond the personal computer to mobile devices such as iPhones, Blackberries and iPads. Marketers must understand their customers' use of mobile search and what the marketing opportunities are.
From a local perspective, for companies that serve customers in specific regions or with geographically specific needs, its essential those businesses are present in local search results, map results and specific geo-location queries. Segmenting potential customers through geo targeting with paid search advertisements helps focus the right ads on the right customers.
4. Social media advertising – Savvy small business marketers are increasingly realizing that the opportunity to reach customers extends beyond traditional paid search into the booming social media space. Having surpassed Google as the most visited website for the week ending March 13, 2010 and with over 400 million registered users, Facebook offers a significant audience that shouldn't be ignored. Social networks like Facebook can provide online marketers hyper-targeted advertising opportunities that can tap into new customer segments and serve as a complement to other paid search programs.
5. Paid search AND SEO boost overall SEM performance – According to Vanessa Fox, creator of Google's Webmaster Central and author of "Marketing in the Age of Google, there have been several studies that show click-through rates, conversion rates and revenue are all higher when both organic and paid listings appear for a search. While many small business marketers assume that they should scale back investment in paid search once their SEO efforts achieve a top organic placement, companies that leverage both can realize significant benefits.
Whether it's incorporating online and offline influences with search, diversifying ad networks, leveraging local and mobile or extending search marketing efforts to social media, small business marketers that capitalize on these trends now will also be in a position to capitalize on a competitive advantage.
Lee also publishes Online Marketing Blog, one of the most popular marketing blogs on the web according to Advertising Age and Technorati. Lee has been cited as an online marketing expert by The Economist, Fortune Small Business and is featured in "Online Marketing Heroes", published by Wiley.