Visibility in Search
The UK’s small and medium sized businesses are wasting an estimated £3bn investing in websites that are virtually invisible to search engines according to a new report. With nearly 70 per cent of the UK population online, Tim Hoang reports on whether UK firms are missing a potentially lucrative trick.
There are now nearly 2.8 million small businesses with an online presence, of which nearly 62 per cent are failing to invest in search engine marketing (SEM), according to a report by Microsoft’s adCenter unit. This is despite Forrester Research predicting that 32 million consumers will be shopping online by 2011 and spending almost £53bn.
The report also revealed how 76 per cent of SMEs who promote their website on search engines see an immediate increase in sales. It is therefore surprising that so few SMEs indulge in SEM with 44 per cent believing that it is too time-consuming, 56 percent finding it too expensive and 33 per cent too complicated.
However, Andrew Girdwood, head of search at search engine marketers, bigmouthmedia disagrees to with the survey to some extent and reckons that the reason SMEs are not conducting their own SEM campaigns is because they are not aware of it.
“Many SMEs simply haven’t heard of search marketing. Search marketing is a mix of technical skills, project management and marketing ability and it is quite likely that one of these disciplines is perceived as a barrier by the SME. In particular, the technical requirements of search marketing are seen as an unsurpassable obstacle by too many SMEs whereas technical solutions are often easy and approachable.”
This research follows a recent report by the Institute of Directors (IoD) and UK Online which warned that small firms in the UK risk losing business to their European counterparts because of a failure to fully understand the web.
Girdwood cited a lack of education in the field as a key reason for UK firms being at a disadvantage.
“Universities are still only at the early stages of adding search marketing topics to their marketing degrees and so there is a real shortage of marketing managers with a real awareness of the discipline. Universities need to start producing more search marketing savvy graduates.”
Miles Templeman, IoD Director also believes that companies need to be educated on the marketing potential of their site. “Much of the current intelligence about the internet focuses on the needs of consumers, but information for business tends to be at a complex high end technical level and strategic level. Smaller companies need straight forward advice about what they can sensibly achieve with the resources to hand.”
It is hoped that this research will prompt SMEs in the UK to incorporate SEM into their marketing strategies and close the gap with their European counterparts. The Federation of Small Businesses is supportive of these recent findings and believes that businesses should not be ignorant to the strengths of SEM.
“A well known website can allow a small business to compete on an equal footing with larger competitors, but only if the site can be found by potential customers. Having an online presence is something that more and more small businesses are using to drive growth in the future, but they will be wasting their money if they do not make people aware of it,” said Peter Scargill, IT chairman at the Federation of Small Businesses.
For businesses looking to incorporate SEM into their overall marketing strategy, bigmouthmedia’s Andrew Girdwood offers his five top tips:
- There are two types of search marketing; SEO or search engine optimisation which is a consultancy service designed to help your web site do better in the free section of the search engines and PPC or SEM which is a pay for each click service. The former can be a long and slow process but produces great return on investment in the long run. The latter is a fast and tactical approach but needs a constant stream of money in order to keep running.
- Beware of search companies offering guarantees or quick time scales. Unless the search marketing agency owns the search engine (and none do) they cannot guarantee any results. A simple way to check the credentials of a search engine optimisation company is to go to Google and search for search engine optimisation. Is that company there? If they’re not there then are they any good?
- SEO is likely to require you to make some changes to your web site. Can you do this? Do you need the SEO agency to do this for you? If the latter is the case then find out if there are any additional costs.
- Google and the other large search engines have recently cracked down on the practice of buying links. Despite this, link buying is still common. SMEs should stay clear of link buying search marketing agencies.
- Content is king. SMEs can often achieve some search engine success themselves by just ensuring that the company web site says what the SME does.