When thinking of a small business, does search marketing truly work for them or is it more efficient for a larger company?
Good question, thanks for asking. Rather than think of the size of the business, think of the size of the site. Search marketing is usually a lot more efficient for big sites, a lot of that has to do with the amount of content and resources available.
For example: When I ran SEO at Manta, it was considered a small business, but had tens of millions of pages of content. Small, seemingly insignificant changes, often had a measurable impact. When you can make changes that scale, and have the right measurement tools in place, you can test and figure out what works.
Ok, so Manta was probably one of the exceptions in the small business category. Search marketing definitely can work for other small businesses, but it's on a much more limited scale and has to be laser focused. In the book: The Lean Startup by Eric Ries, he introduces a concept called vanity metrics. That is, worrying about metrics that don't matter. As an example, a small business running an e-commerce site might set a goal to receive X page views. Does it really matter how many page views the site gets? Instead you may want to think about traffic growth rates, or growth of new and repeat visitors.
The other issue is budget - with smaller budgets, there's less appetite to test various programs. This is key, because each business has its own niche, and industry quirks, depending on things like product offering, USPs, location and target audience.
So to wrap up, yes it's usually more efficient for larger businesses, but it can work very well for others.
You emphasize the importance of metrics, and also encourage search marketing. What metrics can you use to determine if search marketing is successful?
It depends on your goals and objectives. For example, if your business is primarily ad supported, then you may want to consider metrics such as visits, repeat visits and pageviews.
A typical attorney website for example might have a lead gen form and a phone number. In that case, you may want to monitor the number of leads and try to attribute them back to specific channels, such as SEO, paid search, display advertising, or email.
E-commerce sites would want to look at sales, cart abandonment rates, repeat visits, etc.
Sometimes you may want to use search marketing to help with reputation management, so in that case, you'd want to look at the visibility of bad reviews, or referring traffic from specific sources.
Success can be tricky to determine, especially for something like reputation management, where you don't have a good starting point and are typically reacting to a negative situation. For others that are more tangible and where there's already history (traffic, lead gen, e-commerce, etc.) you'd want to establish ROAS and if you know your ROI, you can quickly determine how many units you need for a specific spend. The more you can share with your search marketers, the more they can help put profitable programs together and understand where there may be some wiggle room.
Search marketing is a common tool. It should work for small businesses as well. I have seen a small business search for a type of clientele before adapting their product to suit their needs. It was very successful. Even now this clientele group only order from this business rejecting branded products.