For the past few years, experts and hacks alike have declared – and debated – it being the “Year of Mobile” or the “Year of Attribution.” So, let me go ahead and make my own personal declaration for 2012.
It is not just the “Year of the Dragon,” although that makes me feel much more hopeful for a bad ass year than 2011’s wimpy “Year of the Rabbit!” This year, in the search space at least, I believe it will be the Year of the Independent. The Small Guys. The Little – but endlessly innovative, in-tune and downright scrappy – Fish.
Although I still can’t seem to explain to my parents and in-laws what I do for a living, I’d say 90 percent of the people I interact with who own or manage small businesses can fairly accurately explain AdWords, PPC, SEO and more.
So What Has Changed?
As recently as five years ago, being really good at PPC meant having some “mean” Excel and ad copy writing skills. And if you really wanted to upload a serious keyword list to Google and Yahoo (100+ words), you’d better have a friend on the inside that could process this for you within 2-3 days.
Over the last two years, AdWords/AdCenter has become increasingly accessible for advertisers of all sizes. This has especially been beneficial for small businesses that don’t have a dedicated account rep, and are not spending thousands of dollars a day.
I work with online retailers ranging from a top 5 athletic apparel brand to smaller, independent companies with under 50 employees. And, over the last several years, the paid search playing field has evened out, regardless of budgets or brand name.
In 2012 and beyond, smaller advertisers will have many of the same opportunities as Fortune 1000 companies. In many cases, they will actually have the advantage. How could that be? Well, SEM has evolved in terms of targeting, type of ads you can serve, social media, etc.
Here is how I think smaller retailers and even local “Mom and Pops” have the ability to outsmart and outperform their larger competitors:
Being “Closer” To The Consumer
Personalization has become a crucial factor on which search results and ads are being served to users by search engines.
With some of the search engines not sharing information with us on all the clicks that are being driven to our site, staying closer to our consumer and understanding their search behavior can be a decisive factor for a successful paid search campaign.
By being smaller and closer to the end user, small businesses can create better promotion and more targeted ads in their SEM programs. Layer onto this a more targeted, two-way social media communication and you have a campaign that is more intuitive and will drive more long-term profit than many of the larger competitors.
Taking Advantage Of Social/Local/Mobile Search
- Small business with limited advertising budget can create paid search campaigns limited only to mobile and tablets since the majority of searches on mobile devices are local anyway. They can also use free mobile site building tools to engage mobile users to convert or call with one click.
- Being smaller and local means a lot less competition on your keywords. Due to lower competition from fewer competing advertisers, your cost will be lower and therefore you will get a better ROI (Return On Investment). You will also get a better position in the search engine results.
- Google and Bing are starting to push local results a lot higher on the search results page and incorporate them as a part of the PPC ads. This gives smaller advertisers with local store presence a leg up over large enterprise-level ecommerce sites like Amazon, Ebay, Overstock, Zappos, etc; that traditionally don’t have a local footprint.
Always be on the lookout for new markets, and the tide of change in existing markets. Make trend-spotting a regular activity. You have the ability, unlike the largest advertisers, to talk with customers and employees one-on-one and find out how to capture additional traffic and build long-term lifetime value online.
If yours is a brand targeted to teens, your 17-year-old employees will know long before a large organization’s “market research” the constantly shifting terminology and popularity that should be incorporated into keyword development.
Above and beyond your local insights, don’t shun the tools the big boys are using. Your unique combination of local perceptions and top-notch technology puts you ahead of the larger competition.
No Red Tape
A key benefit to being independent is avoiding the armies of lawyers, brand stewards and professional bureaucrats that surface whenever a creative idea blossoms in the head of an employee that has the pulse on the consumer.
An independent will see an opportunity such as a keyword, a competitor’s gaffe, or a pop culture event and take immediate advantage by creating a promotion, a social media outreach program, or a clever keyword strategy to take advantage of the moment.
A larger competitor will kick up the internal approval process, seek out time with the attorneys, and notify PR to issue a press release on how innovative the campaign is. Guess what? The smart independent probably beat you to it. In the words of Larry the Cable Guy, the independent just knows how to “Get ‘er done!”. Even better, the tools and the mediums today now play to the independent as easily as the larger competitors.
I originally planned to entitle this article “Big Fish Beware.” And, truth be told, I think that is a pretty accurate summary of how I am preparing both small, independent advertisers, and some of the largest brands in the world, for the year ahead.
So what do you think? Is this the year the smaller fish will outsmart the sharks? (In the ol’ Search Tank.) I would love to hear some of your thoughts and comments on this topic and where you see the space evolving in the future.