Although 15 years old, Search remains today in its infancy: it is bound to evolve and become even more pivotal in our lives as consumers and marketers. In the last decade, it has already drastically mutated, influenced by changes in consumer behaviours and the intrinsic nature of the web. This evolution has accelerated in the last years, and is expected to further increase its pace with the rise of game changers like mainstream social search and new devices like smartphones, wearables or connected TV.
In many respects, it is not that surprising to see conflicting trends in such a maturing marketing channel. After all, which teenager does not come with its contradictions? On the one hand, search advertising is the driving force behind the growth of digital advertising spend (52% of all UK ad spend according to the latest IAB report), a success built upon its accessibility to advertisers of all size and background. On the other hand, no matter how long the tail of advertisers is and for how long brands have been practicing that discipline, there is still a lot of education to be conducted with Small and Medium Businesses.
As industry observers, it is indeed easy to assume that our own online savviness is pervasive across all layers of the economy. It is thus insightful to ground ourselves in the reality of decision makers. This is why Latitude White and Bing Ads commissioned research to poll British businesses on their sentiment and behaviours towards digital, and online advertising in particular. The full report surfaces rampant knowledge and competency gaps associated with long-lasting misconceptions which are still impairing the adoption of search marketing amongst businesses which would probably benefit most from its flexibility, accountability and affordability. Four stuck with me:
1. Overconfidence by ignorance. 88% of surveyed SME are convinced that they know how effective their marketing activity is – a lot better than John Wanamaker, but only a small majority (55%) have web analytics in place to measure campaign effectiveness.
2. Build it and they will come, won’t they? 60% of SMBs with a website do not promote it. Imagine opening a shop in a back-alley with no signage, and expecting customers to miraculously flock to your door. But as 75% consider offline recommendations as the single most important way their business is discovered, it somehow explains their reluctance to invest in digital. That mindset obviously overlooks the impact of online reputation and the role search plays throughout the purchase process (credential checks, price comparison, reviews…). Even if 83% feel it is critical or important to appear on the first page of search engines, they struggle to reconcile it with investments.
3. The mermaids of the free internet. When asked which digital tactic best performs for their business, both SEO and Social top the league. Debatable yet plausible, until you dig into the reasons for such a plebiscite amongst these small businesses. When 57% of the companies rank organic social activities as the cheapest tactic, it is because they assume a return on zero investment, ignoring the time, effort and opportunity costs. 54% spend two or more hours per week on SEO (only 21% is outsourced), 55% spend two or more hours per week on Social organic (only 6% is outsourced) which once brought back to a man hour would outweigh their advertising budget.
4. The perceived mountain to climb of PPC: the smaller the company, the more likely the absence of competency and apprehensions to outsource will exacerbate the barriers of entry. Even PPC, whose pay-per-click and auction model makes it highly affordable, is deemed out of reach for the smallest businesses. 65% of businesses with 10 or less employees disagree that PPC offers a good return on investment when 68% of businesses with 11 or more employees agree on the contrary.
There is much more to this research than these four misconceptions, for instance the impact of company size, industry and appetite to grow in digital adoption. However, the overwhelming take-away reinforces the need for key industry players – search engines, tool providers, agencies and sites like this one – to continue their educational efforts. “Educate”, from the Latin “e-ducere”, to draw out of ignorance, of infancy. When our discipline and its core principles will be embraced by all, then, and only then will the entire British economy benefit fully from this affordable, scalable and accountable marketing lever. Search will have finally reached adulthood.