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Why SMEs are leading the way in SEO

Why SMEs are leading the way in SEOIn a reversal of the ‘trickle down’ effect, corporates are learning their search engine optimisation (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) strategies from their small and medium sized business counterparts.

Increasingly, consumers are looking online when searching for information – be it information on products or reviews of products or to compare prices for goods and services before a purchase. Because online search marketing is the bridge that connects consumers with the companies they are searching for, it is important for businesses to engage in SEO and SEM practices.

Marketing directors, often the decision makers behind how a corporate’s budget will be best spent, have taken SEM and SEO by the horns looking for an accountable method of spending ever shrinking marketing budgets. Pure online players and the SMEs have know for all too long the power of search marketing to deliver qualified visitors to their websites. Corporates are now learning from their counterparts the effectiveness of search marketing, which for the last four years has been the fastest growing channel of online advertising in Australia.

SMEs make quick decisions, adapt to change quickly and will continue to do so in a way larger corporates may not be able to. For corporates, traditional advertising such as radio, TV and print have been seen as safe ground, and as such, have historically encouraged heavy media spend. It is only recently that large offline retailers such as Harvey Norman have started to invest significantly in online and, in particular, search marketing to drive online users to their website. However it’s worthy to note that at this stage, Harvey Norman’s website is not a transactional site; which means that consumers can only access the products information but not purchase them online. It implies that traditional retailers have recognised the importance of being in the beginning of a consumer’s purchase decision-cycle – where consumers are conducting research and in this case it is important to appear in that consideration early in the process.

Supporting the case for corporate SEO

When it comes to natural (non-paid) search results, it is often large corporates that have a lot of catching up to do. Research has shown that about 60 to 70 percent of users choose natural search results over paid search results. Therefore, larger corporates have a lot to gain in optimising their websites to appear in the non-paid search results of the search engines.

A quick check at the search results pages for popular search terms such as ‘mobile phones’ shows the majority of large corporates are paying for sponsored links (paid search) and as a result, do not appear in the natural search results. In this set of search results, organisations that dominate the offline world such as Vodafone, Telstra, 3 and Optus are all paying for paid search results and yet are nowhere to be see in the top (non-paid) search results.

Companies with large product offerings own websites containing many thousands of pages and they often enjoy larger marketing budgets. Larger corporates are in the box seat when it comes to capitalising on the power of search engine optimisation and what it can do for not only bringing visitors to the website but also improving the bottom line.

So where does the case for SEO go astray in larger corporates?

Unlike their SME counterparts, typically large corporates go through long website development cycles and an ever growing number of stakeholders when it comes to the website which adds significantly to the complexity of communication between parties. In an ideal world, SEO would be ‘baked in’ during the website development process, but for organisations with complex websites often containing dozens of website templates this can be a tricky task as each stakeholder will have their own opinion as to the way the website should function which can have an impact on the ‘SEO friendliness’ of the website.

SEO is not purely a technical discipline, nor is it a pure marketing task. It requires communication between what is often seen as the biggest ‘rivalry’ in an organisation; that between the IT department responsible for the development of website code and the marketing department, responsible for the content of the website. Obtaining cooperation between these two departments is key to delivering an ‘SEO friendly’ website.

Compare this to a typical SME where you will often find a single website owner in the organisation, responsible for engaging a web development agency and writing the content for the website. If that person understands SEO concepts and is able to communicate his/her requirements, then onsite SEO would be implemented across the website with minimal fuss.
Capturing the upside of market trends

SMEs with their adaptable approach to the web are able to capitalise on changing consumer behaviour. They can innovate and make changes to reflect consumer search behaviour and capitalise on the upside this traffic brings to their website. This is a lesson corporates can take from their SME counterparts who often rely on shoe string budgets to deliver business results. Capturing and reacting to changing consumer behaviours enables businesses to be ahead of the game when it comes to capturing search traffic. This strategy can simply mean adding an SEO friendly landing page on your website, at a later stage, if proved effective, this market niche may spawn into something more complex as a mini site, or an entire new product range.

Getting the numbers right

One of the key opportunities many businesses don’t understand is the connection between SEO and business results. SEO is equally as measurable as paid search, but is generally characterised with long pay off periods which complicates the return on investment equation. Obviously it is important to measure business results. This is easier with paid search which, for online business is a dollar in dollar out equation (assuming transactions are conducted online). For SEO on the other hand, the pay off period is longer (and often not defined up front) making it trickier to measure. For this reason it is important that the business is close to the numbers, understands key drivers behind website traffic, knows which keywords are delivering a stronger business result and places additional effort on those keywords to push results further.

Typically an SME with a small budget will be stringent in terms of dollar returns; they are close to the numbers, monitoring trends at least on a weekly basis. Larger organisation on the other hand often have multiple campaigns running  at the same time with larger budgets invested and hence need to spread their time analysing results and making decisions often too thinly across many marketing activities.

– Grace Chu is the founder and managing director of FirstClick Consulting, a strategic search marketing agency that provides SEM and SEO services to large and mid-sized corporates (www.firstclickconsulting.com).

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