Bad Self-Managed Campaigns Have Soured Many SMBs on Paid Search

Yesterday LSA held another digital marketing bootcamp for local businesses in San Francisco. While there were some really interesting moments and discussions, the most interesting moment to me came during Bing’s presentation about mobile and mobile paid search.

The Bing speaker asked the local businesses in the room for a show of hands of how many people were currently doing paid-search marketing. Two hands among roughly 100 SMBs went up. Then I asked how many had ever done paid search and nearly 40 hands went up.

Wow. Presumably these people who no longer were doing paid search had not seen sufficient ROI to justify continuing their campaigns. I didn’t interview these people but my guess would be that they were managing their campaigns themselves and simply didn’t have the expertise to do so effectively.

They probably failed and blamed the medium, rather than recognizing their own limitations and that they needed expert help.

While SEO is consistently identified as a critical marketing method or channel by SMBs, the same cannot equally be said of paid search. Ironically, however, paid search is more controllable and can yield much faster results than than organic. It’s also less of a mystifying black box. Beyond this, the case for paid-search is extremely strong in mobile.

A recent survey by LSA found the following regarding local business awareness and adoption of paid search:

  • Had heard of paid-search: 86%
  • Were currently using paid-search marketing: 41%
  • Viewed paid-search as “essential” for online success: 46%

These are preliminary results and we’re still collecting responses. But this illustrates the gap between awareness and perceived need.

It strikes me then that there are two or three issues confronting providers of PPC to local businesses. They need to assume that many SMBs have had bad experiences from self-managed campaigns — as our session yesterday implies. Thus they need to do a great deal of educational “repair work” to rehabilitate SEM for their audience.

PPC also needs to be excluded from packages below certain budget thresholds. This is for the benefit of the advertiser and ultimately the provider. If media companies and local sellers aren’t confident that they can deliver (indeed, over-deliver) great ROI for the advertiser they need to just say no to PPC for local businesses.

Turn them away or sell something else rather than deliver a bad experience.

4 Responses to “Bad Self-Managed Campaigns Have Soured Many SMBs on Paid Search”

  1. Mark Kennedy says:

    Hi, Greg. Really good article, which resonated with me as we handle a lot of small business PPC accounts. And unfortunately, some of our best and longest clients are those who’ve been burned by PPC either on their own doing, a Google-built campaign, Adwords Express or another agency.

    As you said, it takes a lot of convincing, to get a small business to trust it again, but it can be done. I’ve even gone as far as letting a potential client test a campaign we build (waiving the first month) to prove the ROI, because I know, even for a small biz, it can be done right if you apply all of the best practices and strategies.

    The issue I see a lot is that PPC is lumped into a package (like you alluded to in your article) with a print company trying to create a revenue stream. Or a phone book trying to expand its services. Or other forms of marketing agencies trying to go out of their area of expertise. And those tend (but not always) to get poor results.

    I also hear a lot of people saying that small budgets can’t work and will get priced out of the market, especially with the right sidebar change, but I am going to disagree. Even the small budgets can generate some results if you are agile and willing to chose quality over quantity. It’s just a matter of playing more defense than offense sometimes and in some cases it can even mean less budget. I’ve seen budgets cut from $3k to $1k and get a better ROI (trimming the fat can do wonders). And I’ve seen campaigns under $500 work in suburbs and local zips if you target correctly.

    These strategies may be tough for personal injury lawyers or insurance agents in major metros where the CPCs are through the roof, but for decorators, dog groomers and even furniture stores, etc it can work if you really focus on the details.

    It’s a lot of upfront work (the setup, research and build), which is why many agencies may not put up the early hours, which have an associated cost. And I get it. But while you may “overwork” in the early stages, you tend to over-deliver as well (again as you mentioned). Then the campaign has a better chance of long-term success and a happier client. This tends to work for us.

    I know PPC may not be the best fit for all local clients or small business. There are niches where it’s hard to generate a strong ROI with a small budget. But if done right, I would bet a that the 41-46% of people who were using paid search or felt it to be essential would be in the 70-80% range instead.

    Also, there is the benefit of how PPC helps/interacts with other channels (and vice versa), but that is a topic for another day 🙂

    Anyway, I liked it and thanks for writing it.

  2. Greg Sterling says:

    Very interesting. Thanks

  3. Kerry Wagoner says:

    I’ve exclusively worked with smb’s for almost 10 yrs now & I haven’t reviewed an AdWords account that an smb owner was managing themselves that wasn’t losing more money than our management fee’s. I honestly think they thought it’s easy to do but reality is, had they hired an agency,they would have saved more money paying those fee’s rather than doing it themselves and losing money on irrelevant clicks etc. So they’ve learned that paying for help is actually cheaper, but it seems they needed to learn a valuable lesson to let someone else manage their money…live & learn!

  4. Greg Sterling says:

    Curious how you communicate the value of working with an agency vs. self-service beyond simply saying “we’re experts”?

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