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Local Businesses Bungle Their SEM Campaigns and Blame AdWords

Manta recently released a report on search marketing for small businesses. It contained a very interesting survey finding that we featured in our most recent “Chart of the Week.”

According to “613 small business owners who use Google AdWords” surveyed, “40 percent . . . stated that their use of AdWords hadn’t directly yielded any new business leads, while an additional 33 percent said AdWords produced very few leads.”

In other words, 73% of these business owners told Manta that AdWords hadn’t performed at all or had under-performed. This is a dramatic finding.

The report doesn’t offer any in-depth discussion about why performance (or perceptions) were so negative. It also doesn’t discuss whether these were self-managed campaigns or whether they were being managed by third party agencies. Finally we don’t have any sense of whether AdWords Express (Google’s self-driving car for SEM) was involved.

It strongly implies that these accounts may have been self-managed. It also points out the broader components of a successful SEM campaign were not in place. These businesses had few reviews, their sites weren’t mobile-friendly and most had not claimed their listings in GMB:

The majority of these respondents also reported their online presence does not meet key preconditions for the robust search presence that leads to success. Sixty-two percent, for example, said they didn’t have a mobile-optimized website, while nearly two-thirds reported not claiming their business’ Google listing. And a mere 8 percent of AdWords users surveyed said they had customer reviews on Google.

All of this is suggestive of a lack of sophistication about online marketing in general.

We’ve encountered this “one and done” attitude about paid search in the past, in informal discussions with SMBs at one of our bootcamps last  year.

Many small businesses set up SEM campaigns because it’s relatively easy to do so and search is a critical medium that everyone uses. But the campaigns inevitably under-perform or don’t perform because of a lack of skill. Business owners may also not have any idea of what keywords to bid on or how much to bid. In addition, these self-marketers don’t have the time to develop the necessary expertise to run successful campaigns. They also don’t A/B test or optimize based on data.

After their campaigns fail to produce results they blame the system/channel/platform rather than themselves or their lack of expertise. These “once-burned” SMBs also likely become harder for Google partners to sell AdWords to later.

One open question is: how common is this experience? Does this represent a small fraction of the overall market or a meaningful segment? And when you add to that group the number of SMBs who’ve been subjected to poorly managed SEM from third parties it creates a problem for the “AdWords brand” longer term.

I don’t have any good recommendations or quick fixes here. I’d be interested in your thoughts about:

  • How widespread is the problem identified?
  • Are Google partners/resellers encountering challenges because of previous negative self-service AdWords experiences?
  • What can/should be done about any of this?
  • What should Google do?

2 Responses to “Local Businesses Bungle Their SEM Campaigns and Blame AdWords”

  1. Patrick J. says:

    @gsterling – I am a small business owner offering local services and I have been advertising on Google Adwords for over 7 years. We have not yet made the step to completing our sales process 100% online (though some of our competitors have made that transition), which makes it difficult for us to track Adwords conversions to actual sales. I suspect many small local businesses may be in the same boat with Adwords – unable to track leads to due to lack of online sales capability, and frustrated about it.

    Instead, we set up conversion goals, such a view of a key webpage. Many of those were set up based on advice from you and others writing about Local Business SEM. And, now that Adwords has expanded its conversion tracking component, I recently implemented tags that assist with tracking calls, emails and contact form submissions. Many of these steps were prompted by contact with an Adwords account specialist.

    So, in my personal experience, Google is doing something about it. Or, at least they’re trying.

  2. Greg Sterling says:

    Yes, they’re definitely trying to expand the conversion types available, including store visits. They very clearly recognize the problem you’re identifying.

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