The June 24 New York Post article called "Search & Destroy: Audit Could Siphon Ad $$ from Google," reports on a soon-to-be-published audit by UK-based firm Internet Search Metrics. The audit claims that spending money on Google Adwords, Google's text-based advertising system, could be the worst-spent marketing dollars on the Internet. Instead, the Post article hints that search engine optimization activities would be a better investment.
In the context of small business, there are a couple of points that I wholeheartedly disagree with.
First, the article states that "most executives, with little regard to how well their companies fare in the more important natural search results - the top sites that come up after an Internet search - overspend on paid search because it is the one area of the search market they understand."
In my experience, most executives don't have a clue about paid search or natural search. That's why they hire consultants to run these campaigns for them. This, too, can be problematic. While there are certainly some firms out there that do great work, I've known some Google Certified Consultants who couldn't run an effective campaign if they tried, and I've encountered some SEO gurus who charge their clients thousands per month while their clients' sites actually drop in the search results.
The article (and the study) says that money is better spent on SEO. For small businesses, I disagree. Good SEO costs thousands of dollars per month, while good results can be obtained from a pay per click campaign for hundreds per month. Many small businesses can't justify spending thousands every month on an SEO campaign, which is never guaranteed to work. Pay per click marketing, on the other hand, only costs companies marketing dollars when a customer is delivered to their web site.
I'm not saying that SEO is "snake oil" and that it never works, but for many small businesses, it's just too expensive.
While the argument between paid search and SEO may not be solved any time soon, I'm focusing on what I feel is potentially a much more powerful promotional tool.
I'm currently experimenting with PR and strategic communications as a more effective way of promoting companies. My approach is traditional PR with a twist -- utilizing traditional media releases with blogs, email marketing, print marketing and more. This PR 2.0 approach -- this combination of online and offline media exposure -- can naturally improve online search engine rankings while driving web site traffic and improving mindshare across mediums. Good PR efforts for small business can be much cheaper than search engine optimization campaigns as well, all while reaching more potential customers. This approach also eliminates "tunnel vision," projecting a consistent message across media.