What Do I Do?

 June 16th, 2017

This post comes to us from Michael Johnson, SEO Associate at SEOM Interactive:

When it comes to deciding where to shop, consumers turn to reviews. Companies with an online presence have reviews published by Google that give consumers a voice. They rate their individual experiences through stars, photos, and their opinions.  These ratings are of paramount importance to small business owners.

According to a survey on Marketing Land, “90% of respondents who recalled reading online reviews claimed that positive online reviews influenced buying decisions, while 86% said buying decisions were influenced by negative online reviews.”

google ratings

How Google Calculates Your Score

Google uses a Bayesian Average scoring system, which takes existing information related to the data set in order to calculate a score, rather than base the score solely off of the mean of the total reviews. Scores are calculated this way to “minimize the impact of large deviations or assert a default value when the data set is small.” This means Google is taking factors into account that we cannot see to try to estimate a more accurate average of what the score would be if there were a lot of reviews.

While this method is beneficial in some ways, it can also be detrimental. For small businesses, in particular, it can significantly harm their Google ratings. It is believed that the Bayesian Average method goes out the window after 30 reviews and the overall ratings start to reflect a basic mathematic average, but there is nothing concrete that proves this theory. Whether this magic number threshold exists or not, it is important for our clients to get as many good reviews as possible in order to avoid a negative rating.

A Tale Of Poor Ratings

At SEOM, our SMB clients are often looking for ways to get positive reviews in order to help their business stand out in search because ultimately, those reviews are what drive consumers to choose them. Recently, one of our clients faced a situation where an ex-employee had his friends and family negatively review our client’s company on Google, leaving our client with 10 fake 1-star reviews and 10 5-stars. The listings average score was a 1.7 though.

In addition to having a low score, the top 3 reviews that were featured on our client’s listing were hateful messages that contained personal, misleading, violent or inappropriate content. This is against Google’s Terms of Service, and in working with Google, we were able to get some of the more heinous reviews removed.

In an effort to gain more positive reviews to combat the negative ones, we created a link to the client’s Google listing for them to share with customers. This link was customized to send users directly to the review box with 5 stars checked. All a user had to do was click the link, log into Google, and leave their review. After sending this to previous customers and including the link on the client’s website, real reviews started to come in. To further this effort, we used the thumbs-up feature Google offers to “like” the positive reviews.

After 2-7 days, we started to see a change in our client’s scores. The top three featured reviews in Google search were all positive and up-voted reviews. Google keeps private what influences their rankings and algorithms, so while we can’t confirm that up-voting helps the rankings, we can see that it worked in this case.

In the days that passed, their rating went from a 1.7 to a 3.7. Today, this client’s average is now a 3.4 with 23 reviews. This score reflects the mathematical average, which tells us that Google could have already started doing away with their Bayesian system.

Moving Forward

Google recently announced that they are moving away from the Bayesian model and have started testing new ways of scoring, slowly rolling updates out to their rating system.  Now the review scores will be taken and used to give the straight-forward, arithmetic average.

As with any problem we encounter, it was important for us to be open and willing to learn from our client’s difficulties. It was discouraging to see our client’s score drop to a 1.7 because of a personal issue, but by implementing a strategy to obtain more reviews, we were able to turn that around.

If your business receives negative reviews, don’t panic! SEOM Interactive can show you the necessary steps to remedy the situation.

Digital Marketing Firm Affected by Unknown Algorithm Update

 April 27th, 2017

super markLast Thursday was anything but normal in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. After a sudden and unexpected algorithm update, the agency noticed something wasn’t quite right at SEOM Interactive. Computer screens began glowing green; office supplies floated away from their places on desks; there was a force in the air no one could recognize. But in a busy digital agency, work always comes first, so the staff at SEOM ignored the strangeness in the air.

Local newscasters likened the event to an Act of God. Industry professionals claimed it was a freak accident. Google still has yet to offer up an explanation, but for SEOM Interactive, things will never be the same.

Matt Tumasz, an SEO Manager, picked up the phone before it even rang. On the other side of the office, search specialists began noticing a difference in their ability to manipulate Google listings, Yelp reviews, and even paid ad placement with their minds.

super debNow, it’s been a week since the incident, and Mark Kennedy, President of SEOM Interactive, couldn’t be happier. As an avid comic book reader and fan of all things superhero, Kennedy was excited to receive the power of super speed.

As a business owner, his work never stops, but with super speed, he’s able to answer emails and calls in a matter of seconds, helping more clients than ever before on a daily basis.

“I was glad everyone showed up at the office that day,” he said after explaining that his employees have the liberty to work remotely as needed. “We’re more productive now than we’ve ever been!”

Some employees were gifted the ability to teleport and can now attend meetings, conferences, and trade shows around the world, while others, like Kevin Gleason, resident SEO guru, was gifted the power to shape shift. Employees who directly report to him claim that it’s difficult to find him now, as he’s known to morph into Roger, the MOZ mascot.

Steve, another SEO Associate, has quickly become known as the office prankster. His invisibility allows him to prank unsuspecting co-workers. “When I’m not rearranging Brian’s POPS!, I’ll stand in on meetings to absorb information and grow my SEO skill set.”

Andy, a member of the paid search team, perhaps got the best deal of them all. “I’m able to tap into others abilities as I need them.” We won’t be surprised if Andy quickly climbs the ranks!

While our investigative teams are still looking into the cause of the incident, Kennedy sees nothing but possibility. But, if we’ve learned anything from the tales of superheroes, we know that with great power comes great responsibility.

When asked about future new hires, Mark is hopeful that there will be another algorithm update like this one. “The more meta-humans on my team, the better!”

 

Up next: SEOM Interactive Under New Leadership

SEOM Welcomes 4M Communication to the Family!

 March 10th, 2017

4M Communication is a full-service public relations agency and the newest division of SEOM Interactive.  At SEOM, we’ve been offering public relations services to our clients for the past three years. However, in the last year or so, our owner, Mark noticed that the requests for PR had been increasing. It became apparent that there needed to be a separate entity focusing strictly on PR, and that’s how 4M was born.

It’s founded on the same drive and passion as SEOM- kicking ass for the little guys- and Melanie and Danielle are ready to get to work. They will continue helping the clients they’ve gotten to know at SEOM while also taking on new clients of their own. Their background at SEOM is what differentiates them from any other PR agency. Here, they learn the ins and outs of digital marketing as a whole and are able to seamlessly tie together all channels of a marketing plan.

Some of the services they offer are local/national media outreach, media list development, press release writing and distribution, product placement and reviews, event trade show support, copy writing, social media campaign development and more.

In the past, they have helped our clients get featured on Realtor.com, landed a spot on 6ABC’s Action News and planned an all-day business conference from start to finish. We are excited to see all that they will accomplish at 4M and lucky for us, their office is still right inside ours! To see what they are all about, check out their website at www.4mcommunication.com.

Ads Added by AdWords? I’ll Be Opting Out

 January 27th, 2017

Before I start this rant post, I want to make 2 quick points…

  1. If you don’t want to read, but just want to opt out of this new adwords “feature”, then here is the link
  2. I am all for automation and a lot of new features from Adwords have been helpful, but this one is not for me. That being said, you can at least opt out, but I think you should not be automatically opted-in.
  3. Update – Here are two scripts to help check for Ads added By Adwords in your account – Check for the ads and Pause the Ads
    1. Please always be careful with scripts and make sure they work properly for your needs
    2. The first script is by Frederick Vallaeys and the second is by Aaron Dicks

Okay, now back to the post. On Thursday afternoon, one of my client accounts received this email…

Dear AdWords Advertiser,

You’ve been invited to participate in a pilot program for AdWords that is designed to improve campaign performance by creating new variations of your existing ads within your ad groups. You’re receiving this message because your account contains at least one campaign that’s optimizing ads for clicks or conversions. These campaigns may also contain ad groups with fewer ads than is recommended by AdWords best practices.

What’s changing

Starting February 9, 2017, you may see new ads in some ad groups with the label “Added by AdWords.” These ads will be created based on information you’ve provided in your existing ads, such as your headlines, description, ad extensions, or information found on your ads’ landing page. New ads will only be added to each ad group once.

Next steps

You do not need to take any action to participate in the program. Starting February 9, 2017, please monitor clicks and spend going to these new ads. You can edit, pause, or remove them at any point, however we recommend waiting until they have enough impressions to give you confidence in the results. Because you’ve chosen to optimize your ads for clicks or conversions, AdWords will automatically optimize these ads to meet your business goals.

You can learn more about ads “Added by AdWords” in the AdWords Help Center. If you’d like to opt out of this pilot program, please complete this form.*

My first reaction wasn’t so positive. Was this actually for real? Was it spam? I took to twitter and #ppcchat and it was confirmed by Matt McKenna, who posted it on reddit as well. Google was going to add ETAs to your adgroups without any notice starting Feb 9th. You’d be able to see those ads, they would have a label “added by adwords”. And you could pause or delete those ads, but it was going to happen (unless you opted out).

So before I go on, a few notes about this particular account…

  • Resort/Leisure Industry
  • Spend is about $20K per month
  • it’s the only account not in our MCC
  • It has ETAs and Legacy (STA) ads in all adgroups
  • It has remarketing campaigns

Not sure if any of those factors had an impact for this campaign being selected, but wanted to mention them in case anyone has insight.

So getting back to the main point here, while I can pause the ads or opt-out, I still don’t want Google writing my (client’s) ads for a few reasons…

  • They don’t know the business
  • They don’t know the goals
  • They could screw up A/B ad tests
  • They may not coincide with Landing Pages or LP tests
  • Are they weighing CTR > Conversion Rates
  • Some industries (Legal) have strict rules for advertising copy

p - law p - scary  p - ab tests p - lp

Basically I want control over my adcopy, not Google. And these are pretty good reasons why. That being said, I get why Google is doing it. Some (a lot) accounts are probably not using ETA’s, despite the upcoming deadline and Google wants to push ETA’s as much as possible since they look more like organic listings. And to be fair, there were some positive points made on Twitter as well…

p - dsa  p - suggest

But to Julie’s point in her tweet, don’t make them auto-run. And while I haven’t (won’t) see these new ads in action, Kirk makes a valid point…

p - not new

So in theory, the adcopy would not be out of the blue. It would be based on current ad versions. So that could be safe. But what if they don’t have enough current ads, but instead/also base them on adcopy from paused/deleted ads. Or from other adgroups, where the copy wouldn’t make sense. Not saying that would happen, but it makes you think/worry, so another reason to opt out.

So maybe you can make a case as to how this could be helpful. And for Google it makes sense to get more people upgraded to ETAs, even if they have to do it automatically. But my opinion is that the risk outweighs the reward and it shouldn’t be automatic opt-in. But at least you can opt-out or kill the ads. Or even an automated rule if need be…

p- rule

But the overall point of this post is to make you aware, so that you can decide for yourself. But for me it’s a definite…

P - opted out

 

NBC10 & Telemundo62 Studio Visit

 December 6th, 2016

cityline-ave-interview-spaceLights! Camera! Action! The SEOM Public Relations team (Danielle and Melanie) took a tour of the NBC10 and Telemundo62 studio in Bala Cynwyd on December 1st. The PR duo belongs to the Philadelphia Public Relations Association (PPRA),  the nation’s oldest and largest independent public relations association, and were given this members-only behind-the-scenes peek at how a news station operates on a day-to-day basis.

SEOM’s clients are always looking for new ways to market their brands, tell their stories and create more awareness about themselves and their company. One of the ways the PR team accomplishes these goals is by pitching client stories to local newspapers and stations. This exclusive tour of the NBC10 and Telemundo62 was the perfect opportunity for our PR team to gain inside information on the best ways to get our clients noticed by a broadcast team.

Melanie and Danielle toured the main interview space on City Line Ave as well as the production room, the digital operations room and the main studio. In the interview space, they watched a live interview between NBC10 anchor Vai Sikahema and two women holding free testings for World Aids Day. They also got to go inside the newsroom and see where stories that they pitch end up.

ppra-group-pic

In addition to the tour, there was a Q&A session with one of the station’s assignment editors – the person receiving pitches about what’s going on and ultimately, the decision makers in regards to what stories get covered. During this session, Melanie and Danielle uncovered how to best pitch the journalists at NBC10, as well as the best times to reach out to them, best practices in press release writing, and how to craft a subject line that will pique a reporter’s interest.

Overall, this trip to the NBC10 and Telemundo62 studio was an informative and instructive visit for our PR Team! The insider tips Melanie and Danielle gained will be useful moving forward in gaining coverage for our clients.

How BMBC Bettered My Business

 September 8th, 2016

katie-robbins-taste-of-tuscanyKatie Robbins, owner of The Taste of Tuscany and last year’s winner of BMBC’s Sell it to the Sharks talks about how BMBC has helped her grow her business and continue to succeed.

Two years ago, The Taste of Tuscany was just a pipe dream. I never imagined running a business, let alone a  business within the world of food. Now, thanks to my personal passion for food and the BucksMont BizCon last year, my dreams have become a reality. I am successfully running my business in a world of talented entrepreneurs and like-minded small business owners.

About a year ago, I wanted to expand my business by starting a new product line. I knew the desire for my product was there, and I had already built up a loyal customer base. My sauces were being sold in a variety of retailers in the tri-state area, and people were eager to see what I was going to come up with next. I didn’t know where I was going to get the funding for the new materials I would need.

When I heard about the Sell it to the Sharks competition, I knew this was an unbelievable chance to grow my business and obtain the funding I needed.  In addition to competing against some of the bravest (and youngest!) entrepreneurs in the area, I was able to learn more about other aspects of running a small business.

Since winning, I have been able to launch a new product line and expand my offerings to other stores. In addition, BMBC has helped me move outside of my comfort zone! Presenting my business idea to a jury of my peers definitely gave me a confidence boost. Now more than ever I feel prepared to open new doors as a business owner.

It’s been a crazy ride, but I couldn’t be happier. Through my business, I am establishing a future for myself and my family. I am so glad I entered the Sell it to the Sharks competition – without doing so, I’m not so sure I would be where I am today.

Interested in growing your business like Katie did? Sign up for the Sell it to the Sharks competition today! We are seeking Bucks and Montgomery County-based entrepreneurs and business owners who want to pitch their marketing plan to a panel of local experts at our second annual BucksMont BizCon. Similar to the hit television show Shark Tank, our “sharks” will evaluate your idea based on a number of factors, including your unique plan, longevity, financial considerations, etc. 

BucksMont BizCon 2016

 August 26th, 2016

It’s baaaack…. BucksMont BizCon that is! On Thursday, October 20th, SEOM Interactive will once again join TheBathOutlet.com in hosting the second annual small business summit at the Fuge in Warminster, PA. Here’s more info on the what, when, and where.

As an agency, we specialize in developing marketing strategies that go beyond the norm for businesses – not just ones that check the boxes. Chances are if you’re a small business owner or entrepreneur just starting out, digital marketing is a whole new,(and often overwhelming) world.  That’s why this year’s BMBC is all about the importance of deploying an integrated marketing strategy – one that goes beyond just SEO and pay-per-click to put you AHEAD of your competitors. Sounding like Greek? Then it’s time for you to learn a new language!

The daylong conference chock full of interactive presentations and panel discussions will conclude with the ever-exciting ‘Shark-Tank’ style competition. We’re giving three start-ups the chance to win $5K for their business. To win, they’ll have to pitch their best marketing plan to a panel of judges including Katie Robbins, owner of Taste of Tuscany and last year’s competition winner. To learn more about the competition or to apply, visit www.bucksmontbizcon.com/selltosharks.

The SEOM Interactive team is truly excited about BMBC 2016 and we hope you’ll join us for what promises to be an informative and fun-filled day! Tickets include breakfast, lunch, unlimited coffee and networking opportunities with some of the area’s best and brightest digital marketers and entrepreneurs. Are you a student, or know one who would be interested in attending?  NEW this year, BMBC will be free to local grad and undergrad students!

For more information on the event, including agenda and speakers, to purchase tickets, visit, www.bucksmontbizcon.com.

Early Bird Special (ends September 30): $24.99

General Admission Tickets (October 1-day of event): $39.99

SEOM Interactive Named Google Premier Partner

 July 14th, 2016

PGPbadgeSEOM Interactive has been named a Google Premier Partner – an award granted to companies that use competitive tactics to provide their clients with the most qualified leads and sales.

A lot of hard work goes in to earning this partnership. In order to achieve this elite status, a company must demonstrate expertise in AdWords, including meeting AdWords spend requirements, providing opportunities for agency and client revenue growth, and sustaining and growing a client base.

FullSizeRenderIn partnering with Google, SEOM receives the most up-to-date training and education on new features and strategies for online advertising. Being a Premier Partner allows us to learn from experts and access additional support from the Google team. With these added benefits and resources, SEOM will continue to provide clients with the most effective marketing strategies specific to each client’s goals.

The team at SEOM boasts a number of company specializations, as well as individual certifications in areas like Search Advertising, Shopping and Google Analytics. These specializations not only help us differentiate ourselves in the digital advertising market, but also serve as validation for current and future clients that we understand how to strategically leverage all avenues of digital media.

“We are proud to receive the Premier Partner badge,” says Janine Monico, Vice President and head of the PPC team. “It symbolizes our high level of commitment and service, which aligns with our agency’s mission to generate results.”

Being recognized by Google is an incredible honor in the digital world. SEOM looks forward to continuing to provide each of our clients with the best digital marketing solutions in the industry, and being recognized as a Premier Partner only fuels our passion.

Optimizing Embedded YouTube Videos

 April 29th, 2016

Here are a few steps that you can use to boost your site UX and keep people on your site for the rest of their lives.

The regular embed iframe snippet looks like this:

<iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/mmUjJjPx3NI” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>

This will produce a video that looks like this:

When the video finishes it will also give the viewer the option to select another related video to watch.

This won’t take the user off the website, but it can distract them from the purpose that brought them to your website in the first place. 

A few simple additional parameters added to the snippet and you are good to go.

First off, when you add a parameter you begin with a question mark(?) and then every following parameter you begin with a ampersand(&).

mc 3

The result of these parameters clean the video up in ways that keep the viewer focused on the webpage.

First parameter to add is “?rel=0”

This indicates whether the player should not show related videos when playback ends.

The next parameter to add is “&showinfo=0”

This will take away that annoying video title bar at the top of the thumbnail along with the watch later and uploader controls.

Lastly, add this parameter “&autohide=1”

This parameter indicates whether the video controls will automatically hide after the video begins playing regardless of the video players dimensions, the video progress bar and player controls display or hide automatically.

Your completed snippet should look like this:

<iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/mmUjJjPx3NI?rel=0&showinfo=0&autohide=1″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>

The resulting video will look like this:

If you want a list of more video player parameters check out this link.

 

 

Paid Search Can Work for SMBs – Even the Little Guys!

 March 28th, 2016

There was a post the other day from Matt Umbro – Why SMBs Should not Run Adwords Accounts, which you can read for yourself. For the purposes of his post and mine, the adspends we are discussing are under $500. We can debate the definition of an SMB another day, but the topic today is – should SMBs run Adwords accounts with spends of $500 (or lower).

SMB PPC Budget

 

Matt’s answer is no (with rare exception). My answer is yes, it can work more often than you think. As usual in PPC discussions, it always boils down to “it depends.” And the same applies here, but I am making the statement that in a lot of situations, it can work…if done right.

When It Works

Small Geo-Location – with a $500 budget, you’ll be hard-pressed to target the US, or even Pennsylvania. Heck even Philadelphia (shameless plug for Hero Conference Philly in April). But if you are a driving school looking for students within a 10 mile radius in Bucks County (Philly Suburb), you can do well with $10 per day.
PPC_Drive

In this case, a conversion is anyone who signs up through the online form on his website. And he does get calls as well, so the ROI is a little better when you factor in the phone leads. For a guy who can only handle so many students, this is a solid campaign with an accommodating budget for his area and his capacity…

Capacity – Some SMBs (or Micro B’s if you will) can only handle so much business at a time. I’ve had situations where clients will pause campaigns until they can catch up on orders and/or quotes. We have a mobile paper shredding SMB. They have only one truck and want to generate enough recurring clients to make a second truck profitable…

PPC_CapacityAs you can see, on a $500 adspend, they did fairly well. Could they spend more? Yes. The CPCs in this case aren’t that low, so they don’t get a lot of traffic, but because the campaign is focused on specific terms it fits their situation. And that is a nice segue to…

Niche Terms – As many PPC’ers know, broad terms can have a place, but can also be a major killer. However, if you have a limited budget, it’s a deal-breaker. You have to be as specific as possible in order to maximize conversions. With a small budget, traffic is usually not an issue, but conversion is everything. And without a huge budget for CRO or major web dev/des (I can almost see Matt Umbro nodding his head from here), a lot of that falls on the PPC strategy and most notably the keyword strategy (apologies to the ads). So keyword selection is…well, key.

For example, I didn’t know there was much difference between an Interior Decorator and Interior Designer. But after my first Interior Decorator client educated me, we made a choice to avoid interior designer terms since people who searched interior decorator keywords were a better fit for her services. Interior designer gets a lot more search volume…

PPC_Trends

 

But with a limited budget, volume was not the goal; conversions business was. So while this isn’t the most-niche industry I’ve worked in, it illustrates that small budgets can work with very specific terms – lice removal, solar powered pool heaters, and medical malpractice insurance to name a few.

Small CPCs – Some industries have low CPC’s, which is nice from a PPC-manager-perspective, because you can do a lot more with a smaller budget. For example, we have a bakery that wants to increase its custom cake business. In this particular campaign, we have a $350 per month budget and as you can see, we are not “limited by budget.” The goal of this campaign is to target people to place online custom cake orders. Shower cakes, wedding cakes, logo cakes, etc…

PPC_Bakery

While this falls under the niche-term scenario as well (and small geo), the cost per click is below $1, so for their $337.86 adspend, we have almost 400 visitors. And for that low spend and “decent” volume we are generating a positive ROI with 15 online orders (not including phone orders as well).

So when you have low CPCs, the volume, even on a small budget, can give you some nice data to sink your teeth into (like a cake) and help optimize an SMB campaign even faster.

High Profit Margin – When running a small budget campaign, you’ll have more chance of success if the end product has a high profit margin. Let’s use a painter as an example. I’ve seen the average job size range anywhere from $3,000 to $12,000 (depending on interior, exterior, commercial, etc). So if the average job size is $4,000 for a particular painting business, then on a $500 per spend per month, it only takes one job to cover a month or two of adspend. Once you factor out costs/margins, anything over is profitable.

Think of it this way. You spend $500, generate 10 leads, which is a $50 CPL. If your conversion rate is 10% from lead to sale, and your job size is $4000, then you most likely win. You can move these numbers around to make a case for or against this example, and I know every case is different. But it is at least a starting point to measure the success of an SMB campaign or a discussion to have with the client.

As a quick aside, you’d be amazed how the above example leads to a question of “why is my conversion rate from lead to sale X%”. Then it leads to improving customer service, sales techniques, quote process, etc. So this data has even more value to the client. I’ll talk more about the value of data later.

Lead Gen vs Ecommerce – I will say this: In my experience, SMB campaigns work better in the Lead-gen world vs Ecommerce. The ROI seems to be higher, and the revenue on the service vs a product is typically higher, as well. Not that a small budget can’t work for a PLA or ecommerce search campaign. But I’ll agree more with Matt’s post on the shopping side than on the lead-gen side. Again, it goes back to profit-margin, but I’ve had more success with sub-$500 budgets on the lead-gen side.

That said if the product is niche and you can’t get it from a major online retailer or large brick and mortar chain, your chances are stronger, but it will still be a challenge, especially with PLA campaigns which are no easy feat even for PPC veterans.

Seasonality – In some cases, a $500/month PPC budget can even be too much for an off-season month. I have a fence client who spends 10% of his normal budget in December. Between the holidays and the cold weather, not many are in the market for a new vinyl fence. So while you may get an inquiry or two, the spend will be small. Which is fine, as long as the cost per acquisition is within your target.

PPC_Seasonality

New Businesses – “We’re a scrappy little startup.” “We just spent all of our marketing funds on the new website.” “We’re starting a side business.”  Yup, I’ve heard variations of all three of these and more. In these cases, they rarely have over $500 to spend on PPC, so they have to start somewhere. And if you and the client are willing to be patient and test, then I’d actually recommend a small budget until you learn some things. The pressure is typically higher in this scenario, so it’s not the ideal situation.

I was almost hesitant to include it, but if you have nothing to work with, you don’t want to see the SMB go blow the bank with a large spend and learn the hard way. I’d rather learn on the cheap and try to find something that works. Again, there is value in the data and in some cases like this, a small PPC budget might be the better way to go (I use might very loosely).

The PPC Manager – Some of the arguments made on Twitter about the value of an SMB PPC campaign related to the manager and more specifically the time. Time has value, which equates to money. So whether the person is in-house and his time is better spent on other parts of the business or the agency who charges for that time, the actual manager will have an impact on whether a small budget will work.

Managing a small business campaign will take time – more time than you think. On top of the work itself, it’s the management of the client – their lack of familiarity with search engines, their expectations, sometimes impatience, and overall education. So as the manager of the campaign, you have to have patience or it won’t work. You may be saying the same thing over and over until people understand the strategy and logic. You may have to answer emails and calls, many emails and calls. Did I say many :)  So if that is not a strong suit of the PPC manager, then it could be doomed from the get-go.

To that end, the PPC manager is going to have to over-deliver in the beginning. Not just on immediate results, but on time. So I can see why some agencies avoid this potential client, as the fee will not justify the time, at least for the first month, if not a few months. I’ve made a decision to accept that, which I will mention later in this post, but that strategy is not for every agency or manager. And if you don’t have a manager with that acceptance, it may not work.

To that point, setup and structure will be key. Not just for the success of the campaign, but for the efficiency of the manager’s time. I’d rather take the extra time to develop a sound structure, which will make it easier for me to manage the campaign in the long run and…save me time. Yes, it may make me less profitable as an agency in the beginning months (which is risky if the client cancels), but I’ll take the risk if I believe my setup will:

  • Generate faster success
  • Keep the client long-term with early results
  • Save me time in the long run.

Not everyone will agree with this logic, but so far it works for us.

Experience is a big factor as well. I will make this statement: Of all my colleagues who I know and respect in the paid search world (most of whom are in PPCchat), I would bet good money they could roll out a PPC campaign with a $500 budget and have success in the situations above in a very reasonable time-frame, if not right away. And the reason I am making that statement – experience will save time. They already have processes in place they use for large clients. They have a good feel where to prioritize time to have more impact, what not to do, where to play defense (eg- negative keywords). Those factors make you more time-efficient, which makes you more “fee-efficient.” So an unskilled or rookie (for lack of a better term) PPC manager may not be the right fit to have success with a small PPC campaign, until they have more experience.

When It Doesn’t

So while there are some situations where a very small PPC budget can perform well, there are definitely situations where you don’t have an Eagle’s chance in hell of winning a Superbowl (yeah, I went there)….

High Competition – If you are in a major metro (New York), a high CPC industry (Injury Law), or a highly competitive industry (insurance), you may have a real struggle or lack of results with only $500. In those cases, I agree with Matt 100%.

Low Revenues and Profit Margins – If profit margins are razor thin or if your product or service is low revenue, the cost per acquisition may be rough, and you’ll blow through $500 before you can get to a strong ROI. I’m not saying it could never work, but I’m with Matt on this one, more (most) often than not, you won’t get there.

New Businesses and Startups – If your total budget is $500 for a month and you don’t have enough funds to get past that first month, you may be setting yourself up for failure. While small budgets can work, they do take time to optimize and sometimes new business don’t have the patience. Each situation is unique, so this scenario is hard to judge. But if you made me give an answer I’d be closer to agreeing with Matt on this one.

The Right Manager – Big or small, you have to respect PPC. I’m biased of course, but I’ve seen a lot of agencies not respecting its value or importance and that’s when it fails. If you are slapping together multiple campaigns with broad terms, with minimal management and charging a fee, your churn rate will be high and you’ll actually have more cost in paying sales people to replace that revenue.

And not only that, but if this is a client who has multiple services through your agency (social, seo, etc), its failure could lead to loss of those revenues as well. A dissatisfied client will leave, and then you lose revenue from other departments. We actually have SEO firms outsourcing their SMB PPC to us because they value client retention and its impact on the bottom line.

So you need to have someone who can handle a PPC account, especially a SMB PPC account. Just because its small doesn’t mean it’s easy. Trust me. And if the manager is not passionate, patient, eager or efficient, it’s not going to work out well.

Pros

You will grow with the campaign – once you prove success, the client will be more willing to spend more. The budget increase will allow you to do more, and you will grow with the client as well, which leads to…

More business from the client – With PPC success comes more channels – video, remarketing, paid social, etc. So again, you can grow with the client. The best feeling in the world is when the client says, “what else can you do?”

Small success can be a big win – As I mentioned, one sale could really help the SMB. If their training program is $5,000 for the year, one early sale opens some doors for an SMB. The cash flow alone can be a large boon that allows them to spend more, and covers advertising costs for a few months. If one sale per month is break-even, then everything else is profit.

Immediate Impact – More than any other channel, you’ll have faster results (if you get it to work). SEO takes time, radio and TV need frequency, email has open rate concerns, social media takes more exposure, banner ad CTRs are low; but with paid search, you’ll most likely get some action the first day you launch the campaign.

Quality of Channel – Nothing wrong with email, social, direct mail, etc. But search is where people are looking for you. So if $500 is your only budget, I think the quality of search traffic has a higher chance to convert than a direct mail drop.  You can argue SEO vs PPC in this case, but I’ll at least agree that any search would be the better value for your $500.

Data – I don’t want to put too much emphasis on this because to a SMB, $500 is a LOT of money. So the goal of that $500 is typically to directly drive more business. And I agree. But, the data from PPC is sometimes so much more valuable than they realize. For example…

“Wait, 10 people typed in transmission repair in eagleville went to my site and didn’t call or fill out our schedule form? Why not, we’re the only guys in town?”

Then it leads to conversations about their site, their pricing, their content, mobile vs desktop. And once you get into phone tracking, it amazes them that the front desk or call center could be an issue. Or even themselves. I had to tell one owner to let someone else answer the phones. So the data can sometimes open eyes about the business.

And it can help other channels as well. The SEO may want optimize for one term, but you can give him/her actual data that supports a better term. The search query report itself is a goldmine for content. What’s the best call to action for an email campaign? What promotions work best for a newspaper ad, etc. So there is value in the data itself, and maybe have even more of an impact for an SMB.

Referrals – There are more SMBs than large businesses, which means the potential client pool is large. And the SMBs really tend to refer you as if they have this amazing secret – it was a dark and lonely night, “I know a guy”, he whispered in the back alley under the brim of his fedora.

Red Tape – If you sell red tape or anything with a small SMB account, you most likely don’t have to deal with compliance, politics, approval processes, etc. You typically have more agility and authority to quickly make adjustments without 30 chefs in the kitchen, which allows you to optimize on the fly and hopefully improve results.

Scalability – You get a small budget for a nursing home. You make it to work. It took you a lot of time and effort, but you figured it out. Client is happy, budget is increased, and he’s a great referral. Imagine if another nursing home came along in a non-competing area. How much work is already done for you? That’s where this model really works. If you can target the same industry across multiple areas, you’ll win on the time-efficiency factor. It’s a risk for the first one, I’ll admit that, but in the long run, you’ve created a scalable model for this industry that can be profitable by making this one $500 budget work.

Challenge Accepted – I’ll be honest. A big part of getting the $500 budget to work is my ego. I want to prove that I can do it. And it’s one of the most satisfying things about my career. To have someone give me a chance with their hard-earned $500 (which is a lot to a lady working from her house or a mom-and-pop shop that’s been in my neighborhood for years) and see me make it work for their business. And if that doesn’t drive you, then this is a con. But to me it’s a major pro. I just really enjoy being challenged (ergo this post)

Cons

That all sounds great, right? Well there are cons as well.

Time, Time, Time – see what’s become of me. The hardest part about working with SMBs is the time spent on client management. Phone calls that are just a quick question turn into hour-long conversations. An email with one question turns into a trail of follow-ups. Late nights, early mornings, impromptu meetings, all come with the territory. And every client has a brother-in-law who knows a little bit about search, so you get questioned at every turn. Education, diffusion of misinformation. It does abate over time as you build trust, and it’s always more involved in the beginning, but if you can accept it, then it can work. But time-spent can be a con to the hourly model.

Many Clients – If you work on large accounts, you don’t have many clients and maybe only a few points of contact, but ample revenue from those clients. In order for an SMB agency to have similar revenue, you need to have many clients. And that means more points of contact, which means more customer service reports, emails, calls, etc. So it’s not perfect.

And it’s more so on the client-management side than the campaign-management side.  If you handle one $10,000 account with 20 campaigns, the work on that account might be the same as 20 accounts in the same vertical in 20 different locations (as I alluded to above in the scalability section). The difference is that the large account probably reports/interacts with one person. The individual accounts have 20 different points of contact.

Risk – I may be wrong, but I feel SMBs are a higher risk to quit early if they don’t see immediate results, where a large company will have the luxury of seeing at least 6-12 months before they make any rash decisions. So if the model is to over-deliver early and the client cancels in under 3 months, it won’t math from a profit standpoint.

PPC_JokerWeb design and Development (CRO) – If the budget is small, there usually isn’t an intensely-designed website behind it. Not that all SMB websites are bad, but again, most of the success is going to fall on the campaign not the website (at least at this point). In my mind, I always flash back to the scene in the original Batman movie where Jack Nicholson asks for the mirror after the doctor tries to fix his face. “Look what I had to work with!”…

Yes, you can probably get in there if it’s on a CMS like WordPress or some of those out-of-the-box platforms where you can inject calls-to-action, tracking code, etc, but you’ll be challenged and there won’t be budget for CRO, landing page tests (or software), new design, etc. So pressure will be on the campaign.

Tracking – In most cases, they won’t have it or will have it but won’t have logins. Or multiple logins, or the old agency will have the master login. Or things you probably haven’t even heard of yet. That will be a challenge (and more time spent), but things like Tag Manager have at least helped.

PPC_RibFees

There are many different PPC pricing models and everyone has different opinions, so I don’t want to debate that. However, I do feel like a lot of pushback has been that the fee for a $500 adspend doesn’t justify the return. So let’s get into that.

If the adspend is $500, then how much should go to the fee? You can do that one of two ways. The fee is part of the $500 or on top of the $500. We prefer to separate the two for one important reason – transparency. I’ve run into a few agencies where the fee structure is muddled. Not sure what goes to spend vs fee. Yuck! We make it very clear. Google will bill your card for the spend. We will invoice for the fee.

However, regardless of your structure, let’s talk about the fee on top of the $500 spend for this example. I think an average agency fee is about 15%. So on that $500 you’re looking at about $75. If you charged $225, then that is more fair to the agency, but it’s almost 50% of the spend. So the client could argue that’s too high.

smb fees agency

But if you go with $75 and you’re using an hourly pricing model, then how many hours of work on a campaign are you going to do for $75?

smb ppc fees

Now, one solution is a one-time setup fee, which solves a lot of these issues. And it concurs with my point about upfront work. This helps the client get value, but not have a large, ongoing retainer for a small budget.

The other and less-popular solution is to lock the client for a long-term contract. Then charge upfront for the year’s retainer and use that fee to do the bulk of the work early. I’m not a fan, but I’ve seen it done.

I like to work somewhere in the middle. If the budget is small, I may go a little higher than the $75 to get some just compensation and as the account grows (which is the long-term goal) the margin will decrease from a client perspective. The risk I run (since I don’t force contracts) is that client cancels and I lose all of the extra time I put into that upfront work. So it’s not perfect. But here is why I am willing to take that risk:

  • I believe we will get it to work more often than not.
  • I believe we will retain that client, grow that client, work with that client on other services, and get other referrals and business from that client.
  • I believe that the campaign and its data will help the other channels we service for the client – synergy.
  • And I feel the value of the cost of that adspend and our fee will be outweighed by the new business we can generate for the client.

I’ve even seen instances where it didn’t work out (nothing is automatic), but sometimes those clients still refer others to me. Why? Because while they didn’t get the ROI from the spend, they understood we did everything we could. And now they know it’s not the right channel and don’t have to keep trying it with other agencies and waste money. And sometimes that has value as well.

And the way you can work the fee structure is to grow your fee with the growth of the adspend, using a percentage of adspend fee structure. This is not perfect in all scenarios. One can argue your motivation is to spend more money, not convert. But I disagree, as conversions = client retention, increased adspend does not. So my motivation is always increased business for the client. But to alleviate that concern, you can cap that percentage at a certain adspend level.

So far, I have built my agency on taking that risk and it’s working out well. I’m not going to lie, it’s a unique and risky model, but we got here on this model. Maybe we’re not the most profitable agency in the world, but we make it work. I enjoy my flexibility with the hours, my work-life balance is skewed towards work (who’s isn’t), but I still enjoy my family and the satisfaction of working with SMBs…like myself.

Bottom line, SMB PPC management is not for everyone, but it is for me/us and we enjoy it. And that’s a big part of it.

So to wrap this all up, the statement should not be “SMBs Should not Run Adwords Accounts.” I think it’s “You’d be surprised how often SMBs can get Adwords to work, if they do it right.”