I read a post at a blog site earlier today by someone that was contacted by a company about search marketing. He asked a few questions, did a few searches and decided that he didn't need search marketing from this company, or from anyone for that matter. While I understand his line of thinking, he missed the boat in many ways. Here's why he's wrong.

The post started off talking about how he'd received a cold call from a company offering to help place his site "in the top ten listings" on a variety of search engines. Setting aside the fact that I'm wary of doing business with anyone that uses cold calling, let's take a look at his response.

He searched for the firm that called him.

This is a great idea. Always nice to Google the person or company that you are considering. You may find some articles, a blog entries or forum posts that can help give you some insight into the skills and personality of the person you are considering.

The problem with his method was that he searched for "search engine optimisation" and decided that since the company that he spoke to wasn't in the top 100 listings, they must not be any good.

Let's consider that. I can understand his logic, after all, it would make sense that a great SEM firm would rank well for their own business site. However, there are a few things to think about:

1.) SEM related phrases are highly competitive. There are well over a hundred SEM firms in the world. I would even argue that there are well over one hundred excellent SEM firms in the world. SEMPO has around 250 members and looking through the list I could think of dozens of top of the line firms and individuals that aren't listed. It's just not realistic to discount the abilities of a firm just because they don't rank in the top 100 for this phrase.

2.) Many SEM firms don't even optimize for this phrase. SEM firms are far more likely to be targeting more specific phrases than "search engine optimisation." They're looking for the words that lead people in to the site as potential customers. Not simply as people looking for how-to guides or information.

3.) Some SEM firms don't advertise at all. Some SEM firms or consultants (myself included) don't even have a visible business site on the Web. These firms are already so inundated with work that they're not actively seeking new clients. If you have more business than you know what to do with, there's certainly no need to spend time, effort and money trying to bring in more business.

The author's next statement was that he searched for the name of the company that talked to him. They were the number one result. So, he entered his own name. He was also the number one result. Then he searched for the individual's name. He found them on the sixth page of the listings. A search for his own name returned his company number one. Thus, he figured he was already doing better than this company and he didn't need SEM.

Again, there are several problems with this line of thinking.

1.) Rankings aren't impressive if the phrase isn't competitive. He doesn't share the names used, but logic would say that if he was speaking to Joe Smith or Matthew Jones and his own name is Rodney Shufflebarger then we're not really talking about fair comparisons. Same goes for the business name...who is to say that his business name isn't so unique that he'd naturally rank number one for it?

2.) Why would you limit yourself to people that already know you? Sure, it's fine and dandy that he ranks well for his name and his business name, but who cares? Perhaps he's happy with only ever getting business from the folks that have already heard of him, but most businesses that I've worked with are interested in bringing in new customers. New customers find you by searching for generic phrases, not by searching for your company name.

Now I'm certainly not saying that the company that called him was a top SEM firm and that he should have hired them, but his response reminded me of the way that many small to mid sized business owners still think.

Deciding that you need to increase your search marketing budget comes when you realize that what you have now isn't good enough. You want to improve it. You want to target more customers and you want to bring in more sales.

Deciding to hire a search marketing firm goes beyond looking for the one that ranks number one on Google. It means finding a firm that can work within your price range and offer you a strong return on your investment. Finding that firm usually takes a little more than typing a single phrase into a search engine and writing a check.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.
June 8, 2005

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.

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