Jennifer Laycock

Jennifer Laycock

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It's no surprise that as search engine marketing turns until a multi-billion dollar industry that there will be some back-lash. While many small businesses are launching their profits into the stratosphere on the backs of internet marketing, others have crashed and burned from ill-fated attempts to build their business on the back of questionable search marketing tactics.

To that end, Jack Humphrey is propagating a pretty fatalistic view of search engine marketing over at WebProNews today. Humphrey's article is filled with dire warnings like:

  • You are led to believe that your business will die a terrible death without the search engines.
  • You are conditioned over time to focus most, if not all, of your efforts on tricking the search engines into liking your site above all your competitors for search terms where "there can be only one."
  • If you do not fall into either of those categories, your business is doomed from the start if you hop right off the porch to play with those big dogs.
  • Most small business start ups cannot come close to affording a major SEO firm.
  • You could have done everything completely on the up and up and gotten dropped in the engines because they made a new rule that everyone who registers their domains only for one year is a possible spammer.

Wow...all of that sounds pretty scary, doesn't it? The problem is, that most of it isn't true. Humphrey takes a very good point (small businesses shouldn't put all their eggs in one marketing basket) and turns it into something completely untrue: AHHH! Search Engine Marketing is scary! No! Get away! Get away!

Yes, good search engine marketing costs money...but the story goes beyond that.

For one, good search engine marketing gives you a return on your investment. If your search engine marketing is costing you more than its earning you, then something is wrong and you need to switch firms. Yes, it can be scary to pick out a firm, but that's why you need to do your research. I've had countless discussions and emails from Search Engine Guide readers that are looking for a good SEM firm but don't know who to trust. I can name a dozen top quality companies off the top of my head that give great service for an excellent price. At least half of them are likely companies that you've never heard of...but that doesn't mean that they aren't quietly building up a loyal following while staying out of the spotlight.

As for your business dying a terrible death...well, I have to counter that point by saying that the Web isn't a field of dreams. Customers won't come just because you've built something. Whether you do it through viral marketing, email marketing, offline market or search engine marketing, you simply MUST do something to drive traffic to your site. So why not include search engine marketing in the mix?

Another thing to consider is that you don't necessarily have to hire a "big-name" SEM firm. When you get ready for a PR campaign or a direct mail campaign, do you call only the folks that speak at national conferences or that have won big-time awards? No? Then why would you limit yourself when it comes to Search Engine Marketing? While there are fantastic SEM consultants and firms out there that have "names" there are also plenty of folks that don't. Just make sure you are asking them for references and that you're taking a look at their work. Choose your SEM the same way that you'd choose any other marketing professional.

I'd also like to address the idea that you even have to hire it out. For businesses that are operating in a non-competitive area, it's kind of silly to hire a professional. A tiny bit of SEM knowledge can go a long way toward ranking your local cleaning service or your unique resort destination. Sure, you're not going to compete on your own if you're selling DVDs or cheap airline tickets, but chances are good that you aren't launching that type of business without some serious financial backing anyway. Don't be afraid of trying SEM, just use common sense and do your research.

I understand the point that Humphrey is trying to make, but I disagree with the tone and message of his article. I think he's doing more to scare small businesses off from the idea than he is to educate them. Humphrey says: "If you want long-term success online, you must be willing to look past all the sleeze merchants selling you dreams of riches through search engine marketing." I don't disagree with him at all...but the tone of his article suggests pretty strongly that he feels that ALL SEM professionals fall into the category of sleeze. That's just not true.

Just in case, I think I better go take a good shower and wash some of this slime off...

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Search Engine Guide > Jennifer Laycock > A Pessimistic View of SEM

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.