Should Small Businesses Really Avoid PPC?

On Monday, Media Post’s Search Insider published an article titled, “Small Businesses to PPC Search: Drop Dead.” This article takes an interesting tone, one of caveat emptor for small businesses using PPC as a viable marketing option. When I read this article, I envisioned the author holding a massive red stop sign yelling “DON’T DO IT” to any small business owner who happened to walk by the proverbial PPC booth. Not to be blatantly contrary, but I don’t think that this was a fair and balanced look at how small businesses should approach PPC. I’ll broach each section of the original article individually.

In my view, many of these people have a damned good reason to stay clear of PPC…

There’s no faster, easier way to lose money.

Alright, I’ll concede that PPC is a pretty simple way to unload some cash. If you blindly set up a PPC account with little concern for researching the medium and best practices, than yes – you can lose money. But that’s just it – this statement isn’t giving credit to the SMB owner who approaches PPC intelligently, performs his/her research and has a plan in place. But as stated in the article’s introduction, small business owners are not stupid. To quote one of the article’s comments, “They usually are very savvy…” To me, this notion that small business owners will simply waste their money is a short-sighted scare tactic.

Dabbling in search is dangerous.

Mmhmm. And what’s your point? Nothing in this paragraph tells me why search is dangerous. I see that $500 a month won’t get you far. I see that a small sample size of data will make it difficult to test campaign variables. I can’t argue with either of those points, but tell me – how does that make search dangerous? Working for an agency (if you didn’t realize it already, I’m not an SMB owner) I actually manage an account that has a $500 monthly budget. I know how far that goes – and it has the potential to garner multi-million dollar deals. It all goes back to approaching PPC intelligently with a strong sense of research and planning. The small business owner who managed this account before me actually did a decent job of managing this account – he merely came to us looking for help qualifying his traffic and amplifying the effectiveness of his landing pages.

As for the comments on testing, I find this frustrating. OK, so the data pool won’t be as deep for the SMB owner – how or why should that detract them from giving PPC a shot? The big-dogs will have heaps and heaps of data to really hone in on what works best for their business. But why does that automatically mean that it’s dangerous for small businesses to use PPC? For anyone touting that search is dangerous – I’ll leave you with this: owning and operating a small business is dangerous. Owning a business, implementing a successful marketing strategy… all of these things carry an element of risk. You can’t succeed if you don’t try.

There’s very little low-hanging fruit left.

I’m with Steve (the article’s author) that the “let’s make PPC search seem easy” message is out of place. PPC is not easy. Anyone who states otherwise is a fool! And once again, I can’t argue with “there’s very little low-hanging fruit left.” YES, more people are advertising. YES, PPC is hard work. YES, you’ll need a usable, conversion friendly website. YES, you’ll have to do your research. Anybody with a decent head on their shoulders would say, “Yes, that makes sense. If I want to reap the PPC rewards, it won’t be easy and I’ll have to work hard to get the results I want.”

I would also offer up a counter-argument. Most of the reports regarding search engine usage implies that more, and more, and more people are using search engines. The common, every day user is getting better at developing useful search queries (long tail, whoohoo!). And truth be told, the search landscape is diversifying.

Just take local search for example (which is a small business wonderland). The same day this Search Insider article was published, Matt McGee discussed the rise of local search queries at SmallBusinessSEM.com. Search engine users are developing the skills to more easily find what they’re looking for. SMB owners in turn can very quickly and efficiently develop geo-targeted PPC strategies to capitalize on these trends. And many more small business owner/advertisers can make tremendous strides by following the PPC basics – and will see good (maybe even great) results. Again – it’s all about the research and approach taken with PPC.

***

As far as MSN’s hand-holding tool is concerned, to that I say, “meh.” I, too, am often wary of the search engines providing jumpstart services to novice PPC managers. Sometimes these tools/services come from an honest place, other times there’s an element of brainwashing to grow an army of advertisers who will do what they’re told. But enough of my paranoid ramblings – back to the article in question. To sum up, the points made in this Search Insider article aren’t necessarily wrong. Where I see fault is in how the information has been presented. It comes off as “just because PPC is not easy, you shouldn’t do it.” That’s the wrong message to send to small business owners! They’re a smart bunch of people, and they instead should be given practical advice on getting started: Do your research. Know your goals. Create a plan. Stick with the basics. Be smart and be patient.