As a search engine marketer who’s optimized Web sites for over 10 years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a variety of companies: business-to-business (B2B), business-to-consumer (B2C), SMBs (define), and big brands. With search engine marketing (SEM) around for such a long time, you might think large companies and big brands thoroughly comprehend the SEO (define) process.
An SEO process should be a key element in any online marketing plan, especially for big-brand companies, right? Wrong. In fact, SMBs outperform many big-brand companies.
"We’re getting an increasing number of calls from vice presidents and directors of marketing at big companies with big brands who curiously type in their brand name at Google and are shocked to see that they are not number one," said Doug Ausbury, cofounder of Intrapromote LLC. "They assume their brand name is strong enough to catapult them to number one at Google. Some of them are losing so convincingly to small business competitor sites and blog sites that they’ve had to launch aggressive, big-budget paid search campaigns just to get their site on page one at Google."
"Search is the great marketing equalizer," said Anthony Iaffaldano, Reprise Media’s marketing director. "Customers are won or lost one at a time, with costs per lead rarely exceeding a dollar. At that rate, any business can compete with any other, regardless of their size. A local store can suddenly afford premium placement right along side Wal-Mart (and in some cases even higher)."
Why are SMBs outperforming big brands in the SEO arena? Below, some possible answers.
Don’t get me wrong. Plenty of big-brand companies’ key decision-makers don’t have enormous egos. Yet it’s often a big-brand ego that interferes with the keyword research process. Reason? Many big brands mistakenly assume their brands will automatically carry a Web site from search visibility to final sale.
"Big-brand companies need to stop resting on the laurels of their brand," said Iaffaldano, "and start offering users strong content and a compelling online experience.
"Searchers don’t care how much you spent building your brand. They don’t care if you’re the biggest company in your space, or if you’ve got the cutest mascot or the funniest marketing campaign," he continued. "All they care about is finding the answers to their questions. And if you’re not making sure that your brand is at the top of the search results when they’re looking? Game over."
By refusing to acknowledge their interpretation of user experience is somewhat skewed, big-brand companies give smaller competitors more SEO opportunities. Big-brand companies will be consistently outperformed in the search arena by smaller companies that genuinely understand what a target audience is searching for, give that audience the information they seek, and present the information in an easy-to-find, easy-to-navigate, and easy-to scan manner.
"Most often when we analyze the company’s site, we find a great looking site that is very un-search-engine friendly," said Ausbury. "Eventually, we end up in a meeting with their development team and you can hear a pin drop after we explain why their great-looking, very expensive site is being outperformed at search engines by companies that are much smaller and who’ve built attractive, search-friendly sites."
A little sign above my desk reads, "Get over yourself." It reminds me to constantly focus on my clients’ needs. Maybe big-brand staffers should do the same.
Flexibility and Turnaround Time
I’m sure many of you have experienced the bureaucracy of a large firm, educational institution, ad agency, or government agency. It’s a wonder any work is accomplished at all with all the staff meetings, politicking, and the like. When working with big-brand firms, I sometimes feel like I’m in the middle of a Dilbert cartoon.
Although smaller companies certainly can have as much politicking and bureaucracy as large firms, I often find smaller firms get better search engine visibility by minimizing the bureaucracy. They don’t create overly complicated site designs. They don’t have a copywriter, marketing director, brand manager, legal counsel, and CEO approve all copy.
"Small businesses can be incredibly nimble and make changes, such as creating unique landing pages or making changes to site content, on a moment’s notice," said Iaffaldano. "Compare that with large, bureaucratic organizations that typically need a whole series of approval processes before site/campaign changes can be made. Because they have so many people involved in these processes, they have a very difficult time coordinating everyone’s efforts."
As full SEO implementation often takes one to three months for the full effect, big brands lose out to smaller firms with smaller budgets and faster turnaround times. Result? Higher search engine advertising costs for the big brand.
With a smaller firm, cross-training is often a necessity for business survival. A Web developer often has graphic design skills and must write title-tag and meta-tag content for a site. Marketing staff might have enough technical skills to change XHTML content.
Why does cross-training aid search engine visibility?
Simply put, with smaller firms I don’t see information hording. Marketing staffers share Web analytics data with developers and designers so they can continually improve page and template designs. Developers and marketers work with usability professionals to ensure the site meets business and user goals.
A marketer may never be able to build a complete Web site as a developer does, and a developer may not be the best copywriter. But cross-training can make a small business staff far more educated and useful than a large firm’s teams.
Here’s a situation I frequently encounter: A big-brand company sees a smaller firm’s site outperform its own in terms of search engine visibility and overall conversions. The big-brand company purchases the smaller firm. Instead of garnering the smaller firm’s knowledge, the large company ruins the smaller firm’s site and overall search engine traffic. No one wins.
But there’s hope. As the Web evolves, companies of all sizes will recognize the need for cross-training and knowledge-sharing. In this respect, the search industry is a great catalyst for change.
Want more search information? ClickZ SEM Archives contain all our search columns, organized by topic.
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Shari Thurow is the founder and SEO director at Omni Marketing Interactive, a full-service search engine marketing, Web, and graphic design firm. Acknowledged as a leading expert on search engine friendly Web sites worldwide, she is the author of the top-selling marketing book, "Search Engine Visibility," published through Peachpit Press. Shari's areas of expertise include site design, search engine optimization, and usability.