Is SEO the Future of Internet Marketing?

Exploring SEO and Small Business Surveys

Posted by Sam Battin, Senior Natural Search Specialist

As we’ve seen recently, the advertising spend on Internet marketing continues to rise, alongside the growing number of purchases made online.  Businesses and customers are finding out that it’s much easier to search online for merchandise than it is to get in the car, brave the streets and drive to several different stores in search of products which may or may not be there.

Underscoring this point, Search Engine Land found a recent survey of 2500 small to medium businesses that could indicate that SEO has become a preferred marketing channel.  Good SEO can connect your business to all the people who are staying home and searching online.  The exact question the small business owners answered was “If you had to put all your marketing time and budget into only one channel, what would it be?”  The top answer was search engine optimization, which almost 40% of responders chose by large margins.  SEO beat out both “Traditional Media” (19.7%) and “Paid Search Advertising” (9.8%).

As heartening as this news may be to SEO firms, of course, it’s important to point out that small businesses are not faced with the choice of only one marketing platform.  SEO is still one of many choices available to businesses.  The survey does, however, indicate that many small businesses have a good impression of SEO and the benefits it can bring their business.  It’s interesting to note that a few years ago, SEO was a little-known area of Internet marketing, but online behavior and the ubiquity of search engines in our daily lives has changed the market to the point that most businesses online will need at least some SEO just to stay competitive.

As the reach of search engines has increased, so has the reach of Facebook.  Its sheer size as an online destination makes it important to marketers; Facebook reports 800 million active users, and 50% of those active users are visiting the site every day.  Another interesting survey of small business owners came from merchant circle: it asked 5,000 small business owners whether they had used Facebook ads; of those, only 21.9% said yes, but of those 21.9%, 64.9% (or 710 businesses out of 1,095 that had advertised on Facebook) said they would use Facebook ads again.

The mixed successes of Facebook ads should surprise no one.  Facebook’s size and its interactive structure offer businesses a new paradigm that’s only beginning to be explored.  Rather than the one-way messaging of advertisements, the “Walls” and “Notes” of Facebook allow customers and businesses to exchange information directly with each other at an unprecedented pace and volume.

Additional context for the survey results would certainly be useful to prospective marketers; did the retailers combine their ads with an engaging Facebook page that regularly provided new posts and replied to visitor comments?  Was it only certain industries that did not succeed with Facebook ads? Were there any similarities between the companies that indicated they would use Facebook again? Based on the survey results, it may be the case that Facebook may not be a one-size-fits-all solution for every business vertical; some may work better than others.

Facebook remains a work in progress; this platform must develop ad placement and engagement formats that can drive more consistent results for advertisers or else it will lose customers to established online advertising.  In 2012 I would expect to see the creation of formalized procedures for advertising on Facebook that deliver a better (or at least more stable) ROI.

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