Over the years I’ve heard various versions of the following from clients: We don’t have the budget (competitor X) has. We can’t compete with them in search. So we shouldn’t try, it will be a waste of money.
There is a misconception when it comes to search, both with SEO and paid search: it’s impossible to compete with much larger competitors. This is a natural deduction because it is often true in other areas of marketing. TV commercials are expensive. Only the biggest brands can afford to run commercials during the Super Bowl. Just making TV commercials can be expensive, let alone the cost of airing them. This type of thing has trained marketers into thinking that money is what matters.
And yes, to some degree, that is true. The bigger the brand (and the more money they have to spend), the more shelf space they can negotiate for at Target, which literally pushes smaller brands out of the way.
Some marketing channels are susceptible to this—had always been susceptible to this—which is what trained many marketers that they could only get so far with their smaller marketing budgets. The “death by comparison” syndrome where people somehow compare the size of their marketing budgets to other, bigger brands, and assume there is no way to compete.
This is exactly why search marketing was so transformative and disruptive to the industry. Search marketing was the best thing to ever happen to marketing.
A Quick History About Search
SEO turned into a proper search channel when Yahoo! moved away from its directory format. Sites were organized in categories and listed alphabetically. Yahoo! moved toward a content-to-keyword matching system and from that point on, it became the law of the land search engines would become relevancy engines. That happened so long ago, I might as well be talking about the War of 1812 at this point.
Paid search was the opposite. While it can be debated who came up with the idea of showing an ad on a keyword search, it’s generally accepted that Overture was among the very first. (They were later acquired by Yahoo!) Despite who may have been first, Google was an early player and made it more widespread even thought they were one of the smaller, less well known engines at the time.
The initial platform was very simple. Whomever placed the highest bid for a term had their ad show in the number one spot. This wasn’t a huge problem early on, but once search started to catch on and big brands began to participate, small advertisers (and agencies that represented smaller advertisers) began to complain. Once Target, Walmart and others got involved, there was no way to compete. They could run the board whenever they wanted because of their big budgets. As long as they were willing to bid one penny more per click than anyone else, their ad showed in the number one spot. Big budgets ruled the day.
As a result, Google rolled out Quality Score and other methods to make sure ads were shown based on relevance. While bid price is one factor of many now, it doesn’t ensure top placement. Relevancy does. And that is determined by the keywords you chose, the ad copy you write and the content of the landing page the ad points toward.
That recipe means that any advertiser’s ads can show up. Thanks to search marketing, anyone can complete with the world’s largest brands.
A Word about Share of Voice
One of the great benefits about paid search is that anyone can advertise, regardless of budget size. You can have $300 a month or $3million… or $300. Your ads can shine, as long as they are relevant to the searcher. The difference between $300 a month and $3million is share of voice.
Math alert. Sorry, sometimes we have to do this. I’ll use round numbers and keep it straightforward.
Let’s say Google projects it will cost $1,000 to show your ads on one keywords. But you have $100. You can still advertise, but you ads will only show on 10% of the searches. $1,000/$100 = 10. You will have 10% Share of Voice. This becomes important in a moment.
Back to the advertising bit…
The very reason why consumers are drawn to search is that they get exposure and choice based on what they are searching for. What they see is relevant to their query. Search engines level the playing field in this regard. Search engines are algorithm driven machines, and the factors they measure are nearly uncountable. This is all done with a primary goal: to get the information someone is looking for in front of them as fast as possible. A search engines use of machine learning and AI is about finding quality content and matching that to a keyword search. To a large degree it starts to negate the effect of a large bank account.
But here is where Share of Voice comes in. Big brands with big budgets can afford to get more Share of Voice. But that’s okay. Yes, I mean it… it’s okay. Because for that 10% of the time your ads shows, you are equal, and maybe better than the biggest brand.
Consumers don’t know or care how big your marketing budget is. They only care that you can solve their problem effectively.
Read that part again. Write it down so you don’t forget it. Consumers don’t know or care how big your marketing budget is. They only care that you can solve their problem effectively.
I suppose it’s true that a big company could hire more people or a larger agency to sort though ranking and quality score factors. But the simple truth is this: a single person sitting in a coffee shop, with good knowledge of a product or industry, can create high quality content or put together a smart (and meager) paid search campaign and move right to the top of Google. Period. Full stop.
Smaller Budgets Can Win, Even Against the Largest Brands
Stop comparing the size of your marketing budgets. It’s a worthless contest. Searchers don’t care how big your marketing budget is. They only care that you can solve their problem effectively. And during the time your ad shows, if you can solve their problem effectually, the customer will be yours. And if you take care of them, they’ll be loyal.