Small business marketers aiming to increase sales can get super focused on (and distracted by) the myriad of advice on marketing strategies. One question that comes up all the time, whether explicitly or inferred, revolves around the choice between search marketing and discovery marketing. I don’t know how many times I get asked by SMB marketers whether s/he should focus on Google or Facebook.
Since this keeps coming up, I decided to dive into the benefits and drawbacks of both and provide a recommendation for those looking to get started marketing a small business.
Pros and Cons of Search Marketing
Search is the seemingly simple process of inputting a query into a search engine, looking at the results, and clicking on a link that seems relevant. Most marketers know that businesses that can compete in search will see high click-through rates and significant website traffic. Accordingly, marketers use search strategies, from local SEO, PPC advertisement campaigns to a host of other search marketing efforts to vie for top placement in search results.
Google receives the vast majority of attention when it comes to search. This makes sense; Google alone gets over 1 trillion searches a year. If you are among the only businesses in your niche that is focusing on search, then you will directly reap the benefits of focusing on your Google visibility.
Search is unique in the advertising world because it begins with an explicit request (a search query) from a potential customer. Embedded within every search is a question from a user. This is fundamentally different from other forms of advertising, especially discovery, because the prospective customer is actively seeking out an answer. If your business can be first in line to answer that question with your product or service, then you’re set to get a lot of interest from qualified prospects.
However search also takes a lot of time, especially for local businesses that have to manage so many un-owned properties around the web in addition to your website. Whether you are updating your profile on Yelp or Google My Business, adding local keywords to your website and Twitter profile, or writing regular blog posts to lure search engine traffic, the effort it takes to win at search requires a lot of hard work from small businesses. Even if all you are doing is creating a PPC campaign, and nothing else, picking keywords and determining your budget is time-consuming.
Search marketing can also be expensive, depending on the keywords you want to target. If you don’t have a big budget to invest in search marketing, you may put time and effort into search to find it doesn’t generate an impressive ROI.
If you are new to search marketing and doing your own campaigns, you’ll also be paying the steeper cost of learning as you go, losing money through campaign inefficiency until you become more adept. Sure, you can hire someone to perform search engine marketing for you, but doing so eats into a small business marketing budget.
Search’s limitation is inherent in the meaning of the word. To search for something you must know what it is that you need to find. Search marketing can be challenging when users are not even aware of your product or service, or their true need. Building brand awareness through search is effective, but it may require time to pay off.
With the steep costs and learning curve associated with marketing, many small businesses wonder whether discovery is a more friendly approach. So how does the concept of discovery for marketing compare with search?
Pros and Cons of Discovery for Businesses
Discovery is good at connecting users with something they need but haven’t expressed. While search is limited to terms directly input by users, discovery based advertising (like on Facebook, for example) can integrate various input data from social networks, browsing history and even related searches or similar content interactions. The result of this type of advertising can be results that users otherwise would not have encountered in search.
Discovery is not concerned with getting your small business to page one in search results, or helping you rank for local keywords. Its main goal is to help those users who don’t yet know about your business find it, so they can become customers.
Amazon’s product recommendation engine is a great example of successful discovery. The site shows shoppers what items have been viewed and purchased by shoppers who also looked at an item, essentially making informed user recommendations. By browsing their discovery recommendations, a shopper can directly compare like items and find new products she may not have been aware of.
Amazon does discovery so well because they have data on user behavior and they can show relationships between two books by authors, or two kinds of smartphone cases. Since small business marketers do not have the massive amount of data that Amazon has, they cannot really make use of data for discovery purposes. As a result, small business discovery can easily turn into a problem of throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks.
Marketers may hope that by using a particular hashtag on social media, or by guest posting on relevant industry blogs, their small business can be “discovered.” While discovery sounds like a great option, it really is not the type of advertising on which most small business marketers should start spending their ad dollars.
There’s a vagueness associated with discovery — who is going to discover your business, and where, and for what desired result? — that can make it difficult for business owners to implement effectively. For small businesses getting started and looking for proven ways to attract and retain customers, a focus on search advertising will often yield more results than a focus on discovery.
Sure, your SMBs should be active on social media and in channels where your target audience hangs out. But striving to get discovered can mask the fact that the overall goal should be on connecting with customers, nurturing leads, and making sales. Don’t get confused by all the ways you can “reach” customers from your social media discovery-based advertising. Focus on answering the questions your prospective customers already have.
Because of the challenges of getting discovery right, most small businesses should start with search. The main thing to remember when looking at optimizing for both paid search and organic search is that the best results come from effectively answering the question implicit in the search query.