What’s better than being number one on Google?

Every now and then, this blog has to part with the odd secret in the interests of bettering your understanding of digital marketing—we weren’t called ‘Internet Secrets’ for many years for nothing.

This week’s topic is one such occasion.

The secret is, my digital communications business has never relied on Google and others for qualified leads, nor has it really tried to.

What? Surely the best way to prove our search engine optimisation credentials is to be prominent in Google right?

In theory, yes. But there’s a catch.

The stiffest of competition

The website and digital marketing industry is arguably the most competitive on the planet. Every IT, design and/or marketing graduate wants to set up their own shop and start servicing either the corporate or SME sector, or both.

And most of them, as well as the established companies, are all trying to get ahead of my business in Google and other search engines.

It became very apparent some years back that this was one war I just wasn’t going to win without considerable time and resources dedicated to maintaining a first-page position for the various search terms we competed in.

So, with our meagre resources, there really was no option but to come up with a new strategy on search.

That strategy? Don’t bother.

That’s right. So competitive is our line of business when it comes to both organic and paid search that it really wasn’t worth our trouble competing.

So what does one do when they decide that it isn’t worth including search in the promotional mix?

Back to the textbooks

The answer lies in decades-old marketing textbooks and understanding of basic buyer behaviour.

Because as valuable as Google is to consumers and businesses, it essentially fails to capture one very large and important part of the market: those who already know what they’re going to buy and who to buy it from.

It stands to reason. Why would you go to the effort of search and browsing through what can amount to many thousands of search results when you already know what you want to buy and, in turn, who you’re going to buy it from?

It’s simply a waste of time.

If you know what you want and who to buy it from, you simply go straight to the provider, be it in person, on the phone, via email or via their website.

In other words, Google is pretty much bypassed. Its impressive search capabilities simply aren’t required in this particular instance.

Being top of mind

In marketing parlance this position in the mind of the customer is known as being at the top of the customer’s “evoked set”—the brand that springs to mind when your line of business is considered.

And so it was for my little business. Instead of competing on the open search market, we needed to invest in getting to our customer before they felt the need to use search engines.

In other words, we needed to find as many customers in our market as possible and convince them that we were the business that could look after them at a price they were prepared to pay.

So how could we do that?

By returning to that textbook.

The old promotional mix

Because as brilliant as search engine optimisation and marketing are, they are simply one—albeit very important—component of the promotional mix. Our job was now to explore what other promotional tactics were going to work for us given that search was effectively ruled out.

With a limited budget that meant using tactics like events, sponsorship, content marketing (including this very blog), and a healthy social media presence. Note that not all of these tactics are purely digital—traditional tactics are equally important to us.

While we are hardly a major player in our field, tactics like this have seen us survive and grow for 13 years now.

So if you too have the predicament of facing tough competition when it comes to search engine marketing, your job will be to come up with a promotional mix that beats your competition to the punch by appealing to customers before they need to search for a supplier.

It’s a challenge that admittedly may take a few goes to get exactly right. 

In addition to being a leading eBusiness educator to the smaller business sector, Craig Reardon is the founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team, which was established to address the special website and web marketing needs of SMEs in Melbourne and beyond. 

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