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Offline Marketing or Search Engine Marketing. Which Do You Choose?
by Jim Hedger

May 21st, 2003

Advertising campaigns can only be measured against one standard ruler, the return on the advertiser’s investment. If spending $10,000 on advertising your product or service returns $17,000, you’ve probably spent your money well. If you’ve spent $10,000 and only see $7,000 back, chances are you should question your marketing strategies. There are dozens of unique facets that go into a well-planned marketing campaign. For many small to medium sized businesses, the two most important factors are cost and coverage.

As the general economy presents another series of poor numbers and the terrifying face of deflation threatens, mainstream advertisers are forced to ask themselves some very difficult questions. Limited purchasing budgets must stretch further and attract a buying public wary of spending their own limited purchasing budgets. Coupled with the declining value of the US dollar, many companies cannot afford a failed advertising campaign but still need to attract new customers and reach out to past clients. There are several forms of advertising media available both in the online and offline worlds, all of which have shown solid returns for advertisers and all of which carry their pros and cons. The question is, which combination of media will generate the highest returns for the advertising dollar.

Search engine marketing is the least expensive method of getting the word out to millions of well educated and often well paid consumers. The most important fact about these consumers is that they have taken the time to pre-screen themselves. Every time a search engine users enters a set of keywords looking for information on products or services and finds your business website, you can be reasonably certain they are not simply browsing or window shopping. The search engine users actually took the time to type those specific keywords and are definitely looking for your specific product. Take advantage of their curiosity and be certain you can be found where and when it counts.

Compared with other forms of marketing, search engines have a far wider potential reach, are much cheaper, and allow for the revision of content quickly without producing cost overruns. Search engine marketing also allows for a greater number of listings spread over a wider array of keyword phrases, thus producing far more opportunities to be found by potential clients and customers.

Compare the costs and coverage of search engine marketing with the following other forms of traditional marketing, Yellow Pages, Print and Broadcast.

Phone Directories vs. Search Engines
A yellow pages listing can cost over $10,000 per year. For that money, a business gets a display (or graphical) listing in a large print book servicing their local area. Their listing is placed in alphabetical order to be found amongst all their local competitors. The Yellow Pages remains an essential form of advertising for most small businesses but once the listing is placed, it is static and cannot change for the remainder of the year. As an advertiser, unless you are willing to take out a full page listing, you likely have very little control over the placement of your listing aside from naming your business “AAAAAAAAA1-Website Design”, a name that will inspire little confidence from your potential clients. The local Yellow Pages are important as a business owner does not want their competitors to be seen without the chance of being seen themselves but given the growth of the Internet in North America, the Yellow Pages are no longer the only essential game in town.

Print vs. Electronic
Every city, town, county and municipality has a form of print media, most having more than one. In our mid-sized city, there is only one mainstream newspaper, which, being unique in its market is read by over 90% of all adults in the city at some point in the week. Advertising in print is expensive. A typical 1/8th of a page ad can cost over $600 for a one-day run and can cost up to $3000 for a full week’s run. That is extremely costly considering an entire website can be constructed for less money. While the distribution and readership ratios may be extraordinary, unless you are a long-term advertiser or willing to spend substantially more for the ad, chances are you will not be able to choose or effect the placement location of the ad. Other issues advertisers need to consider is the use of color in the ad, the amount of space provided for image and text in the ad, and the production of a photo-ready graphic if images are to be used in the ad. Again, search engine advertising presents several clear advantages over print. For the same cost of running an ad for a full week in a newspaper, a small business can generally have a website created and marketed on search engines. Concerns about the costs of color, size and preparation are virtually eliminated while the versatility of the Internet offers the advertiser a greater range of options. Another important point to bear in mind when deciding where to spend your advertising dollars is that, while we often wish to throw our computers in the trash, we rarely do. Newspapers and magazines on the other hand are recycled, used in the birdcage, or donated to the local doctor’s office. Unless the ad you’ve invested in is seen the on the first read, chances are it will never be seen again.

Broadcast vs. Broadband
There are two types of broadcast media, radio and television. Both are extremely expensive and difficult to work but both allow for extended versatility from advertisers. Radio and television ads are difficult to produce, often costing in the tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Once the advertisement has been produced, purchasing spots to air the commercials can be extremely expensive and complicated. To further complicate the issue, tracking the success of broadband advertising campaigns is also extremely expensive, statistic heavy and time consuming. Most television and radio advertising is conducted by larger businesses with a good deal of money to invest in production and the purchasing of commercial airtime. Broadcast advertising is rarely an avenue smaller businesses can pursue or compete on. Again, the Internet and search engine advertising emerges as the great equalizer. A small business can have a much better website than its larger competitors and be perceived as the stronger of the two companies. Aside from the size of the website and the number of incoming links to the site, all things are equal in search engine marketing and it doesn’t take a lot of extra money or effort to push the small business website higher than its corporate competitors.

Professional Advise
The world of advertising is extraordinarily competitive and in the decade old realm of Internet advertising, the rules often change quickly and without warning. While an effective SEO job can often be performed by website owners, (and aside from our obvious interest), it is wisest to speak with a professional search engine optimizer before starting your search engine marketing campaign. Many SEO firms, including StepForth provide highly detailed consultancies as well as offering hands-on-services. With the rapidity of change in the SEO industry, it is good to know your advisors are fully up-to-date and informed.

End Game
Advertising is all about getting attention and pushing ideas into the public realm. It is an important and necessary function in the course of business and can be extremely effective if managed properly. Unless CNN is coming to visit your shop on a regular basis you will need to invest a portion of your budget in marketing. Take your time to consider the effectiveness and longevity of every form of advertising available in your community or business sector.

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