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How Can SEM Affect The SMB Purchase Funnel?

Could Search Engine Marketing (SEM) companies offer more to small businesses? Are the current SEM services in the market just part of a whole suite of initiatives that a small to medium enterprise (SME) needs to grasp to be successful online? What are those extra pieces of the jigsaw and how do they fit in to an online marketing strategy for SMEs?

My co-founder here at Brownbook.net, David Ingram recently created an initial ‘draft’ matrix of services and initiatives as part of our ongoing market evaluation (please do add comments below ie. general input, thoughts, links to relevant suppliers etc, all input gratefully received. I will collate your feedback in a follow-up article here on Search Engine Land.)

Here is the ‘draft’ thinking; a person making a purchase from an SMB goes through 8 steps:

  1. Discovery (including search)
  2. Choices
  3. Evaluation
  4. Decision
  5. Transaction
  6. Commitment
  7. Feedback
  8. Re-engagement (hopefully)

Then there is a plethora of online actions, relationships and initiatives that SMB’s can do to make a difference throughout these stages including (please feel free to add more via the comments section below):

  • SEM (Search Engine Marketing)
  • SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
  • SMM (Social Media Marketing)
  • MLS (Multi-listing Services, eg: www.ubl.org)
  • Online Reputation Management (using tools like Google Alerts to see what people are saying about your business and responding if appropriate)
  • Website containing high value and relevant content
  • Short-form video on your own site and distributed to other sites like YouTube (using tools like www.trafficgeyser.com)
  • Testimonials / Reviews (managing one or many sites containing reviews of your business)
  • Prominent contact information eg. phone, email, address, etc (specifically when at the decision point)
  • Live help and other ‘instant / live’ methods like Skype, IM, etc
  • E-commerce site
  • Multiple merchant accounts (own card clearing as well as PayPal, Google Checkout)
  • Online availability and reservation systems
  • Online quotation engines
  • Easy to use contact information eg mapping / directions by car, truck, on foot!
  • Email follow-up
  • Email marketing services – eg: using services like Benchmark
  • Online customer satisfaction surveys
  • Pen and paper, just asking customers and then publishing feedback online
  • CRM systems (customer relationship management) to track and re-engage existing customers
  • Online coupons and special offers

The 8 steps are explained in more detail below and each line of the above list applies to one or more of the 8 steps. The rub for the small to medium business is that they need to be able to run their business, and whilst I could name quality suppliers of the above listed online services, I would not expect the average ‘tech aware’ SME to get close. Nor would I expect them to have time to engage with them all.

So where and when does FSOM emerge (full service online marketing solutions for SMEs)? Is it going to be the new offering from ‘old school’ advertising and marketing agencies or at the other end of the spectrum is it a case of using services like www.odesk.com to find cost effective support, or is it publishing companies that already have relationships with many SMEs that are perfectly placed to offer FSOM?


The ‘buyer’ needs a product or service, doesn’t yet know where to get it, and so takes some action to uncover some possible options, where?

  • General search engines, Google
  • ‘Local review’ consumer websites
  • Local or vertical community websites
  • Directories and IYPs (like our very own www.brownbook.net)
  • Classifieds, eBay, Craigslist, Etsy…
  • Facebook, Twitter…
  • Group buying and other niche promotional websites
  • Membership groups (eg in LinkedIn)”


The buyer gets presented with some possible options, usually more than just one – for example: a list of search results, often with a local component. The list of choices might contain information about the businesses (including name, location, website, contact details, incentives like coupons or discounts, etc.) and possibly, reviews (passive/implied ‘referrals’) or a direct recommendation from someone in their network (active/explicit referrals.)


The buyer, if presented with more than one option, evaluates the options as best he can with the limited initial information available, resulting either in a final selection or in an elimination to short-list several possible selections. Initial sifting of options to short-list those for further contact, using factors like location, price, service details presented, further information from the website, reviews, incentives. This results in elimination of some of the choices based upon the information presented (thereby short-listing the options), ie – are they near by, how long have they been in business, does their website copy engender trust, etc


The buyer is at decision point and must make a choice of supplier if a transaction is to proceed. If he has not already reached a single choice in the previous step he will do so now, possibly aided by direct two-way contact with one or more of the short-listed businesses – to find more information, ask questions, or emotive affirmation of a decision that is in principle already made.


The buyer has explicitly picked one choice, or eliminated all alternatives making it a decision ‘by default’, and has begun communication with the selection to start the transaction. For example,  the buyer visits the business’s website and begins an online transaction process, the buyer visits the business’s premises to make a purchase or place an order, or the business visits the buyer to provide quote or assessment. At this point, the buyer may still not progress with that selection if some obstacle arises, for example, his initial contact does not give him confidence.


The buyer commits to a transaction with the chosen business, with an action such as checkout on a website, signing of a contract, booking of a pre-booked service, payment following provision of a walk-in service.


Often a neglected step of the process, the buyer provides testimony of the good service received. This rarely happens unprompted, so the business must facilitate this. Collection and presentation of customer reviews/testimonials to aid in attracting the custom of future customers.


Also often neglected. The buyer re-engages the business in a subsequent transaction causing a repeat transaction. Although this often happens unprompted, it can often be stimulated through subsequent action by the business.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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