When the Yellow Pages were a primary source of advertising for small businesses, they had a nifty sales technique. If an advertiser was doubtful about the value of an ad, their sales rep would offer a special telephone number to track how much business was being generated by it. Typically, it proved to be most of the “new” contacts that the business received.
The problem with this approach was that they were aggregating the results of other advertising, and claiming it as their own. If a prospective customer remembered your company name from your sign, or from seeing your truck on the road, or by word of mouth from another satisfied customer, where did they go to find your telephone number? That’s right — the Yellow Pages.
Google has replaced phone books as the primary source for look-up information. Many small businesses are convinced that failing to show up in a search means lost business, but how many people who “find you on the Internet” are just looking for your contact information?
If you search for “small business consultant” you won’t find me. Search “small business consultant in San Antonio” and I will appear in the second or third page of results behind national companies, many of whom are nowhere near the city. Try “John Dini” and I’ll pop up a few times on the first page. If you use “John F. Dini” my sites and publications will dominate the first two or three pages of results.
If I’ve gotten you to search for “John F. Dini” through other means, what did the search engine do but provide my web address? No matter, it will count as a hit, and if I am using pay-per-click, that will be a click I pay for.
I think Google is a great company, but they have billions to spend on convincing people that they are all-important in marketing, and ad sales are their primary source of income. I believe that they probably have good reasons to change their search algorithms regularly, but I can’t help note that each time they do, they sends legions of online marketers into a new frenzy of (revenue-generating) activity.
“We can get you on the first page of Google search” is the battle cry of web marketers. That’s great if you are reaching a high percentage of qualified prospects who wouldn’t know about you otherwise. “We can measure the effectiveness of your SEO by the hits it generates,” is also a favorite pitch. That is only true if they can measure potential customers who wouldn’t otherwise know about you. Otherwise, such metrics are simply the online version of the old Yellow Pages game.