Small / Medium Business Paid Search Management

This week Matt Umbro (@Matt_Umbro) came up with another great question set titled “SMB Paid Search Management.” The following is the transcribed Streamcap from the live chat:

Q1: How do you define a small and medium sized business (SMB)?

  • Do they have one of those AMEX SMB decals on their window? – Gil Hong (@Gil__Hong)
  • I think answer is different for “SMB PPC accounts”. SMB PPC accounts need to be defined by spend, IMO, bc PPC is about fees. CPC, monthly budget, agency fee… it’s all about how much SMB is able to afford. So it’s not ideal, but it’s about spend. I think I’d define Micro-SMB PPC as <$500. And “normal” SMB PPC as $500-2500ish?? Second number is more fluid. – Kirk Williams (@PPCKirk)
  • We all know how I define SMB as it relates to AdWords spend, $500 or less. – Matt Umbro
  • There’s no one definition, but after discussion last week wit Kirk, I feel like monthly spend threshold is a good way for us. – Josh Devlin (@JayPeeDevlin)
  • In the world of PPC, I look at it with anyone under a $5k budget, but I have a small law firm spending $20K. So it’s blurred. – Mark Kennedy (@markkennedysem)
  • It’s the almighty dollar. There are a lot of smaller businesses that can spend $1,000/mo. but choose not to spend less. – Joe Martinez (@MilwaukeePPC)
  • No one way to define it. Agencies tend to define it based on their minimum billable amounts or client spend levels. – Christi Olson (@ChristiJOlson)
  • SMBs employ a handfull <10 employees. This likely translates to a small marketing budget (<$5k). – Mark Irvine (@MarkIrvine89)
  • Do they require extra incentive/bribing with adwords/bing coupons? – Gil Hong
  • It’s like adult entertainment, hard to describe, but you know it when you see it. – James Svoboda (@Realicity)
    • Funny, but somewhat accurate. It’s easier to define medium to large as over $10K-$20K in monthly ad spend. – Christi Olson
  • It’s always about what your employer defines as SMB that will shape your opinion. – Matt Umbro
  • Some SMBs can have a decent budget and some big companies can have small-budget campaigns, based on their goals. – Mark Kennedy
  • More broadly however, I would describe SMB as having not yet a full time marketer on staff. – Josh Devlin
    • Agree, no dedicated marketers + small to minimal advertising budget with a local focused. – Christi Olson
  • It’s relative, but I’d call $10K/month a SMB spend. Less than that, we can call them: Smaller, So Small, I Can’t Believe How Small. – Nate Knox (@nateknox)
    • Such a H.U.G.E. difference between $7500 and $750 monthly spend though. – Kirk Williams
    • $.10 CPC vertical vs. $10.00 CPC vertical would still equal same amount of traffic. – Gil Hong
      • I could be missing, but I never see anything remotely close to $.10 CPCs anymore in any vertical. Keep rising. And higher CPCs for Micro-SMBs is a major part of the convo. – Kirk Williams
  • Question even before this definition is small as a biz/spend or small as a client. Could be VERY different. – Julie Bacchini (@NeptuneMoon)
    • Very much agree, been trying to point that out as well. 2 very diff defs and convos. – Kirk W
  • 1st thought – easier to define “enterprise” and then say “SMB is everything that isn’t this." but this includes quite a lot of large spenders so I think it is missing something. 2nd thought: Want to say “limited by X” where X is budget/resources/time/etc. But this is true of all accounts to a certain extent. “Not limited by bureaucracy” maybe (but see thought 1). – Richard Fergie (@RichardFergie)
  • There’s are even subsets of SMB (small, medium, micro). – Mark Kennedy
  • Also when it comes to SMBs, how much are they going to invest in their website? Especially critical part of AdWords mgmt. – Matt Umbro
    • But sometimes they need to see that data first. Too close to their site. – Mark Kennedy
      • And that’s why I suggested Facebook as this platform is less website reliant. – Matt Umbro
        • True, but I think the nature of search has a higher probability to convert, since the user is in “search mode”. – Mark Kennedy
  • I’ve seen it more common to rely on Adwords first, until they realize the campaign can’t do well with that site. – Mark Kennedy
  • Often times I find myself thinking more about (S) rather than (M) whenever I see SMB. – Josh Devlin
  • I’d define SMB as whether they have enough budget to gauge performance over their full sales cycle. – Gil Hong
  • SMBs tend to lack resources like CRMs (can’t internally track leads) limited geo target, need hand holding. Plus ‘small’ budget. – Mary Hartman (@Chicago_MaryH)
  • First think SMB defined by size of business itself (yearly revenue). But for PPC, typically think of it more in monthly budget. – Maddie Cary (@MaddieMarketer)
  • A small business doesn’t know their ROI, target CPA to be profitable, etc. A medium sized business does. – Mike Crimmins (@mikecrimmins)
  • Employee size (less than 100) and budget size less than $750 can. – Alberto Merola (@AlbertoMerola)
  • Thought 3: It isn’t really about the size of the client. Instead it is about *us* and how we interact with them. – Richard Fergie

Q2: How can agencies/freelancers remain profitable when taking on SMB clients that spend $500 or less on paid search (you can change that $500 spend to whatever you define as an SMB spend)?

  • You can’t unless you spend 1 hour or less on the account in a month which makes it hard to make the account profitable. – Mike Crimmins
  • We work with many small businesses and bill on retainer. We drive results and build relationship. – Steve Slater (@TheSteve_Slater)
  • I have a minimum monthly fee tier based upon work I know I will do regardless of how “small” (size or spend) the client is. The secondary bonus point with this is that it is not *you* turning down clients bc they’re too small. You can then work with *any* sized client as long as they are willing to pay your fee structure. It’s their choice. – Kirk Williams
  • Limit scope. Limit geo-coverage. Limit # of platforms. Define coverage. etc. – James Svoboda
  • You have to retain them for the long-term, which means less profit up front for agency. And show ROI of Spend+fee. – Mark Kennedy
  • Set very clear expectations on performance, deliverables, and changes made in the account. – Gil Hong
  • Unless the space is unique ie uncompetitive, low PPC, extremely local: it’s hard to keep profitable as agency at this size. – Josh Devlin
  • Charge enough for the work? (I might not have understood the question.) – Steve Gibson (@stevegibsonppc)
  • I feel like agencies almost have to do it at scale in the SMB world. 1 SMB isn’t profitable but 100 can be. – Mark Irvine
  • Very true. Clearly defining scope and scale is really important. – Steve Slater
  • Seems silly to say but make sure you can actually prove ROI to encourage more spend. Harder with B2B clients but important. – Joe Martinez
  • Not all can be profitable in that situation. Need to figure out which side you’re on & proceed accordingly. – Julie Bacchini
  • My biggest problem with SMB management is being compensated fairly. Whether it sounds egotistical, I’m past the point in my career where I discount initially to prove results. – Matt Umbro
  • Limit # of PPC campaign types (search, remarketing, social, display) and be honest about expectations and time frames. – James Svoboda
  • I’ve found that coming up with clear performance estimates (leads, sales, etc…) is key. – Steve Slater
  • Scale, scale, scale, scale… with the right knowledge/tools backing the agency/freelancer. – Alberto Merola
  • Profit tied to their expectations. Want to drive you results, but cant help you grow if want $500/mo budget across 20 campaigns. – Maddie Cary
  • You also have to be able to justify a client spend to your agency that is higher than PPC budget. – Steve Slater
  • Be a factory. Focus is efficiency and scale. – Steve Hammer (@armondhammer)
  • I don’t want to be in a situation where I’m giving more love to the little guy just because there are more constraints. Unfair to accounts that can spend at scale and quite frankly will be more profitable. – Matt Umbro
    • This then is a biz decision for you, not judgement on IF AdWords could work for them. – Julie Bacchini
  • If you drive results the client doesn’t care if they pay you or pay Google. – Steve Slater
  • More generally, not every client who wants to work with you will be a good fit for you. Knowing when to decline is key. – Julie Bacchini
  • It’s defining the limitations up front w/the SMB. I include a set-up fee to cover the upfront work and mo fee’s with strong definitions of what all is done monthly. I automate as much as possible. It’s time management & expectations. – Christi Olson
  • Charge a setup fee and minimum account management fee monthly based on spend. – Marina Obsivac (@MarinaObsivac)
  • Look at $500/mo as a phase, a starting point. The end goal is to move them from Maximizer (fixed-budget) to Profiteer strategy. – Jeff Sauer (@jeffalytics)
  • The big thing is effort vs. reward. In my experience, SMB management effort tends to outweigh reward (personally & for clients). – Matt Umbro
    • At first that may be the case, but once you have that account for the long haul, it’s definitely more time-efficient. I found an area where my agency excels – our competitive advantage. Not many want/do it well- Mark Kennedy
  • Expectation management is huge. As is spending time educating on what they should get. – Christi Olson
    • Expectation management is almost a job in itself for SMBs. – Mark Irvine
    • True. Often you have to resell the value of marketing in general. – Steve Slater
  • Don’t let clients take too much reporting/communication time. Prioritize optimization. Campaigns should not be overly-diverse. – Mary Hartman
  • PPC mgmt is like printing – no matter the size of run (acct) there are certain hard setup costs. – Julie Bacchini
  • Also, when working with SMBs, there’s often the extra work of hand holding someone who knows little about running a business. – Steve Gibson
  • Set VERY clear expectations as to what deliverables are in your contract. Hours of work, level of communication, etc. – Timothy Jensen (@timothyjjensen)

Q3: What paid search platform is the best one for SMBs to begin with? Why?

  • I think the best one depends on the nature of their business. – Mike Crimmins
  • AdWords if in a low cost, super local niche. Bing Ads for more competitive. If search is pricy, explore FB. – Timothy Jensen
  • Since traffic volume is often an issue for SMBs as well, I have historically always began on Adwords. – Kirk Williams
  • If budgets are really small, BingAds can be a great place to start – less competitive than AdWords generally. – Julie Bacchini
  • No AdWords Express! See many clients come to me for help on their AdWords Express account. – Steve Slater
    • Yes! seeing tons of people getting sucked into adx now that google automatically pushes it to sites w low vol. – Erin Sagin (@erinsagin)
  • I’m still going to start with Google, since that is what they want/know. But Bing can sometimes have a better ROI. – Mark Kennedy
  • I’ve actually started out with BingAds sometimes. I get lower CPAs and the lower traffic means I won’t overspend. – Joe Martinez
  • Usually start with adwords due to ease of set up and targeting options available. – Gil Hong
  • Many will say Facebook but I find Affinity+Interest+Placement targeting w/ Remarketing on AdWords works. – Rohan Ayyar (@searchrook)
  • I’ll give some Bing love here. If the client isn’t satisfied with reach, it does become an upsell opportunity for adwords. – Mark Irvine
  • I think Facebook is a great alternative for SMBs to begin – less focus on website and more about engagement. – Matt Umbro
  • Use “Free Tools” to maximize available budgets: Alerts, Custom Rules, Scripts, Excel. – Christi Olson
  • It really depends on the client goals. For branding I might go buy a bunch of display ads and educate on CPM. – Steve Slater
  • I understand engagement is a secondary goal, but I believe FB engagement is better barometer to conversions than AdWords engagement. – Matt Umbro
  • If we’re including social, definitely think fb remarketing can be a “safe” place to start. – Erin Sagin
    • Good low cost option. But sometimes they need to up their traffic level before remarketing list can build. – Timothy Jensen
  • Does your reco *really* matter? It’s AdWords. They want all of the platforms, but can only afford one, which is generally just AdWords. Then add in FB remarketing. – Nate Knox
  • While it’s not the game we play, Adwords scripts seem key. Our franchise geo-append script can replicate in seconds. – Steve Hammer
  • Not a bad idea. Drive in some traffic and remarket to those people. – Timothy Jensen
  • Tough call. Would depend on goals, long vs short term outlook, available content, desired target audience. – James Svoboda
  • Getting clients to be more “engaging” on social media can be a whole new can of worms. – Gil Hong
  • Bing / AdWords. But do your research based on niche. Remarketing on Google Display for SMBs cuz it’s cheap & low risk. – Mary Hartman
  • AdWords (NOT Express) or Facebook are good starting points, depending on the business. – Jordon Meyer (@jordonmeyer)
  • Before you ask which platform, you understand what the budget is to know what’s possible/feasible based on resources. Then look at the channels and where the spend makes sense on their goals. It might be social (FB) or it might be search. – Christi Olson
  • ADX will cost you money with little return in long run. SMB + Fee will cost more money, but better return in long run. – Mark Kennedy
  • Small biz don’t want branding as priority – they want business ($$) from their PPC efforts. – Julie Bacchini
  • Choose the platform based on user intent. I only say because I’ve had plumber clients ask if they can get Facebook ads. Ummmmm no. – Mary Hartman

Q4: Are you willing to discount your services up front to prove your worth and have the client spend more after say 3 months? Why?

  • No, but will do a three month trial to show what we can do for their business. – Mike Crimmins
  • Never discount the service, but always make sure they’re not locked in to anything and can leave at any time. – Joe Martinez
  • Yes. Real Life example – Did an interior decorator for free. Proved model. Now have the franchise account. – Mark Kennedy
  • I would say no for SMB, since as a newcomer to their business, I’m already making a judgement call that I know more about it. – Gil Hong
  • Usually Adwords. Easiest to learn. Most ready-to-buy traffic. But it depends 100% on the business model. – Steve Gibson
  • Done it and won’t do it again. If I really want to work with the client I create a new service package. – Steve Slater
  • No. Not as an established agency. – Mark Irvine
  • Yes. Set-up fee, with a lower monthly management fee and strictly defined deliverables for work + engagement. – Christi Olson
  • In the past, I’ve worked at smaller agencies and they did this to build a portfolio. You’re attracting a mixed bag. – Mark Irvine
  • I personally like the model that Portent has for their SMB program. I believe its based on the level of spend + engagement. – Christi Olson
  • I’ve tried it & hasn’t worked for me. No guarantees spend will increase, can get stuck at low fee. I won’t do again. – Kirk Williams
  • Interested to hear what others say – my answer is no, especially since many take time in the beginning to set up. – Meisha Bochicchio (@MarketingMeisha)
  • Easier to do when you’re a one-man shop vs. an agency with overhead. – Janine Monico (@JanineSEM)
  • My ceo would have my head if i tried to pull that at ws 🙂 were i independent, i think i’d definitely be hesitant to go that route. – Erin Sagin
  • NEVER. If you don’t believe the value of what you do, no one else will. Also it is a race to the bottom, which sucks. – Julie Bacchini
  • As I said before, I’m not willing to negotiate my fee. You don’t get my full abilities at half the cost. Having said this, I have traded services with clients as long as fees are equal. This is also why I don’t like pay for performance models, it assumes the client is as fully engaged as you are in showing results. – Matt Umbro
  • Depends. Gotta get a gage for if they really can scale spend in 3 months or not. – Maddie Cary
  • Selectively. If a maid franchise came to me and said “prove it” and you become our recommendation for franchisees, I would do it. – Mark Kennedy
  • I don’t ask my clients for discounts. I expect the same in return. – Steve Hammer
  • If you do discount fee, at least do yourself a favor and charge a setup fee to cover that cost in full. – Kirk Williams
    • A shell game can and will absolutely be played. – Steve Slater
  • The diff is a set-up fee to help recoup up-front time investment. For me it’s also a labor of love for local biz. – Christi Olson
  • Only if you are very sure, that you can get things to fly after x months. – Thomas Langel (@reklame)
  • No. You’d be under-writing their business. If it succeeds, they get all the profits. If it fails, you’re out of pocket. – Steve Gibson
  • SMBs get scared if they don’t see an immediate return. Discounting to prove concept and profitability is a tough way to go. – Chad Kearns (@Chad_Kearns)
  • We do better. We refer them to competitors who might. – Rohan Ayyar
  • I once created an AdWords account for a roofer in exchange for him fixing a leak in my roof. – Matt Umbro
  • Understand that you are competing against others who will charge $0 to take on/set up accts. Can’t win on that front. – Julie Bacchini
  • No. You can give them 3 months discounted, do work, & then they say “Thanks for fixing my campaigns!” and dump you. – Mary Hartman
  • Offer a free account audit. Make a good analysis and get the money you deserve. – Thomas Langel
  • Wouldn’t discount set-up fee, maybe just monthly management fee. – Marina Obsivac
  • One issue with discount for smb is that it’s a negotiation. That takes time and is contrary to the efficiency. – Steve Hammer
  • I think the A depends on your business model. Are you an agency or independent? Can you scale lots of SMBs? – Christi Olson
  • I audited my Orthodonist’s AWE account for a discount. Worth it. – Mark Irvine
  • Hell no! We’ve all had clients say “I have an unlimited budget if you hit my goals” I have unlimited resources if you pay me. – Bryant Garvin
  • Nothing wrong with a trade agreement, but you both know what you’re getting & are comfortable with exchange value. – Julie Bacchini
    • And frankly, I would rather do this agreement with an SMB than worry about setup/management fees. – Matt Umbro
  • Nope. Once you set a fee, very hard to change. You’re locking in market value for your services – no matter what was “agreed to” for month 4. – Scott Clark (@scottclark)
  • A trade is fine. One thing I have seen is that you have to be super clear in setting their expectations. – Steve Slater
  • Trade is awesome if both side are truly getting real value. Know someone who traded land for SEO/PPC work. – Bryant Garvin
  • Reverse situation: How many clients would accept “pay me extra & if it’s easier than I expect I’ll refund”? – Robert Brady
  • Never discount what you’re worth. Your discounted rate suddenly becomes your rack rate that way. – Melissa Mackey (@Mel66)
  • A fee is a statement of market value. The only way I lower it is if client reduces my overhead by locking in more hours/month. – Scott Clark
  • We take care of a Google Ad Grant Account for a Hospice and hope to never need anything back. – Jeff Sauer

Q5: What is the biggest advantage of taking on SMB clients? Why?

  • Referrals – Mark Kennedy
  • Easy to build a referral fly wheel. Once you build reputation finding work is easy. – Steve Slater
  • Unlimited appreciation when they feel their business grow because of your work. – James Svoboda
  • The value of education is worth more than the value of the work alone. So many startups need that education. – Mark Irvine
  • It can be very rewarding to see your efforts really make a difference to a small biz. Speaking from side jobs I’ve done. – Melissa Mackey
  • I think loyalty. When you help their business in a way they see & appreciate, they *really* want to stick with you & refer you. – Kirk Williams
  • Can sometimes be more rewarding on a personal level. It’s almost palpable to see how you’re impacting their lives. – Michelle Morgan (@michellemsem)
  • I feel like I’m making a real difference in the business. – Robert Brady
  • If they are humble SMB not the “cocky kind” You make an impact they love you forever. – Bryant Garvin
  • For me, it’s the direct interface with the owner (read non-marketer) & relating abstract concepts to real business. – Glenn Schmelzle (@heyglenns)
  • The right SMB clients can be incredibly invested in their biz success. Great when they “get” what you’re doing. – Timothy Jensen
  • To the referral point, it’s not always SMB referrals. Some of these owners know influential people at large companies. – Mark Kennedy
  • Your immediate impact is seen & appreciated so much more with SMBs. – Alberto Merola
  • There’s an interesting, fun challenge + experience that comes with optimizing & working to grow a scalable SMB account. – Maddie Cary
  • SMB’s can also be a greater challenge. Makes you flex your PPC skills a bit more. – Michelle Morgan
  • You can easily manage several SMB clients per month and thus build up your business (for bigger clients). – Thomas Langel
  • Beyond results, it’s good networking. I’ve met many SMB owners that I’ve worked with for non PPC matters. – Matt Umbro
  • If one leaves it doesn’t hurt as much as a whale account. – Steve Hammer
  • Growth potential. – Marina Obsivac
  • Opportunity to truly effect the company and the lives of the people you work with. – Chad Kearns
  • Learn SEM in different verticals with diff. goals thus digging deeper into the magic of ppc advertising. – Thomas Langel
  • If you work well, You’ll have a long term client and a case study to show to your upcoming clients. – Ranjan Kashyap (@Ranjan_Kashyap)
  • This is true for any client, but you expand your knowledge for conversations on a variety of topics. – Matt Umbro
  • Agency model- great way to break new strategists into the industry. Easier to give them the ropes on a $500 account vs. $25,000. – Chad Kearns
  • If the business is ready to grow, it can be fun to inject a SMB with lots of new business quickly. – Mary Hartman
  • Referral business. When you do good work for SMBs, everyone hears about it and it’s good for business. We love SMB clients! – Jordon Meyer
  • Biggest advantage to me is the impact you can have on their business to help them grow and learn the value of digital. – Christi Olson

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More PPCChats

Don’t forget to stay tuned for the next #PPCchat on Tuesday at 12 noon Eastern, 9 am Pacific and 5pm in the UK. Same Chat time, same Chat channel.


Check out the PPCChat Twitter list to see and connect with all current and prior participants.

• Matt Umbro (@Matt_Umbro)
• James Svoboda (@Realicity)
• Paul Kragthorpe (@PaulKragthorpe)
• Alberto Merola (@AlbertoMerola)
• Chad Kearns (@Chad_Kearns)
• Christi Olson (@ChristiJOlson)
• Erin Sagin (@erinsagin)
• Gil Hong (@Gil__Hong)
• Glenn Schmelzle (@heyglenns)
• Janine Monico (@JanineSEM)
• Jeff Sauer (@jeffalytics)
• Joe Martinez (@MilwaukeePPC)
• Jordon Meyer (@jordonmeyer)
• Josh Devlin (@JayPeeDevlin)
• Julie Bacchini (@NeptuneMoon)
• Kirk Williams (@PPCKirk)
• Maddie Cary (@MaddieMarketer)
• Marina Obsivac (@MarinaObsivac)
• Mark Irvine (@MarkIrvine89)
• Mark Kennedy (@markkennedysem)
• Mary Hartman (@Chicago_MaryH)
• Meisha Bochicchio (@MarketingMeisha)
• Melissa Mackey (@Mel66)
• Michelle Morgan (@michellemsem)
• Mike Crimmins (@mikecrimmins)
• Nate Knox (@nateknox)
• Ranjan Kashyap (@Ranjan_Kashyap)
• Richard Fergie (@RichardFergie)
• Rohan Ayyar (@searchrook)
• Scott Clark (@scottclark)
• Steve Gibson (@stevegibsonppc)
• Steve Hammer (@armondhammer)
• Steve Slater (@TheSteve_Slater)
• Thomas Langel (@reklame)
• Timothy Jensen (@timothyjjensen)

SMB Streamcap Creation by:

This is a guest post by Paul Kragthorpe; works at WebRanking in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Connect with Paul @PaulKragthorpe, and Google Plus.

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