Search ‘Marketing Trends for 2020’ and many SME owners would think they had stumbled upon a Science Fiction parallel universe.  Of course, they would recognise that the development of AI related technologies is moving at an exponential pace and disrupting those high-tech and next generation sectors such as fintech, biosciences and AI with uber budgets beyond recognition.

But what matters most to those small and medium enterprises, and larger corporate organisations that form the backbone of the UK economy? What do professional services practices, independent schools and academies, specialist retailers, charities, hotels and everyone else across our region who seek growth in 2020 need to bear in mind as we enter the next decade?

Here are our top five tips for SME growth, and they are all about search engine ranking position:

1. Paid, owned and earned SEO has become an essential cost of doing business in many sectors.

SME Growth | Mackman Branding and Marketing Agency

The uncomfortable truth is that not only does SEO underpin growth for SMEs for those who invest prudently; it side-lines, subordinates and diminishes those who fail to do so. Like corporation tax, pensions and NI, it has become an essential cost of doing business in most sectors that rely upon the generation of new leads to grow their business.

This is particularly true for organisations which need to attract lots of one off or irregular transactions and so, for whom there is little opportunity to build ongoing relationships.  These companies need to be seen when the prospect searches for ‘vintage headscarves’, ‘holiday cottage Suffolk Easter’ or ‘winter coat small dog’ – because that is how we find and purchase these types of goods and services these days. Google also needs to provide results for ‘divorce lawyer Ipswich’, ‘small business accountant Braintree’ and ‘wedding venues Suffolk’.  Not being listed in the first page of Google will significantly disadvantage providers in all these markets.  It is neither simple nor cheap to invest in first page listings, but there are ways to do it for those companies that recognise its importance to the success of their business.

Conversely, as recently as 2019 we have still encountered a number of clients who are, literally, in denial.  What we mean by this is that they simultaneously refuse to accept the need to invest in SEO strategies and content management, yet, as soon as they need help finding anything, they ‘Google it’ and select a source from the first page.  How, for example, do they think those solicitors who appear on the first page out of almost nine million results, were listed in this prime position when they searched ‘Essex Solicitors’?

Getting our clients to rank where they belong, on the first page of Google, is not cheap, nor easy, nor guaranteed. However, there are plenty of tricks and techniques to make it happen for those companies which seek new leads to grow.  And it’s not all bad news!  These techniques can hit precisely the type of pre-qualified prospect you want to meet – whilst the alternative would be to continue to advertise in Yellow Pages and employ ranks of telesales people, numbly calling everyone on an out-of-date list you’ve purchased.  SEO might have created an arms race for rankings, but it is one you can win and increase your SME growth with the right support.

2. Voice controlled SEO is getting louder…

Alexa, her sister Dot and other voice-controlled contraptions have been among the most popular Christmas presents in recent years, despite clear and present concerns/conspiracies about the invasion of the owner’s privacy.  Siri on iPhones is also a well-established.  Now, at least one well-respected commentator is predicting that during 2020, voice search will become 50 per cent of all searches compared with keyboard entered.

Whilst some consider this to be difficult to evidence, those of us who have visited unfamiliar locations with teenage children, only to hear them mumble ‘nearest Nandos’ into their phones, may disagree.  And the more we get used to the convenience of just having to speak to Alexa, and no doubt the TV, radio and other devices very soon, the more it will make sense to give spoken instructions to search engines.  So, if you are about to embark on an SEO strategy, ask your provider about where voice-activated fits into your plan.  You can find 33 facts about the rise and increasing prominence of voice search or read one of our previous articles on making voice search work for your business.

3. Position Zero: Better than Number One ranking?

SME Growth | Mackman Branding and Marketing Agency

And whilst we are on the subject of SEO for SME growth (still), although there are some discrepancies across various reports, it seems that Position Zero is becoming the must-have search result.  In short, it is an extension of the ‘Featured Snippets’ concept that has been gradually expanding on Google over the past couple of years.  A Position Zero knowledge panel will appear if Google thinks that the piece directly answers the searched term.  So, for example, ‘who is the manager of Liverpool FC’ takes me directly to a ‘knowledge panel’ with the obvious answer.

So, this is the new SEO marketing gold. Meanwhile, those of us responsible for making sure that our clients rate as highly as possible on Google are learning some new tricks.  Time never stands still in the ever-changing digital landscape.

4. B2B or B2C? Try P2P…

Whilst B2B and B2C markets will always have different characteristics and require different approaches, the prevalence of digital marketing and search in any one person’s experiences as both a ‘consumer’ at home and as a ‘professional’ at work are converging.  We think that Amazon Prime has caused a steep change – because we now all expect ‘instant gratification’ from one of the planet’s most sophisticated companies; and so we are becoming conditioned to expect this from everyone we do business with.

One take-away we may learn from this is for SME growth that whether intent to purchase online is provide or corporate, our search methods don’t change.  We still use the same process: starting with a few words and then honing our search down until we find what we need – usually pretty quickly given Google’s brilliance at delivering exactly what we need!  So, whatever it is you are supplying online, remember that people are people.

With so much ‘noise’ on the internet, differentiation is always going to cut through. One of the most effective ways to achieve this is by making messages amusing and so your brand becomes likeable. Everyone is naturally attracted to likeable people and the same is true of their content.  This will help you to build a consensual and trusting relationship, moving towards the time when your products or services will be of value to them.

The internet is no different to any of the traditional media channels in as much as that it is about people, and what interests and stimulates them. So, whether your product suits their personal lives or their business lives, they are still the same person with the same motives, likes and habits.

5. It’s all about the content

We have met several SME owners in this region who just make life hard for themselves.  They happily pay a few hundred pounds per month to ‘experts’ to do their best to get them ranked on Google’s SERPs, but they fail to do the easy part themselves – which is to generate regular content for their website, or to pay someone else to do so for them.  As a result, they are all but throwing their money away because, without a focus on the generation of great content, their budget can only be significantly under-performing compared to their potential.

Having your brand, product or service ranking on page one of Google really matters.  The first place is said to receive 32.5% of clicks, the second 17.6%, and in position 7, it is down to 3.5%.  And if you have not heard, the best place to hide a dead body is on page 2 of Google…

If 2020 is your year for going from zero to hero in the search rankings, or if you need help producing regular content to boost your presence, do get in touch.  Happy New Year everyone.