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Digital marketing for SMEs

31 Jul 2018

D-I-Y may not be a good idea for small business owners

In March 2018, the first batch of Singaporean small and medium enterprises (SMEs) graduated from Google’s Squared Online for SMEs digital marketing course. Some participants expressed appreciation for the course, which allowed them to experiment and learn despite the lack of a “million-dollar budget” that bigger firms have for digital marketing.

The interest generated by the course – 100 participants from 79 SMEs signed up – illustrates the interest in the subject matter, but small business owners do not always have time to tackle digital marketing. Or worse, they do it themselves and get tangled up in a mess.

“They made many mistakes along the way while tackling all other daily processes hand-in-hand,” explains Gavin Choo, Managing Partner at Disruptive Digital, a Singapore-based SME-focused digital marketing agency of his clients. “Take Pay-per-click (PPC), for example. It’s more than just adding keywords and writing some ads. There’s more to do behind the scenes such as organising a campaign and working on a tightly themed ad group. Your ad group must be specific and relevant.”

A quick search on Google’s support site yields the following: “An ad group contains one or more ads which target a shared set of keywords”, and advertisers “set a bid, or price, to be used when an ad group's keywords trigger an ad to appear”. It is part of the PPC – also known as cost-per-click (CPC) – model of digital marketing that can be built into a measurable and well thought out campaign, but small business owners lacking basic understanding of digital marketing tend to focus on what Choo refers to as “vanity metrics”.

“[They focus on] the number of likes and clicks,” Choo elaborates. “These are vanity metrics because they don’t really align with their business bottom line.

“What we do is, we try to be as data-driven as possible. We drill down to the metrics that are worth more value to business such as conversion rate, signups, revenue etc. These are the metrics we look at when we run marketing campaigns for our clients.”

Dimensions and Metrics

‘Metrics’ are “quantitative measurements” of ‘dimensions’ which can be anything from traffic type (search, referral, direct) to keyword (paid and organic keywords used by users to reach a site). While it is not possible to pair every dimension and metric together, a good understanding of how traffic is coming onto a website and how the user behaves is key to a successful PPC campaign.

“A lot goes into building a winning PPC campaign: from researching and selecting the right keywords, to organising those keywords into well-organised campaigns and ad groups, to setting up PPC landing pages that are optimised for conversions.

“You need a dedicated landing page for the product you are selling or the service you are offering. Be as specific as possible. The key word here is ‘specific’.”

Choo adds: “Search engines reward advertisers who can create relevant, intelligently targeted pay-per-click campaigns by charging them less for ad clicks. If your ads and landing pages are useful and satisfying to users, Google charges you less per click, leading to higher profits for your business.”

Describing PPC marketing as “a way of buying visits to your site, rather than attempting to ‘earn’ those visits organically”, Choo lists five types of businesses that usually sees great results and strong returns on investment (ROI) from it:

  1. High customer lifetime value: Medical practitioners, educational institutions, and telecommunications companies.
  1. High margins: Used car franchises, consumer electronics and furniture retailers, and law firms.
  1. Hard-to-find products: e-commerce businesses that carry products that are not easy to find.
  1. The diverse array of products: Amazon and eBay.
  1. Seasonal or event-based value: Gift shops and costume retailers.

Training for the future

Choo lists the examples of free courses run by Google such as its Analytics Academy and Academy for Ads, as well as Code Academy, as resources available to SMEs looking to gain digital marketing expertise at little to no cost. But despite these options and initiatives such as Squared Online, it would be unrealistic to expect business owners and executives to become digital marketing and search engine optimisation (SEO) experts even with practice.

Can schools help by teaching students digital marketing and analytics skills to get them industry-ready upon graduation? Do schools need to impart more than just technical expertise?

“Schools haven’t done much in that regard,” Choo laments. “To build a generation of future-ready critical thinkers, it is not enough to simply build programmes or one-off workshops that expose students to foundational skills in problem solving, creativity or even coding and data intelligence. Instead, schools today have the opportunity to examine how their final assessments reflect competencies in these skills.

“It is time to relook the effectiveness of basing students’ competency on how they fare in written examinations, and instead consider placing more emphasis on project work that tests a student’s ability to network, collaborate, think creatively and make sense of data, and apply these skills to solve real-world problems as part of the final grade.”


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Last updated on 30 Jul 2018 .


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