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Do Small Businesses Need Digital Marketing Agencies?

I will preface this blog with an admission: I am a digital marketer.

Yet, my stance on digital marketing is contrary to most of my peers. I DO NOT believe that most small businesses really need a digital marketing company to manage their campaigns. This was not the case 10 or even 5 years ago. But today, it is the case.

The reason for this is not because the digital marketing landscape has become less competitive or that small business owners have more time. In fact, digital marketing has become more competitive and many small business owners have less time. So, you may be asking yourself, how is it that most small business owners don't need a digital marketing company to handle their campaigns?

The answer is simple: every digital marketing platform (Google, Facebook, Bing, etc.) have made it a point to make tools and resources that allow business owners to control their own accounts.

Automated Campaigns

The biggest advancement in digital marketing has not been an increase in knowledge or techniques from digital marketers. It has been the platforms themselves making them easier for beginners to use through automation.

Both Facebook and Google began to understand that in order to get more people to use their advertising tools, they had to make them easier to use. They embraced automation and created campaigns specifically designed for people with no digital marketing knowledge.

Whereas small business owners used to rely on a PPC agency to pout over keyword data to create a campaign, they can now do nearly the same thing using Smart Campaigns. Or they can forgo traditional PPC campaigns and instead run a Local Service Ads campaign, which works on a pay-per-lead model and has no optimization opportunities. This type of automation puts the power back in the hands of small business owners.

Free Tools

Another huge leap forward has been the availability of free tools for small business owners. This includes every aspect of digital marketing. From email to SEO to PPC to Social, there are free tools and resources that can provide the data that used to be accessible to only digital marketing agencies.

It goes beyond just tools too. With the rise of Google My Business, small business owners are now able to create a free business listing that will actually generate traffic and leads. These tools were simply not available before or were buried so far down that they weren't viable solutions. Now, however, small business owners can use these tools to produce ROI with little time and effort.

Changing Search Behavior

Digital marketing used to be a multi-step process that required careful messaging, expert web design and a lead funnel that pushed users through a set of prompts. That was very effective when almost all leads were generated on desktops.

In the fast and furious modern day lives of most internet users, they are making decisions within minutes and sometime seconds. This makes it possible to streamline the digital marketing process, cutting out a lot of the expertise of digital marketing professionals.

The "no-click era" is here to stay. Not only is this a result of user behavior, but also from the platforms themselves. Google and Facebook in particular are working hard to ensure users can take action without ever visiting a website or waiting to learn more. This means the multi-funnel approach from digital marketing is becoming obsolete.

So, what does this mean for small business owners?

Simply put, it means most small business owners should opt to try to run campaigns on their own before deciding they need a digital marketing agency to handle their campaigns. Digital marketing used to be inaccessible, but with the amount of resources and easy-to-use platform options, it is more accessible than ever before.

Now, with that being said, digital marketing agencies still provide a lot of value and for some small business owners, they still provide the best solution. For small business owners marketing in very competitive industries (real estate, healthcare, education, legal) it will be very difficult to do it on your own.

Before deciding on using a digital marketing agency, small business owners should:

  • Check how many businesses are running paid ads on Google. Simply do a search on Google for a few general keyword phrases. If there are not many paid ads at the top of the search, you can probably start competing without a digital marketing agency.

  • Look at the MAPS section of Google. In the same searches, check the MAPS section. If there are only a few businesses listed, you can start competing by creating a Google My Business listing.

  • See how many actual local businesses are listed on Page One of Google. If most of the links on Google are for listing directories (Yelp, TripAdvisor, Angie's List, etc.) you should be able to get your website ranking with some basic optimizations.

These three simple things can tell you a lot about whether you need a digital marketing agency or not. While they may not tell the whole story, they can tell you that it might be worth it to try it on your own.

So, what does this mean for digital marketing agencies?

For digital marketing agencies, this means adapting to a new landscape. The days of hiding behind a veil of secrecy is over. Small business owners can now access most of the same data as us.

So, it is up to digital marketing agencies to be honest. It also means trying harder to be affordable and transparent. Rather than trying to take on all aspects of a small business owners marketing, digital marketing agencies should become resources to let them know what elements they should handle on their own. While this means taking on less revenue, it also means gaining trust.

Digital marketing has gained a bad reputation with small businesses for this exact reason. The continual up-selling and shady reporting era is over. It is a difficult concept to come to terms with, but it is the reality of the current state of marketing.

It was a difficult decision for me to write this blog, as it will anger a lot of digital agencies who may not agree. That being said, it is also honest. At On The Ball Marketing, our goal is to provide value to our clients. When money should stay in a small business owners pocket, we do our best to make that clear.

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