With a Google search, there are two sets of results — paid and organic.

Yi He, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Marketing & Entrepreneurship, College of Business and Economics, at California State University, East Bay, says her advertising management students were surprised to see how many people click on the paid ads.

Her students participate in the Google Online Marketing Challenge, where they are given $250 to run a three-week online advertising campaign for a business or non-profit, which is developed using Google AdWords and Google+.

This type of search engine marketing (SEM) truly benefits small companies.

“For smaller companies, in the past, there was no way to compete in the conventional media with big companies. Now, they can differentiate themselves using SEM, just by spending their advertising dollars in a relatively cautious manner,” she says.

Smart Business spoke with He about why small companies are turning to SEM.

Why is SEM so important today?

Most Internet users don’t want to remember a website URL. Eighty-five to 90 percent of people are guided to websites by search engines, such as Google. Also, people usually just look at the first five or 10 search results, and many of those are advertisements. So, once you start running ads, you generate more ways to reach Internet users.

How are SEM and conventional advertising different?

With conventional advertising, print and broadcast, it’s hard to measure whether your ad campaign was effective. However, everything is measurable with SEM — you can calculate how much ROI is generated from every advertising dollar spent.

Conventional advertising also requires a specific set of skills. But a business owner can run a SEM campaign by opening a Google AdWords account and be up within minutes. It may not be a great campaign, but it’s not like creating a TV commercial.

How does SEM differ from Facebook ads?

With SEM, the only way to target ads is geographically. So, a San Jose restaurant owner can specify that he or she only wants the ad to show up for a ‘Thai food’ search in a 15-mile radius from the downtown San Jose area. Google doesn’t charge for the number of times the ad shows up, or the impression, but by cost-per-click. With Facebook display ads, ads can be targeted by age, gender, marital status, interests, education level, etc., and are charged by both the click and impression.

On average, of the 10,000 times a Facebook ad shows up, only five people click on it, because in a social environment you don’t want to be interrupted to buy something. With a search engine, people are looking for a solution to a problem. A search result, whether organic or paid, is like you’re in a retail store and someone offers a helpful recommendation. With Google’s marketing challenge, my students can get a click through rate (CTR) that is 100 times higher than the Facebook average.

Why is SEM more useful for small business?

Smaller businesses typically aren’t as visible on the organic results or with the extremely popular keywords. But they can run a SEM campaign to generate Internet traffic and increase visibility. There’s no entry barrier, too, so they can get started right away.

SEM also can help figure out demand. For example, one student ran two ad campaigns for a local Chinese restaurant and discovered that ‘Chinese dining’ was not popular in either impressions or CTR. However, ‘Chinese takeout’ led to more people clicking the restaurant’s website and calling, which increased takeout orders dramatically.

What ethical concerns come up with SEM?

We don’t know exactly what data companies have on consumers, and what they do with it. All impressions, clicks through and transactions can be tracked. For example, you might go to a website to look at a few items but not purchase anything, and over the next few days you see similar items on your Internet pages. In addition, some argue that precisely targeted results deprive people of the total available information.

Public policymakers have been pushing to protect consumer information with something like the ‘do not call’ list. A ‘do not track’ list would enable people to sign up to keep their Internet Protocol addresses from being recorded.

Yi He, Ph.D., assistant professor, Department of Marketing & Entrepreneurship, College of Business and Economics, at the California State University, East Bay. Reach her at (510) 885-3534 or yi.he@csueastbay.edu.

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Published in Northern California