Local businesses typically use search marketing to achieve two main objectives: getting customer calls and walk-ins. They do this by publishing their address and phone number in search engines and local directories so that an interested customer can take action one way or another – by walking into a restaurant or calling a plumber for example.
But while getting more customers on the phone or through the door is the declared offering of many SEM agencies, “Advertise with us and your mailbox will be packed with new emails every day!” is one advertising slogan that you would be hard pressed to find online. Many small business owners are happy to “Pay Per Calls”, or “Pay Per Actions”, but getting unsolicited emails is something that most people might shy away from.
Last month, Palore was commissioned to research the state of SMB emails online, and the results suggest somewhat different conclusions. SMBs typically appear online in directory sites (e.g. Yellowpages sites, local search engines, vertical sites etc.) and, if available, in their own business website.
When looking at directory sites, we found that roughly 10% of the businesses display an email address on one or more of the major directories. Note that this is an aggregated number covering all major directory sites – when looking at any single directory, we usually found just 1%-2% of businesses that displayed an email address in their profile page.
When looking at the SMBs’ websites, the numbers are also quite low. To begin with, about half of SMBs do not have an active website at all. Of the remaining half, we usually did find an email address in one of the websites’ pages. However, a closer look showed that a fair share of these emails appear to be non-personal email addresses that are not checked regularly by the business owner, but are rather a technical contact of some sort.
In other cases, we found local business websites with multiple email addresses, as in corporate websites.
And yet, in many cases we did find what appeared to be personal, frequently-checked emails addresses.
While our research seemed to confirm the notion that few SMBs would choose to publish their active email address openly, a closer look suggests otherwise. Since only a minority of business owners are actively engaged in updating their listing on directory sites, and less than half maintain an active website, in reality, a very significant portion of “Internet active” SMBs do publish their email address on the Web.
Many businesses use email marketing to communicate with their customers. However, why so many small business owners publish their email address openly is unclear to me. It may be that incoming email is an effective communication channel that generates a lot of new business. Of course, it may also be that many business owners are simply ignorant of the perils of spam.
SEM agencies continually try to demonstrate ROI for SMBs’ search marketing dollars through measurement solutions such as call tracking systems and online reservation systems. If indeed SMBs use search marketing to generate new leads and customer emails, then SEM companies may want to monitor that channel as a result of their search marketing efforts as well. But that is a big IF… what do you think?
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