AN “EVIL empire” of digital giants is making it harder for small and medium-sized companies to find new business online, it is claimed.

The warning came at an event hosted by Poole-based business-to-business marketing agency Intergage, which has launched a ‘Marketing Rebel Alliance’ to help SMEs.

Intergage managing director Paul Tansey said: “Once Google was an idealistic business run by two gifted young entrepreneurs. Its motto was ‘Don’t Be Evil’. We all trusted.

“Now Google is a global corporate empire and that motto is nowhere to be seen.

“Facebook encouraged companies to start business pages so they could have helpful and meaningful conversations with their customers and prospects – now it has faded those conversations to mere whispers.

“And it’s not just Google and Facebook. Changes to other digital major platforms are also squeezing small firms. Consequently, more firms now feel their commercial futures are being dictated by an ‘evil empire’ that has too much power.”

Intergage said “zero click” Google searches – those which answer the user’s query without sending them to a website – have risen 30 per cent in two years. Fifty-six per cent of mobile searches do not lead to a click to a website.

Return on investment in Google Ads is “trending towards zero” because of changes by Google and increased competition on important keywords, the agency says.

Company Facebook pages are barely being seen unless they advertise, with organic reach for business pages falling to a median average of 0.09 per cent. The average engagement rate per post on Twitter is now 0.048 per cent.

More than 70 business leaders attended a Star Wars-themed Intergage event, called Nerd Wars, held at the Italian Villa, Canford Cliffs, to help companies cope with the changes.

Speakers Mike Finn, Nicki Cluley, Steve Caple, Alex Turrell and Roan Fair offered solutions including:

  • embracing changes in buyer behaviour and upholding the highest ethical standards;
  • replacing the traditional marketing 'funnel' model with a ‘flywheel’ that encourages customers to review, refer and recommend firms;
  • improving advertising by using re-marketing correctly – targeting people who know and trust you with the right message at the right time;
  • profiling customers with buyer personas, understanding their decision-making patterns, using behavioural targeting;
  • aligning values with potential customers;
  • using multi-channel campaigns that offer more points of contact – including traditional marketing methods such as press and PR, sponsorship, promotions and events;
  • building relationships – becoming the most recommended in your space, creating advocates, building brand loyalty, creating great experiences, creating a dialogue.

Intergage business development director Nicki Cluley, who compered the event, said: “We wanted this to be a really fun but informative event.

“We hope that people left with plenty of great ideas that they can implement in their own businesses.

“The feedback we’ve had is so good that we may make this an annual event.”