According to the latest American Express OPEN Small Business Search Marketing Survey, two-thirds of small businesses with some form of online marketing in place say that new customers find them through search engines, demonstrating the value of search marketing. At the same time, more than half of SMB marketers say they need assistance with SEM.

The survey found that 56 percent of small businesses investing in search or social media want help with some aspect of search engine marketing. Nearly three-quarters of respondents (73 percent) say search engine campaign management is handled internally, but this approach is clearly not working for all SMBs.

Search engine optimization is likely a priority for many small businesses, with 86 percent of respondents citing a company website as an online marketing tool. The survey found that in spite of difficulties gauging SEM effectiveness, only one-quarter of small businesses are using SEM tools to manage their campaigns.

Search engine marketing tools can be found for free online (in fact, Brafton recently developed a list of five of the best free SEO tools on the web). Using these resources may help marketers better manage their search campaigns.

Additionally, SMBs might consider investing in services that offer custom reporting to help them understand what search strategies work best for their businesses.

Marketers at small businesses of all sizes may want to take these results as a wake-up call, indicating that they should allocate resources for 2011 search and social marketing management now in order to maximize this year’s results. Recently, Brafton reported that SMBs are increasing social spend – so ensuring campaigns are effective should be a top priority.