Q&A: The Value Of SEO For Small Businesses

The value of search is pretty obvious. It’s a way for consumers to find your business at exactly the time and place where they’re looking for you. But new research from business-to-business research firm Clutch finds that half of small businesses in the U.S. (those with 1-10 employees and less than $1 million in revenue) who have Web sites do not use search as part of their marketing strategies. (And that’s of those who have Web sites; just under half of the 352 companies surveyed didn’t even have them.)

Why? Many feel they don’t need it — that their business is doing fine as it is, thank you — or that it’s too expensive. Still, many understand search’s value: 60% of the small businesses surveyed said they plan to implement a strategy by 2017. Search Insider spoke with Sarah Patrick, marketing analyst at Clutch, about the findings.

If you were to bottom-line your report, what would it be?
The overall takeaway is that small businesses are not embracing the benefits that search engine optimization can provide them. What we saw from the report, and the experts we talked to, was that small business are neglecting SEO even if they have a Web site, thinking that it’s too complicated or not for them or because business may be going well enough that they don’t need to do it. But in reality, SEO — and being at the top of a search engine page — can help these businesses grow and meet their goals.

What is holding them back?
The main thing is cost. SEO has a lot of layers and a lot of tactics involved. So most people advise businesses work with an SEO agency to help train them and get the strategy started and serve as the experts in the marketing channel. But that is a long-term commitment and it’s a high cost. If you’re looking at small businesses that are maybe one to 10 people and are only allocating $10,000 or less to marketing a year, then they’re less likely to see it as a priority.

How do you convince them of SEO’s value then?
It depends on showing them how they can become an authority in their industry by implementing a good SEO strategy. What I mean by that is that I see the main goal of SEO is to rank higher in search engine results. If you do that, there’s a lot of name recognition and brand recognition, and you can form this trust [with consumers]. I think that has a lot of benefit especially for small businesses in terms of converting potential customers to current customers.

If they’re spending less than $10,000 on marketing, how do you convince them search is a wise investment?
With SEO, if you’re looking in comparison to a paid online advertising, SEO can be done organically. One of the things we found is that only 25% of the businesses are using content creation as a means to boost their SEO. That’s something many businesses may see as not directly correlated, but in reality it actually is. Creating content can be done organically. It’s a much lower cost than investing in a pay-per-click online advertising campaign.

If you were an SEO provider and seeing these issues, how do you tap into the market? How would you show them the value of your service?
I think the main value would be that it helps a business grow. If you think about it, the goal of the SEO is to be found online by your potential customers or audience. So if you’re a small business looking to grow, then this is the next step, having this online presence and showing up when people search for you.

What are some of the biggest pitfalls businesses may have with SEO and how can these businesses avoid them?
One of the biggest is trying to work with an SEO agency that may not be very reliable. One of the things I learned from the interviews that were part of this study is, you get what you pay for. Ask the hard questions when you’re trying to hire an SEO agency. You need to make sure you’re a good match for them, and the goals align. But also, just understanding that it’s a long-term commitment and you have to put in the time and the effort and the resources at the beginning to have it pay off in the end.

What advice would you give a small business owner who might be intimidated by search?
My main takeaway from talking with these experts is that unless you’re going out of your way to try and trick a search engine, it can’t hurt you. I don’t think there’s any harm in trying to start an SEO strategy, even if it can’t go full-scale on the comprehensive scope that I mentioned before. Even if a small business were to choose one thing, line on-site optimization, that would only benefit them. 

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2 comments about "Q&A: The Value Of SEO For Small Businesses".
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  1. Steve Baldwin from Didit, March 1, 2016 at 4:15 p.m.

    SEO is a growth strategy. But many SMBs aren't interested in growing. I know it's counter-intuitive -- who wouldn't want to grow? But it's true.  

    Paper on the subject here: http://www.nber.org/papers/w17041


    Several factors explain the no- or low-growth character of most U.S. small businesses. First among them is the personal motivation of the small business owner. While respondents mentioned "income" as an important reason for starting a business, "the most common response for why individuals were starting their own businesses was the existence of non-pecuniary benefits. Individuals reported that they liked being their own boss and like the flexibility that small business ownership provided." Obviously, non-pecuniary motivations are distinct from those held by entrepreneurs and empire-builders seeking to leverage and scale their business operations in order to become the next Google or Microsoft. "Only a fraction of firms start because they have a good business reason," wrote the researchers.

  2. Brian Brown from SilkRoad Technology, March 2, 2016 at 9:51 a.m.

    I agree that it can be a growth strategy, but it isn't limited to that. It can also help with reputation and top of mind brand precense, even with existing customers. One thing is for sure though, I would not recommend leaving SEO to when you are in decline or needing to grow. Especially for small business that may not have the brand recognition or the budget to compete head to head with the big boys, SEO is like investing for retirement...continuous additions over time for the long term.