Plenty of small business marketers have embraced social media, but many are neglecting SEO, or search engine optimization.
It’s a challenge to stay afloat as a small business today. Budgets are stretched and competition is stiff. Customers expect more and more.
So why not embrace one of the most effective ways to grow your business? Why not gain an edge by using a marketing tactic so many of your peers have overlooked?
Why not invest in search engine optimization?
Plenty of small business marketers have embraced social media. However, only 28 percent of the small business owners we surveyed for WASP Barcode Technologies' "2017 "State of Small Business Report" said they use search engine optimization (SEO). And the smaller a company is, the less likely they are to use it. Only 25 percent – one in four – of companies with five to 10 employees are doing SEO.
Yet, SEO is the most effective marketing tactics available to small businesses. BrightLocal’s 2015 survey of small businesses found that SEO came in second place (only after word of mouth) as the most effective internet marketing tactic.
So why the disconnect? Well, if you look closer, there are a number of reasons why:
Almost every business owner has heard horror stories of a company that hired a shady SEO company and then either lost most of their rankings or was outright banned by Google. Another common anecdote is a small business that has spent lots of money on SEO only to get poor results or no results.
SEO is complex – there’s no way around it. That complexity makes it hard for the average small business owner to tell whether or not a hired SEO is telling them the truth. And even if the small business owner asks a business friend if they know of an SEO company that’s good, that referral may be based on limited information.
When you factor in the typical two to three-month delay in seeing results from SEO efforts, it’s no wonder why it’s hard to find a reliable SEO. (Though there is a very good list here.)
Complexity is an issue for all business owners who would prefer to do SEO themselves. Unfortunately, SEO is not something you can learn and master in a couple of hours. And given that most small businesses don’t outsource their marketing, that means going outside to hire an SEO firm (or any marketing vendor) is something they’re not used to doing.
Small business marketing budgets tend to be tight. Good SEO tends to be expensive. It’s not a great combination.
But many small companies try to save money. They use inexpensive SEO firms that employ shady tactics to get their pages ranked. At first, everything seems fine, but then Google releases another update and the rankings tank. The SEO firm pleads, "This is just what happens."
Now the small company is not only out of all that budget they’ve spent – they’ve also lost those search rankings and all the traffic to their website those rankings were generating. That can cause a major disruption in a business. Just ask anyone who’s ever been badly burned by an algorithm update. It can take months to recover. No wonder small businesses are leery of SEO.
Patience is hard to come by. But SEO rewards patience in spades.
It takes time to build good rankings – sometimes months or even years. And there’s often a gap of several months between trying a new SEO tactic (like blogging, for example) and seeing results.
Compare that to advertising, where results are almost immediate, or a direct mail campaign, an email blast or almost other kinds of promotion.
Of course, this isn’t a problem just because small business owners are impatient. Many owners have patience galore. What they don’t have is an unlimited amount of cash. The pressures of cash flow are always on their mind.
What can you do about all this?
Should we just give up and not even try SEO for our businesses? Of course not. We just need to take the long view. That’s what SEO requires more than almost any other marketing tactic (except maybe content marketing, which is practically a sister to SEO).
There are three basic rules to apply to SEO for small businesses. They counteract all the issues mentioned above:
- Learn the basics. You may not have days to learn SEO, but there are some good basic tutorials that can help a lot. If nothing else, they’ll educate you enough to hire a quality SEO firm and not get burned by somebody promising to "Get your site to the top of the search results."
- Stay patient. Good SEO takes time.
- Invest wisely. Good SEO costs money.
While it’s disappointing to see so many small businesses missing out on the benefits of SEO, there could be a silver lining to it for you.
If you’re among the minority who can commit to this tactic, who can invest in it (if only a little) for the long term, you’ll have a major advantage over your peers. And once you start seeing results, you’ll have a free stream of traffic going to your site. That SEO traffic will also be more likely to convert and more likely to come back.
What do you think?
Are you doing any search engine optimization for your small business? Is it working? Which optimization tactics have worked best? Leave a comment and tell us what you think.