SEO is doable for small businesses, and in fact, it should be one of your core investments as a small business owner. The reason for that is, according to a recent study, search traffic (traffic directed by search engines) accounted for 51 percent of all visitors to B2B and B2C websites. This trumps all other traffic channels, with paid search ads only delivering 10% of total website traffic, and social media delivering 5% of total website traffic respectively.
Despite the alluring statistics, many business owners have some common fears about small business SEO, or SEO services as a whole (don’t worry we will dispel all these fears in this guide):
- It’s too difficult (we will discuss easy ways to get started)
- It’s a scam (it’s not a scam, you’ve likely just been working with shoddy SEO services companies)
- Search engine optimization might ruin my business (avoiding black hat techniques and setting a sound SEO strategy will preserve and grow your current website traffic)
- It’s too pricey (the ROI from SEO compounds over time)
- There’s no way to measure success (we will discuss using google analytics & other measurement techniques later)
- There’s no reason to create content (with a sound SEO strategy, you can build content strategically)
- Results aren’t fast enough (there is almost always low hanging fruit)
Next up, we will cover the root fear, and prove that SEO will not only work for your business but for your competitors as well (so it’s a good idea to get started).
Read on to learn more about this topic! Click on the sections below to jump right to your specific question.
Why do SEO for your small business?
Here five reasons why you should invest in SEO for your small business:
- You will Generate Qualified Customers: Your website never goes to sleep, so you can be creating qualified customers while you are sleeping!
- You own the channel: When you pay for ads on other platforms, you are at their mercy. However, when you do SEO right, you will rank, and remain ranking for years to come.
- Better conversion rates: SEO traffic converts substantially higher than paid advertising mediums
- Easier to do sales: As you continue to build your SEO machine, you will continue to build brand awareness, and your prospective clients will be more educated about your business.
- You understand your customer better (and potential customer): When you do keyword research, you are diving into the thoughts and search patterns of your prospective clients. This will help you serve them better, and enhance your offerings with your customers in mind. You should also consider the buyers journey when you do SEO. This is especially true for B2B companies, you really need to consider the B2B buying journey before you do your SEO strategy planning.
Now that you know SEO can benefit your business, let’s understand more about how SEO works for small businesses.
Does SEO work for small businesses?
The short answer to this is, yes, search engine optimization does work for small businesses. The caveat is that it needs to be managed well, and you will need a sound SEO strategy to set you in the right direction. That’s why you shouldn’t begin your SEO work without conducting proper planning, and understanding your status quo. You should especially not trust SEO services that promise a first-page SEO guarantee, as they will likely lead to your site being penalized for showing up in any search result.
With recent Google algorithm changes, it is becoming easier for new websites, and small businesses to climb search engine rankings. Part of ranking takes SEO expertise (i.e., technical SEO, content marketing), but in recent times Google has also been equally rewarding domain expertise. In fact, Google values quality content more than a more technical SEO concept like link building. The reason is that quality content engages, and retains website visitors. Whereas link building and backlinks built for your site are purely for SEO purposes, as a vote of confidence to Google (but not to your visitors, who search engines are seeking to please).
Small businesses can also take advantage of SEO concepts like Long Tail Keywords, Local SEO, and technical SEO so that they limit their investment into search engine optimization. We will dive into that topic next, as we discuss how you can do SEO on your own!
Can I do SEO on my own?
From my personal experience, it can take anywhere between 1-2 months to learn the basics of SEO, and then a further 6-12 months to master the more advanced topics. However, that’s not to say that you can’t get started on doing SEO on your own.
Here are some SEO tips to set you on the right path (bon chance!):
- Set up your Local SEO (if applicable) presence by creating a Google My Business listing (shows up in google maps, and search results). Add your accurate business name, address, phone number. Then you can start to beef up your profile with posts, as well as reviews from your happy customers. If you’re interested in learning more, check out our simple guide on local SEO for small businesses!
- Use an SEO tool to see how your website is currently doing for search engine optimization. You can see which keyword is bringing in the most traffic, how many backlinks you have, and get an idea of how much of an SEO effort you will have to make.
- Connect your website to Google Analytics, and Google Search Console so that you can see how people are interacting with your website, and what queries are leading to people clicking on your site.
- Network with the local business community, and spread the word about your website (building brand awareness as well).
- Test out new keywords with Google Ads/Google AdWords to see if it’s worth investing in content marketing for those given keywords (ask yourself: are these site visitors becoming customers?). You may also want to put more effort on local keywords if that’s more relevant to your business (ex., baker in Toronto).
- Invest in your websites’ user experience by improving page load speed time. This may involve a fair bit of technical SEO. At the same time you should aim to optimize your user experience for mobile devices as well.
- Once you have started to produce content, it would also be a good idea to begin link building (it is still important to search engines).
So now that you’ve got a good high-level overview of how to do SEO for your small business, we will discuss the key question you’re likely asking yourself at this point — is SEO free of cost for my small business? We will cover that in the next section.
Is SEO free of cost?
SEO is free. There is no monetary cost to do on your own. However, it is very time-consuming. As I mentioned above, it may take anywhere between 1-2 months to learn SEO basics, and a further 6-12 months to learn more advanced topics, so there is a considerable time investment required to learn this skill in the first place.
The actual implementation of an SEO campaign is equally time-consuming. A panel of SEO experts recently found that search engine optimization can take between 4-15 hours of work per week, on average. In some cases, it can also take over 15 hours of work per week. Generally, SEO returns are proportionate to the amount of effort put in.
Another consideration for the pure cost of search engine optimization is to account for the cost of errors. When search engine optimization is done in a poor manner, not following best practices, it can often lead to being penalized by Google. That means pages on your website may be downgraded in Google rankings, and Google will spend less time crawling your site as well. If you are already generating profitable website traffic, then this can have a negative effect on your business.
How can I manage SEO for my small business?
Oftentimes business owners will decide to work with an SEO service provider to handle their SEO campaign. Working with an external agency can definitely give you the advantage of their skills and expertise, but it may end up costing you rankings, and profits if you choose the wrong provider. Here are three simple steps to effectively manage an SEO service provider for your small business:
- Make sure you are on the same page as your SEO service provider: You want to make sure that the provider understands your unique business model, your business goals, and your business constraints. A good provider will factor this into the SEO campaign that they design for your small business.
- Agree on SEO KPIs before starting: As a small business owner, you should define your goal with SEO before starting. This means asking yourself if you want to aim for brand awareness, generating website traffic, or generating potential customers for your business. Once you have decided on your preliminary goal, discuss how you will measure that via KPIs (impressions, rankings, traffic, conversions, etc.,).
- Build on your SEO Momentum: SEO is done best when you understand the long-term ROI and can be patient while the momentum builds. The returns from an investment in SEO compound, and the last thing you want to do is end your SEO campaign, only to discover that you are generating hundreds if not thousands of qualified visitors to your site a few months down the line. At that point, you will have to begin working on your SEO effort to build momentum again.
Now that you’ve got a grasp of the best practices for dealing with external agencies, let’s talk about the hidden elephant in the room — pricing!
How much should a small business pay for SEO?
When you work with an SEO company, they will determine the pricing based on the extent of your SEO campaign. Generally, you will find that most SEO work is done on a project basis, or ongoing retainer basis.
Example of Project Basis: You are opting to only tackle low-hanging fruit, then they may charge you a flat retainer fee.
Example of On-Going Retainer Basis: If you are ready to invest in SEO for months, or years to come, then the SEO company may opt to work out a monthly retainer for their consistent efforts. You will often find that this type of engagement will be the most cost-effective, as most providers will add in a discount for the longer-term contract.
Project-based pricing will depend on your SEO needs, but the vast majority of small business owners will find it will be around $500 – $1000 for a one-time project:
On-going retainer-based work can range between $500 – $20,000 per month. According to a recent study by Ahrefs, most monthly retainers are between $501 – $1,000 per month. With only 24% of all survey participants paying more than $2,000 per month.
Pricing will likely depend on these criteria (amongst many more):
- Your website’s current level of search engine optimization
- The scale of your business — is it a local business, regional business, national business, or international business (SEO gets more expensive with scale)
- How competitive your industry is. Some industries are more difficult to do SEO for, whereas others are significantly easier
- Your urgency. If you expect results ASAP, then you will be priced accordingly, because the SEO company will have to allocate more resources towards developing your search presence. Vice-versa for low levels of urgency.
The most costly way to engage with an SEO company, or SEO expert would be on an hourly basis. Here is a breakdown of hourly SEO pricing from a recent study conducted with SEO consultants throughout the world:
- 88.28% of consultants charge $150 per hour, or less
- Over 50% charge between $75 and $150 per hour
- Only 11% of consultants charge over $150 per hour
- Approximately 6% of consultants charge over $200 per hour.
There is also variation in pricing depending on whether you are working with a freelancer, consultant, or SEO company/agency. Results are generally more consistent on the agency end of the spectrum, and more variable on the freelancer end of the spectrum. You will also have to spend a lot more time managing freelancers, or consultants than you would have to do with a seo company (it is easier if you deal with a local seo services agency as well).
As you are reading this, you may be thinking about a related topic, search engine marketing (SEM). We will briefly touch on that next, how it is different than SEO, and the advantages/disadvantages of both.
What is SEO vs SEM?
The simple distinction is that search engine optimization (SEO) is focused on improving, and optimizing a website so that it shows up higher for any given search result. The goal with search engine marketing (SEM) is to pay to show up on top of search results (meaning you are renting the top spot).
So the contrast here is that with SEO you have to invest time and effort to show up in organic results, and with SEM you are renting the top spot to drive traffic to your website.
SEO involves these key high-level optimization activities:
- On-Page SEO
- Off-Page SEO
- Technical SEO
- User Experience Signals
SEM involves producing high-quality ads, that are relevant for the specific keywords that you are trying to bid for. Your cost per click (CPC) depends mainly on your Quality Score (a combination of click-through rate (CTR), ad relevancy, and landing page experience), and your bid. Optimizing your quality score will result in a lower CPC. See below for an example.
The advantages of SEO include:
- Improves your brand loyalty, brand awareness, and brand trust
- Results last for a long time, and continue to provide rewards
- Makes SEM cheaper (you can rank for organic results while paying for SEM as well — winning more top spots in search results)
The disadvantages of SEO include:
- Time-consuming (if you are doing it yourself)
- Results take longer to show (but last significantly longer, and compound)
The advantages of SEM include:
- Quicker results
- You can prove whether an investment in SEO is worthwhile and if traffic from certain keywords are profitable
The disadvantages of SEM include:
- It can be very costly if you are not working with a provider that is well versed in SEO, and the technicalities of SEM
Both SEO and SEM are valuable sources of traffic, that will help your business grow. The question about which one suits your needs depends on a lot of variables that an SEO strategist can help you with. We will cover a few ways that you can get started with either SEO or SEM next!
6 tips to Get Started with SEO for your Small Business
Here are some quick tips that will help inform your SEO strategy:
- Decide on your reason to implement an SEO strategy; do you want to build brand awareness, or drive profitable traffic to your website (or some combination of both)
- Figure out a reasonable monthly budget that will not affect your current operations, and let you experiment with this lucrative channel
- Have your SEO agency put together a keyword report that your business can go after, and ask them to tell you why these keywords would be valuable for your SEO campaign (this will let you gauge their level of understanding for your business, and your goals)
- If the agency passes Step 3, ask them to put together an SEO campaign plan, and walk you through how they plan on winning rankings for the keywords in step 3
- If the timeframe is longer than your level of comfort, or you want to justify the spend in SEO, you may want to pursue SEM (paid search engine marketing) first to see if there is an ROI to be had
- Once you start producing results with either SEO, or SEM, keep scaling your efforts, but place an equal level of effort in building your brand (because Google loves brands!)
Curious to see how you can win more business by investing in SEO? Let us walk you through a free strategy consultation today!