Search engine optimization is a relatively new marketing strategy that has emerged over the last 10 years. At first it was a fairly obscure practice that was limited to optimizing the website HTML code for rapid digestion by search engine spiders.
SEO has evolved very quickly as the market has matured. Today, successful SEO campaigns are a mixture of technical development, content marketing, backlink building, social media and email promotion.
If this makes SEO sound complicated, that's because it is.
As a result, many small business owners have a love-hate relationship with SEO; they're not entirely sure what to think about the practice as they approach digital marketing strategies and how to allocate their budgets most efficiently.
In this article, I will lay out some of the reasons that small business owners both love and hate search engine optimization and offer you some sound advice or how to clarify your relationship with this tricky marketing tactic.
Google Can Change the Rules
One of the main reasons small business owners dislike SEO is because Google can change the rules at any time. And Google does, in fact, change their algorithm many hundreds of times a year.
Some of Google's releases are fairly benign, and it can be considered tweaks to how they rank websites in their search database.Other releases have seismic impacts causing many small businesses to lose their page one rankings and see vast reductions in traffic.
Last summer, for example, Google updated their algorithm in what has been known as the “Medic Update,” causing major shifts in traffic patterns for websites in the medical vertical. Approximately six months later, this past March, they “undid” their update and largely put the websites back to where they were last August.
For small business owners who thought they were making strong success between August 2018 and March 2019, who then suffered a large drop in traffic, this was upsetting.
Overall, Google has promised to shift the algorithm more rapidly to avoid such upsetting results. With the advent of “Real Time Penguin”, introduced several years ago, they promised to discount backlinks that they did not like in real time rather than waiting for broad updates that would cause traffic to dip dramatically.
Link building Is Hard
A second reason small business owners dislike SEO is that building backlinks is a difficult and tedious business. To the uninitiated it seems like search engine optimization would work like any other industry. Small business owners would pay a fee and the SEO expert would move the rankings to page one. This thinking is often brought over from pay-per-click campaigns, where a certain budget is guaranteed to bring you a certain number of leads.
SEO does not work this way, largely because backlink building is a fairly esoteric practice. Firstly, not all backlinks are created equal. Google has a very sophisticated set of mathematics that they used to determine how much “juice” a certain backlink should carry when deciding what website to rank on page one.
This notion of “link juice” is extremely confusing to small business owners who have their hands full running their day-to-day operations. Additionally, many SEO professionals are not particularly transparent with their clients about how they're securing backlinks for the website, which can lead to problems in the long run.
Building high quality backlinks is extremely time-consuming, which makes it a prime candidate for outsourcing. Small business owners often outsource this tedious work to their advertising agency or web development team. Agencies, in turn, often outsource link building to a white label SEO firm that specializes in securing high domain rating backlinks.
Poor Return On Investment If You Stop Too Soon
The classic mistake we see small business owners making in search engine optimization is stopping too soon. Understand that budgets are tight and that every dollar in the small business world counts; however, it is very frustrating to see a small business website make it to page two, and then see the digital marketing budget pulled entirely.
Search engine optimization, unlike pay-per-click campaigns, produces very little value until rankings are in a top position. Set another way, it is a winner-take-all strategy. This becomes a serious barrier for small business owners who are losing their faith and start to question whether their investment in SEO will pay off.
For entry into a search engine optimization campaign, make certain that you're willing to stick with it to the end. There is nothing worse than spending a large budget with no return on investment because you stopped before the objective was accomplished.
Very Inexpensive Leads
With all these negative aspects surrounding search engine optimization, why are small business owners drawn to this online marketing strategy over and over?
Study after study has shown that leads from search engine optimization are incredibly inexpensive compared to other marketing methods. Particularly when compared to pay per click advertising or other outbound strategies, SEO wins hands down.
Surprisingly, email marketing is one of the only other digital strategies that has shown such a high return on investment due to the low cost of client acquisition. Small business owners typically have some sort of email marketing strategy in place and find it less perplexing.
High Buyer Intent
Another reason search engine optimization is so attractive to small business owners is because of the high buyer intent of these leads. When people conduct a Google search on a keyword phrase that communicates high buying intent, those leads close quickly.
Inbound marketing is very attractive to small businesses for this reason. Sales cycles are generally shorter and conversations are much more pleasant as there is less convincing to do.
While it is certainly true that some efforts will produce SEO traffic with no buying intent, people more interested in informational searches, strong keyword research, and rapid testing via pay per click advertising can sort out which keywords will produce the right traffic for your business.
An excellent strategy here is to use pay per click for testing purposes to isolate keywords that perform well for any given business. These PPC leads can also be used to A/B test different web conversion strategies and ensure that the user experience is conducive to rapid closing.
Once high performance has been isolated via PPC, switch the strategy to SEO on those very keywords that were performing well.
The final reason small business owners are drawn towards SEO is the staying power of a strong ranking. PPC results only continue as long as you pay your invoice to Google, which tends to be very expensive..
A great SEO ranking, on the other hand, will persist for years, producing leads long after the link building exercise has been finished. You will certainly need to watch for competitors who may be coming after your ranking. However, it is much easier to defend a strong ranking and keep the leads flowing than it is to start over with an entirely new digital marketing strategy.
The world of search engine optimization is confounding too many small business owners for the reasons we've outlined in this article. Google can change the rules at any moment, link building is extremely tedious work, and many people give up before they hit the gold mine of page one.
However, those who've experienced the strong organic ranking know the value of the leads coming in because they have very high intent to buy and are ultimately much less expensive than securing those leads via PPC.