Blog/Beyond Texting

Small Business SEO Is Broken: There’s a Better Way

A report from Backlinko found that American small businesses spend an average of $497.16 per month on SEO services. Yet, only 30% would recommend their current SEO provider to a friend or colleague. What gives?

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SEO promises things every business owner wants: more qualified potential customers, brand awareness, and revenue. 

So why do only 10% of small businesses intend to invest more in SEO this year?

Common wisdom says SEO spending is trending downward because owners don’t have the patience for a long-term play.  

That obscures what’s really happening:

  • There are a lot of (self-professed) hacks out there that have made investing in SEO seem like a waste of money 
  • Google’s algorithms are constantly changing so it’s common to hear conflicting information
  • The SEO world is heavy on jargon which confuses newcomers

All of this has bred distrust and inertia.

The problem is that search engines–and SEO–is too important to just ignore. So what can small businesses do?

Overpromising and Under-Delivering

These problems aren’t unique to SEO. Small business owners face them when it comes to investing in any marketing channel.

Marketers tend to overstate what a marketing channel can do for a business often because they have a vested interest in its success.

Rand Fishkin, former CEO of the popular SEO tool Moz, summed it nicely in an article about–of all things–Spaghetti alla Carbonara:

““The secret to great X is…” infuriates me [because] it implies there’s only a single element standing between mediocrity and greatness, when in fact, there are usually dozens, sometimes hundreds.”

That’s the reality of small business SEO and why people are often confused by how to proceed. 

They’re told the secret to more organic traffic is to do one or two things or hire an agency when in reality those things in isolation might not come close to moving the needle.

There’s No Single Secret to Great SEO

There are many components to Google’s ranking algorithm–ranging from how well people interact with your site to how many reviews your business has.

The best SEOs work through them, on the hunt for tweaks and improvements to boost rankings.

This approach works but it’s often of little value to anyone who is lacking in time, cash, or expertise. That’s because it offers no clear guidelines on:

  • Where to start and focus your efforts? 
  • What activities will offer the most immediate return?
  • What steps to take that don’t require any technical expertise?

Here’s How to Approach Small Business SEO Instead

Don’t do things to help you rank on Google. Do things that are good for your business—and also happen to be good for SEO too.

The rationale behind this approach is simple:

  1. It’s not a binary choice between SEO and other activities
  2. Most small businesses are resource poor, which means it’s a bonus when you do two things at once
  3. SEO is often a long-term play, but approaching it this way allows you to see more immediate business results
  4. Small companies face an algorithmic disadvantage when competing against larger brands
  5. Small businesses don’t have the luxury of wasting time writing blog posts that target keywords with lots of search volume, but offer no relevance to their business

Here are several examples of what we mean.


Review signals account for 8.4% of ranking factors.

So it’s not as important a ranking factor as on-page SEO, but the impact of good reviews on your overall marketing strategy can’t be underestimated. 

One such study by the Harvard Business Review found, “a one-star increase in Yelp rating leads to a 5-9% increase in revenue.” And 90% of customers will read reviews before purchasing from a local business.

Google My Business

Your Google My Business page is another area worth focusing on. It’s your chance to make a great first impression with potential customers. 

You can state clearly what you do, include images of your product or service, and highlight your phone number.

Link Building

Instead of paying for a shady backlink building service, look for strategic partners that you can refer your customers to when they are in need of something you don’t provide (and vice versa). 

Part of this process is making sure that you and your partners are linking to and sharing each other’s content. This way you’re generating new revenue and improving your SEO.

Invest In Your Small Business Website

Ensuring your website is simple to navigate, loads quickly, and speaks to your audience will have a positive impact on your business.

There’s more than enough information out there on how to do this but you could always start by getting together a group of people and ask them what they like and don’t like about it.

You’ll quickly see elements you can improve and the likelihood is that they’ll benefit your SEO strategy.  

Good SEO Is Good Business

So here’s what I suggest: look at common ranking factors and think about how improving them could improve other areas of your business. Then rank them from most valuable to least.

Start working through the list from top to bottom. As you progress you’ll be able to focus on more SEO-specific tasks like anchor text distribution and schema markups.

But that’s not justified until you have some data showing you that SEO works for your business and that it’s worth allocating marketing spend and effort to it.

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