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Why SEO is important for small business

seo-for-small-businessEntrepreneurs have many demands on our time (and money) and in this time-poor lifestyle, why should we allocate vast time (and financial) resources to SEO and boosting our rank on Google? SEO is a complete waste of time.” – Forum post on SEO

“If you are a company that thinks that SEO will be the holy grail to success, please send whatever you are smoking to me.” – Quote from blog post on SEO

Many people think that SEO is overrated. Some say that it’s “dead”. There are others that either think it’s unnecessary or simply have no clue about why it’s an essential part of an online marketing strategy. SEO can single-handedly make or break a business. SEO alone can help a business succeed online AND off. If you have doubts about the power of SEO you should spend some time becoming enlightened and I’ll try to explain why within these pages. SEO is one of the most affordable, easy and powerful ways to market your business online and you should take it very seriously. It’s an investment in time and resources that will continue to return results to your business over and over — all at a price that fits everyone’s budget. Do you think SEO is dead? That’s ok because you’ll leave an empty space for myself and my clients to fill and prosper. (Insert diabolical laugh here)

The facts:

  • 60% of marketers do not currently invest in SEO
  • Just 15% see SEO as an important strategy
  • 23% are unsure what SEO is
  • 30% have no plans for SEO in the next 12 months

The facts are clear. There is opportunity in pursing SEO as a part of your online marketing strategy. Chances are that your competition doesn’t get it and probably won’t substantially invest in SEO anytime soon. SEO has a proven track record. SEO is a powerful and affordable addition to any business’s marketing arsenal. Here are my reasons why you should invest heavily in SEO.

You’re a needle in a haystack

Designing and building a website is a great first step. This is an absolute necessity for almost any business these days. You simply must have a web presence. You’ve heard of the term “Publish or perish”? We’ll I’d say “Digitize or die”. You must have a website if you are a small local eatery, widget retailer or the world’s largest corporation. That said, the last thing you want to do is build it and hope for the best. Remember the saying “Build it and they will come.”? Well, that’s not true with the internet. I always tell my clients that the last thing they want to do is invest money in a website without a strategy to get people there. I’ve turned down business because the client refused to invest in an overall strategy. Your business on the web is the world’s smallest needle in the world’s largest haystack and you’ll never be found and succeed if your goal is to just refer customers directly to your web address via your business cards and word-of-mouth.

Basic SEO is not rocket science

Getting started with SEO is not difficult. Let me stress that it is not rocket science, digital voodoo or any other mystic practice that’s only understood by gurus and geeks. Even if you know nothing about marketing on the web you can accomplish the basics by spending a few hours reading a few of the millions of websites and blogs dedicated to SEO. I’m sure there are millions devoted to even basic SEO. I know of many companies and sites (including my own) that have information and advice on basic SEO where you can learn the first steps of constructing an SEO campaign. If you’re reading this, there’s a chance you will learn everything you need to know from the pages attached or by following a few of the attached links. There really is no excuse for learning the basics and starting down a road that will turn your website into an effective tool that will work for your business.

Affordability – Every business owner’s favorite word

Donald Trump has said “Sometimes your best investments are the ones you don’t make.” Honestly, who knows if that’s true as you’ll never know “what if”. But, I can tell you unequivocally that SEO is a great investment. Why? Because it’s free if you have the time to do it yourself. Not everyone does and that’s why I have a successful business. But if someone told you that you could have 100 sales people working indefinitely for you 24/7 if you just took the time to train each of them individually for one hour over the next 6 months, would you do it? For an average work week of 40 hours that would be equal to 10% of your time and it would cost you nothing. I would have to say that this would be a very good investment in your business. SEO is equally good. It’s free. It only takes your time, and it’s an investment that will continue to return value as it contributes to your website working for you 24/7. You absolutely don’t have the time you say? Then hire a professional like me and invest 10% of your overall marketing budget. You can certainly afford that and I can guarantee it will be a great investment.

Customers search for what they need

What’s that saying about business success? Oh yea, “Location, location, location.” This is certainly true for a lot of businesses. But it can also be true for any business on the web. If you know where your customers are going to be, put yourself in front of them! If you’re a widget manufacturer and you know that 100 people will be standing down on Main Street today looking for what you make, wouldn’t you find yourself a bus and go down and pick them up? Well, heck yea! I’d put them in a wheelbarrow and cart them one by one back to my business if that’s what it took!

It works just like that for SEO. We know this because we know that customers search when they want to buy and we know what they are searching for. Thanks to many services and Google, we can tell exactly how many people are looking for our services each month which is the same as knowing where a customer will be in the physical world. All you have to do is know where they’re going to be and go there and pick them up.

This is where SEO comes in and why it can be so powerful and profitable. SEO and proper research will allow you to increase the amount of visitors that visit your website, which will then bring the profits into your business. Know your customers and what they’re searching for and you will certainly see the benefits.

On target

We’ve all seen billboards. I don’t know one person that says that they like billboards. In fact I’d love to eventually see marketers wise up and abandon the practice all together but sadly, that day will probably never come. We’ll all be blinded by 10,000 Time’s Square billboards in every city before we ever see that dream. We recently went to Vermont and you know what? They don’t allow billboards in their state and it’s a beautiful thing. Businesses survive though and the world continues to spin. Truth be told, billboards can work but they’re not for everyone. Billboards are expensive, generally not targeted and usually a regional advertising medium. (Unless you have very deep pockets.)

This is where SEO comes in and why it’s so effective for small businesses. SEO is the complete opposite of billboard advertising because it’s affordable, very targeted and it can be deployed locally, nationally or even world wide. That’s almost the definition of a dream advertising medium and it can be yours if you just take the first step.

I hear people scoffing while I’m saying this and I understand your frustration. I’m making it sound so easy like all you have to do is know a secret or wave your magic wand and you’ll suddenly be rich. I have to stress that SEO is not some magic trick that will save your business from failure. It DOES require real work. But it can be an affordable, important and effective strategy with a little bit of education, some investment in time and money, and a plan. There is no other advertising method that’s as targeted and affordable as SEO.

Here’s an example. Imagine a business that manufacturers one widget, for one niche industry with potential customers all over the world – and they only sell that widget to a certain type of person for two weeks out of the year. Whoa, good luck. Before the internet, how would you get the word out? Certainly not billboards. Radio? Never. Magazines? Maybe if they have a publication dedicated to your niche. Direct mail? Probably not unless you have the funds to mail materials to your entire niche audience all over the world.

This is where SEO works best. With SEO you can target a niche audience from all over the world that’s looking for one specific thing. And chances are, the smaller the niche, the better your chances of the competition being tough and the better your chances of ending up in front of them. The best part is that you can do it with just a little bit of research and effort and put yourself right in front of every single one of your potential customers. It’s the dream of every marketer and SEO can get you there.

Results are tangible

A traditional marketing campaign such as newspaper advertising, magazines, radio and billboards reach a limited audience due to various factors such as readership, popularity, positioning and so on. You may never know if the advertising worked or if the customer just happened to find you and walk through your doors. There are obvious methods of finding out like using a coupon that tracks visitors or simply by asking. But collecting this data might not always be possible so you are left guessing and hoping that your advertising is actually bringing in customers and clients. Really the only way you can confirm if a traditional advertising method is working is by the sales increases. If more customers come, and sales go up, then it must be working.

I believe traditional advertising has it’s place and it can be effective if campaigns are built and rolled out properly. But online marketing – especially with SEO and methods like pay-per-click advertising – is not only affordable but extremely, almost anally — trackable. Utilizing tools such as Google Analytics you’re able to determine exactly how many potential customers are coming to your site, what keywords they used to find you, where they came from, what they clicked on, how long they stayed and many, many other factors that can help you learn where your advertising investment is paying off. No other advertising method is this trackable. Period.

What’s great about Pay-Per-Click advertising too is that you only pay for customers that actually click on your advertising. This is like only paying for a billboard if someone looks at it and then immediately visits your store. It’s an amazing concept and that’s why Google is a zillion dollar company. But, alas, this is a subject for another volume.

The long tail

“The Long Tail or long tail refers to the statistical property that a larger share of population rests within the tail of a probability distribution than observed under a ‘normal’ or Gaussian distribution.” – Wikipedia

Huh? What the heck does that mean!? I’m not sure someone could come up with a more complex sounding definition for something so let me explain this concept. The long tail in business is essentially when you have the ability to accumulate and sell more of something (a wider variety of product) the better your chances for finding a buyer or client and selling more overall.

The example that I’ve always used to understand this concept is Amazon. When Amazon started out they were an online book store. But not just any bookstore because they were not confined by store space, shelf space, cost of rent in malls and employees. They essentially found a way to have the world’s largest book store that was not confined by space and cost. Where a normal book store could only stock maybe 15,000 titles because of shelf space and rent costs, Amazon was able to stock (or at least have access to) 15 million titles and therefore sell books to a more diverse audience. The bookstore might sell 1000 copies of the new John Grisham book but Amazon might sell 10,000 copies of 9,500 different titles and therefore make far more sales because they are selling LESS of each item they have in stock but overall they are selling more and at a lower overall cost to run their business. This is the essence of the long tail. The more you have, the more chances you have.

So how does this translate to SEO? It’s simple. SEO allows you to continually put yourself in front of the widest possible audience by targeting many niche searches that together drive more traffic to your website. For example, you might target the key phrase “Small Business SEO”. Without doing any research I’ll bet that there is a sizable chunk of people that search for this on a regular basis. But, how many people search for the key phrase “SEO for Small Business” or “Small Business SEO Advice”, etc. The possibilities and combinations are endless.

To give an example, Google estimates that there are literally millions of searches performed each month that have never been used before – never. So to bring this all together you need to understand that the long tail in SEO is extremely long. By targeting a key phrase you have the potential to reach a very wide audience that searches for that phrase or some combination of that phrase. You might only get 10 people to your site that used the key phrase “Small Business SEO Advice” or some combination of that. But you will also get 5 people that visit using “SEO for Small Business” and 25 for “SEO Small Business”. And so the long tail grows and so does your traffic and sales.

Just for your entertainment and amazement, here are a few fun facts:

• 87% of all visitors are from a page 1 position – If you’re not there you probably won’t be found.
• 91% of Internet users use search engines.
• 60.5 percent of Google, Yahoo!, MSN and AOL users selected a natural search result over paid search advertisements as the most relevant on a sample query. (Source)
• 72.3 percent of Google search engine users chose a natural search result as the most relevant.
• In July, 2008 Google received almost 12 billion U.S. searches and it’s still growing
• 73% of all online transactions start with search engines.

Going Regional or Global

Could you imagine buying billboards in every major city and state in the United States? How about other countries as well? Yea, that’s about as likely as Bill Gates showing up for bagels and tea at my house today. But, with SEO you can get the same “reach” and it doesn’t have to cost you half of the U.S. GDP. Targeted SEO allows you to reach a national or even global market even if you are working your business from the living room of a one bedroom apartment or your local coffee shop. No other advertising medium is more powerful, affordable and effective and the opportunities to reach a wide range of customers on a national or international basis is what makes SEO such a mind-boggling thing.

Building Credibility

Have you ever made a purchase from a company based on something other than the actual product? Reputation, store location, sales person appearance (attractive associate or cashier?)… cool logo or image? The reasons why people “buy” are endless and definitely not always based on price. If everything was equal, what would be the deciding factor? One of the most obvious is credibility and SEO can help to deliver it.

Positioning yourself at the top of the search results will not only get you noticed but it will also add an air of credibility that your business is reputable, established and it will provide the sense of credibility that you are above them in the search results for a reason. Putting your business at the top of Google in itself acts as a measurement of credibility, which can have a positive psychological impact on your audience. That fact that your website is at the top of the hill among all others speaks volumes about your business and that goes a long way in creating good will. Therefore, SEO can be instrumental in giving your business a boost where you would otherwise be lost in cyberspace.

Endless Opportunity

There are many other reasons why SEO is an important part of any small business marketing plan and I could go on and on. The opportunities available cannot be underestimated as I hope I’ve begun to demonstrate here. I hope this will get you excited to get started on you own, either by doing it yourself or approaching a professional company to do it for you. I can almost guarantee that you’ll see results from even the smallest investments.

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Chris Auman is a veteran Internet marketer, website developer, and designer with over 20 years of experience in the trenches. As President and Senior Strategist at Sanctuary, Chris has successfully guided the online marketing efforts for companies large and small. Chris’ clients range from family owned & operated retail operations with a local footprint of 1-10 stores to multinational Fortune 500 companies.

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