Small Businesses Do Not Want SEO

Do small businesses want or even understand SEO? It depends on whom you ask and how you ask.

Hubshout’s 2014 survey of small ad agencies found small business clients spend between $500 and $2,500 per month on online marketing. Of this, 62% is spent on website development and search engine optimization. So, according to Hubshout,  small businesses want and are willing to pay for SEO. (By the way, Hubshout is an SEO provider.}

But, Hubshout’s survey is skewed. Very few small businesses are large enough to have an agency. And, in all likelihood, agencies are pushing search engine optimization as part of their web development services.

According to a Bright Local study, only 19% of small businesses consider SEO an effective channel. Study respondents included ad agencies and marketing firms, so the actual percentage would be lower.

In fact, somewhere between 50%  and  75% of small businesses do not even have a website. They rely on word of mouth or already have all the customers they can handle.

Search Engine Watch published a 2015 article  admitting most small businesses can’t afford to do the kind of SEO they recommend, even with an online marketing budget of $500 per month. Given that most companies spend less than $100 a month on marketing (or nothing), it is ridiculous to think small businesses are salivating for SEO. Nonetheless, Search Engine Watch pulled a rabbit out of the hat and named search engine optimization as one of the “top 3 services in the most demand” for 2015. (BTW, this article was written by Hubshout’s founder.)

So, you have SEO marketers saying SEO is in demand, while the actual landscape says something completely different.

[SMB owners are] confused. They’re frustrated. They’re pestered by daily sales calls from peddlers of SEM, SEO, digital dashboards, social media management programs and mobile marketing opportunities. On average, they report one sales call per workday; some report dozens.– Oct. 2014 Report, Borrell & Assoc.

Borrell’s 2014 study on digital marketing services found that small businesses are investing in the basics, like websites or email software, but they’re not hiring SEO consultants and digital agencies.

A 2014 study by Constant Contact concluded small business owners are doing their own marketing, with online marketing consuming most of their time. By online marketing, small business owners mean maintaining their websites, sending emails, and posting on their Facebook pages.

If small businesses spend anything, it is on their websites. A Wasp Barcode 2015 study noted that 35% of small businesses with more than 11 employees considered their website “very or extremely” important. But this does not mean they have much to spend on it.

The Borrell study notes companies with few employees spend less than $500 a year on marketing, with almost all of it going to web hosting and email list management.

My feeling is that the average small business owner is happy to spend around $2500-$3000 for a new site if that site includes content. Small business owners don’t really understand SEO so they don’t want to pay for it. But they do understand the importance of good sales copy, so they will make an initial investment in it.

Ongoing content is another matter. Most can’t afford it or don’t see the value in it, since ongoing content is really about SEO. If you want SEO, you don’t need rocket science. You need the basics, which Matt Cutts of Google covers in the video below. If you want to know everything Matt Cutts has said about SEO since 2009, visited the curated content website,

Even so, SEO is not a miracle cure. Many small businesses find it hard to compete online, and the SEO they can afford won’t realistically do them much good. In the end, SEO is only one way to skin a cat. There are others.