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Is SEO Overrated for Small Businesses?


SEO is frequently touted as an effective marketing tool for small business.

I receive 3-5 e-mails per week from companies that provide SEO, promising things like first page placement, with inexpensive and quick results. SEO can be highly effective, especially within a comprehensive program. Is SEO overrated for small businesses? I think these claims should at least be reviewed.

  • SEO is frequently marketed as a silver bullet. However, it is only a piece in the puzzle of a total marketing program. Integrating programs with social media platforms, like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter require continued posting and new efforts. In particular, key factors such as differentiation, innovation, and attention require additional effort. Also, the pursuit of SEO algorithms can detract from the innovation and differentiation of the project.
  • SEO is not as easy as advertised, and like most things, it must be done well. This includes developing content, key words, links, marketing phrases, and pitches, in addition to continued maintenance, measurement, and modification.
  • It is not cheap – SEO consultants frequently charge $1000-$3000 per month. If you do it yourself, SEO requires significant time spent in branding and writing.
  • It takes time – SEO consultants generally say it takes 3-6 months to even start showing results
  • Almost by definition, the big guys win. SEO placement is governed by clicks, and the more you naturally get, the more likely you are to get hits.
  • Another concern is the math – It is generally agreed that you need to focus on high placement, as first place in a search accounts for about 60% of clicks (and the first page 90-95% of clicks). Between 2013 and 2018, Google revenues have increased from $55 million to an estimated $140 million, which has two implications. First, paid search must work for many advertisers, because it is growing so fast. Second, paid search is increasingly taking up first page listings (which makes SEO that much more difficult.)
  • SEO advocates frequently ignore providing documentation of economics and results in determining when is SEO overrated. In contrast, Google goes out of its way to provide free analysis of clicks, conversions, and pathways to success.

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Nevertheless, there are ways to benefit from using SEO:

  • The most important way is to have an integrated program, including social media, website development, and other marketing tools (like email, targeting, networking, and paid searches). Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Plus, Pinterest, and industry sites should all be considered.
  • I frankly believe that networking and targeting can be the most productive techniques, because they engage interested clients. Getting email addresses and posting are key tools to make SEO more effective.
  • Focus on getting content and processes right. For example, spelling and inappropriate language can kill a campaign. It is always better to be polite and positive.
  • Evaluate your effort and measure your results, and change tools when you see success or failure.
  • Always consider how you are reaching your potential client and being interesting to them.
  • Don’t be afraid to test and experiment. In particular, if you are using outside resources, be sure to develop clear goals and measures for success.
  • SEO can be more effective for local postings, especially for service enterprises like repairs and restaurants.

In short, SEO and social media can produce great results. However, they must be done well, they must be part of a total marketing program.

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