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Small Business SEO: Investments & Benefits in 2018

March 13, 2018

Most small businesses invest in SEO, and determine the success of their efforts using metrics that measure how well they engage their target customers in the conversion funnel.

Small businesses regularly invest in SEO, often in tandem with pay-per-click (PPC) advertising. 

We surveyed 351 small businesses owners and managers about how they invest in and benefit from SEO and PPC. 

Small businesses format their SEO efforts to engage with their target consumers. In particular, they rely on links to measure SEO success, especially businesses that target customers near the bottom of the conversion funnel. 

Our Findings

  • Over half (55%) of small businesses invest in SEO, a marginal (3%) increase over last year.
  • Less than half (45%) of small businesses invest in pay-per-click (PPC) advertising.
  • Small businesses invest modestly in PPC. Approximately two-thirds (65%) devote 30% or less of their marketing budget to paid campaigns.
  • Small businesses invest in social media marketing (56%) more than other SEO services, including local search optimization (46%) and on-site optimization (37%).
  • Over one-fifth (21%) of small businesses track the number and quality of links back to their site to determine SEO success, ahead of website traffic (19%) and leads and conversions (19%).
  • Small businesses turn to in-house teams and SEO software (38%) more than external resources for help with SEO.

Majority of Small Businesses Invest in SEO, but Plans to Increase Investment Fall Short 

Small businesses regularly invest in SEO, but the number of small businesses adopting SEO is slowing year-over-year (YoY).

More than half (55%) of small businesses invest in SEO in 2018, an increase of 3% compared to 2017, according to our 2017 Small Business SEO survey.

55% of small businesses invest in SEO in 2018

Small businesses failed to reach SEO expectations they set for 2017. Nearly three-fourths (74%) of small businesses planned to invest in SEO in 2017, according to our data.

Small businesses hesitate to invest in SEO if they are unaware of its cost or want an immediate return on their investment, says John Chirila, SEO Manager at SEO Brand, an SEO company with offices in New York and Boca Raton.

“They may not think they have the budget for it. Some are under the impression, which is correct, that it’s going to take a while to see results.”

Failing to properly budget or reticence to invest in a business process that does not have immediate returns may convince some businesses that SEO is not a worthy investment. 

Some Small Businesses Feel They Don’t Need SEO 

Small businesses without a website are unlikely to invest in SEO. 

SEO is most commonly associated with boosting a website’s rankings for search engine results pages (SERPs), which is why some small businesses without websites believe SEO is not a relevant investment for their company. Just over 28% of small businesses that do not have a website invest in SEO.

According to Clutch's Small Business Websites Survey, less than two-thirds (64%) of small businesses have a website.

Even small businesses that have websites may not consider SEO beneficial, especially if their business is referral-based.  

“Every business is a viable candidate for SEO, unless they absolutely don't require business from the public and they are a referral-based, discrete, or relationship-based business,” said Kevin Tash, CEO of Tack Media, a Los Angeles-based digital marketing agency.

Most small businesses can benefit from SEO, regardless of how they typically engage with customers.

SEO Benefits Small Businesses Without a Website

Small businesses without a website benefit from SEO, especially if they target local customers. Local search optimization services, such as local directory optimization, help small businesses engage local customers.

For example, the top results on SERPs for certain local search terms, particularly those with location-specific language (i.e., “near me”) are formatted in “local 3-packs.” Local packs provide searchers with a brief profile of businesses that provide services for a given search query in the area where that search occurs.

SEO companies in New York Local 3 Pack

These profiles, called Google My Business listings, display your business's contact information, hours of operation, and location.

Your small business can optimize your Google My Business listings for local searches to improve their chance of appearing in Local Packs and, in turn, increase the chances searchers learn critical information about your company.

Local directory pages provide the same benefit as Google My Business profiles. Directories such as Clutch, AngleList, Yellow Pages, and Yelp also compile lists of local service providers.

Small Businesses Invest Modestly in Pay-Per-Click Advertising

Small businesses invest in pay-per-click (PPC) advertising less than SEO. Less than half (45%) conduct PPC campaigns.

45% of small businesses invest in PPC advertising

The number of small businesses that invest in PPC advertising grew marginally and missed expectations from last year. Nearly two-thirds (65%) expected to do PPC in 2017. Instead, the number of small businesses that invest in PPC grew only 5% from 2017 (40% to 45%).

This trend illustrates that small businesses invest modestly in PPC.

Approximately two-thirds (65%) spend 30% or less of their marketing budget on paid campaigns.

In addition, small businesses invest in PPC as needed (37%) rather than on a consistent basis (36%).  

How Often Do Small Businesses Conduct PPC Campaigns?

Stephen Galgocy, SEO Strategist for Digital Media Solutions, a Clearwater, FL-based digital marketing firm, suggests that small businesses experiment with PPC advertising with a small budget and use the results from those efforts to inform their approach.

“Try a small budget for PPC to see what keywords people are using and what data comes from that.”

A small-budget approach allows small businesses with reservations about PPC advertising to measure its impact before fully investing.

PPC Advertising & SEO Often Done in Tandem 

Small businesses invest in PPC advertising to complement their SEO. Nearly 90% of companies that invest in PPC advertising also invest in SEO.

The increase in small businesses investing in PPC advertising, though marginal, signals that small businesses are embracing PPC campaigns as part of their search marketing strategy, according to Chirila.

“Ideally, [small businesses] should be doing both PPC and organic SEO,” Chirila said. “Organic SEO takes a while, so they should supplement those efforts with a PPC campaign. I see the trend that companies do supplement with PPC from time to time.”

Combining organic SEO and paid search allows small businesses to experience the immediate benefit of placement among top search results for target terms.

SEO companies in new york paid search ads

In addition, paid search campaigns inform small businesses about best approaches to organic SEO.

For example, your business can measure conversion rates or click-throughs for target keywords on paid search ads. Using these insights, small businesses can develop a long-term organic SEO strategy to achieve success.

Small Businesses Invest in Social Media Marketing For SEO 

Small businesses invest in social media marketing to boost search rankings.

Over half (56%) invest in social media marketing, more than local search optimization (46%) or on-site optimization (37%).

Most Common Small Business SEO Services

Small businesses owners and managers share the opinions of marketing-decision makers when it comes to SEO services priorities. Our 2018 SEO Services survey found social media marketing the most common and highly prioritized SEO service among marketing decision-makers.

Social media marketing is a low-cost and low-effort SEO service, which makes it attractive to some resource-strapped small businesses.

Nearly two-thirds (62%) of small businesses that rely on in-house teams, and 59% of those with marketing budgets of $10,000 or less, invest in social media for SEO.

Social Media Supports Branding

Social media marketing is particularly effective as part of an SEO strategy focused on branding.

“If your main goal is brand name recognition, absolutely use social media," said Chirila. “If you supplement [social media] with something else to get leads and brand name recognition, I could see how that would work.”

However, social media marketing is best when used to complement an SEO strategy.

“Organic social media marketing is for demand generation more than anything,” said Galgocy. “As far as how social media marketing relates to SEO, it’s complementary in the way that it can spark content creation and linking opportunities through influencers.”

Social media drives searcher attention to your brand, but may not be sufficient to achieve other key goals such as driving traffic or conversions.

Local Search Optimization Helps Small Businesses Engage Local Customers

Small businesses invest in local search optimization (46%) to engage with local customers.

Since small businesses largely operate, and compete for customers, within their localities, engaging local consumers is a business priority.  

Search engines recognize this fact: Proximity measures are the top ranking factors for Local Pack searches. For example, if a relevant search is done in your city, the chances that you rank for that search increase.

Since Google prioritizes location-specific signals for local searches, small businesses that optimize their Google My Business listing can improve their search engine rankings.

Small Businesses Measure Backlinks to Determine SEO Success

Small businesses measure links to determine the success of their SEO efforts. The number and quality of links back to their site (21%) is the primary metric small businesses use to track their SEO.

Metrics Small Businesses Use to Measure SEO Success

Small businesses’ metric tracking preferences reflect Google’s ranking priorities. According to research from Backlinko, links impact search engine rankings more than any other factor.

Small Business Track SEO Metrics to Engage Customers in the Conversion Funnel

Depending on where your customers are in the conversion funnel, different metrics allow your company to examine how search audiences engage with your site and content.   

In addition to links (21%), small businesses also refer to site traffic from search (19%), leads and conversions (19%), and keyword rankings (18%) to measure their SEO.

The metrics small businesses favor correspond to where their target customers are in the conversion funnel.

  • Awareness: Track keyword rankings to measure brand exposure among target search audiences.
  • Interest: Track site traffic to examine whether your target audience clicks through to learn more about your company.
  • Decision: Track links to your site to measure whether searchers are consistently engaging with your site by linking to your content.
  • Action: Track leads and conversions to measure returns on SEO investment as a result of search audiences converting to paying customers.

Conversion Funnel Determines SEO Metrics

Source: Quora

Your business can use the stage your customers are in the conversion funnel to collect data on user behavior with respect to your SEO efforts. This information can then inform your efforts to advance them through to the "action" stage. 

Small Businesses Turn to In-house Teams & SEO Software Over External Resources

Small businesses rely on internal resources for help with SEO. In-house teams and SEO software (38%) are the most common SEO resources small businesses use for help with SEO.

Resources Small Businesses Use for SEO

In-house teams are cost-effective resources for small businesses, particularly if they are experienced with SEO software.

To learn about the best resources for your small businesses, read Clutch’s Guide to SEO Services.

In-house teams provide less technical SEO services; for example:

  • Social media marketing
  • Blogging
  • Content marketing
  • Keyword research and optimization

For technical, on-site SEO services, small businesses can turn to external resources — SEO companies, consultants, and freelancers.

SEO companies are better equipped to provide high-level SEO services and strategy, given their experience in the field.

However, procuring external resources for SEO is expensive.

Approximately three-fourths (74%) of small businesses with marketing budgets over $500,000 hire an SEO consultant or agency for help with SEO. In comparison, only 10% of businesses with annual marketing budgets under $10,000 hire an agency or consultant.

Small Businesses Use Software to Build Foundation for SEO

Small businesses can use SEO software to perform keyword research and other forms of content analysis to inform and shape their SEO strategy at a small expense.

The SEO software that small businesses use depends on their SEO objectives. For example, a small business that is primarily concerned with link-building should use a tool like Ahrefs.

Four common forms of SEO software and how small businesses can use them include:

  • Moz: Measures domain authority (DA) and page authority (PA) of sites and web pages that rank for certain keywords. Your business can use these to scope competition for your target key terms.
  • SEMRush: Performs competitor analysis for keyword positioning and strength. SEMRush also provides a platform to track individual search marketing projects.
  • Ahrefs: Researches link profile (incoming links and domains) for websites and pages. Allows your business to see what domains and pages link to you and your competitors for target terms.
  • AWR Cloud: Tracks keyword performance on Google search. Your business can use AWR Cloud to track how well your target terms rank for certain web pages.

Using SEO software, small businesses can build the basis for a strong SEO strategy by identifying keyword targets, researching the competition for those terms, and tracking performance.

Small Businesses Invest in SEO to Engage Customers Through Search

Small businesses regularly invest in SEO. To help inform the format of their organic SEO efforts, some small businesses conduct PPC advertising campaigns. 

Small businesses' SEO efforts depend on what resources they can afford for help with SEO. They rely on internal resources – in-house teams and SEO software – more often than SEO companies, consultants, or freelancers. As a result, low-cost and low-effort SEO services, such as social media marketing, are the most common for small businesses. 

Overall, small businesses use SEO to engage with their target audience. They measure the success of their SEO efforts by tracking metrics that correspond to where their target audiences are in the conversion funnel.

About the Survey

Clutch surveyed 351 small business owners and managers about how they invest in and benefit from SEO and PPC. 

45% of respondents work at small businesses with over 10 employees. 

More than half (57%) reported annual revenue of less than $1 million.