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5 Things Small Businesses Need to Know About SEO

July 12, 2019 - Boston, MA

Boy at the beach searching with binoculars
Five important facts regarding SEO and Google search, and what they mean to you as a local small business and service provider:

1. 93% of online interactions start with a Google search.

While you may still get a fair amount of word-of-mouth referral business, fewer and fewer people ask friends for recommendations these days. With the ability to research and compare local businesses in mere minutes on a phone or laptop, there is far less need to bother someone else for an opinion or suggestion.

For a local service provider, the new reality is that a customer could literally live down the street from you, but if they can’t find you on Google, you may as well not exist. Instead, you’ll be handing those customers over to your competition - who are showing up for Google searches.

It’s vital for any small business to have some stream of new customers. And these days new customers are on Google. That’s the new marketplace, so to keep your business thriving it's important to be part of today’s marketplace - even if you aren’t entirely comfortable with it.

2. Google search is the #1 driver of traffic to websites, beating social media by more than 300%.

While Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter are popular, they're not the best way to drive people to your business. They are better for engaging with current clients or customers than finding new ones.

Often small businesses simply 'do social media' or buy advertising on social media because they assume (or have been told) it's what they need to do. Can't blame them - it seems smart to put up a billboard where a lot of people might see it. Unfortunately because of the nature of social media and the complexities of visitor behavior it's more often a recipe for throwing away a lot of time and money.

Our advice is to use social media as a way to grow and expand your brand when you already have a good stream of new customers through Google search and SEO. If you're not showing up on Google's first page of results, 'doing social media' is not a great use of resources for small businesses. Your time and money is better spent improving organic SEO.

'Doing social media' is not a great use of resources for small businesses. Your time and money is better spent improving organic SEO.

3. 80% of users ignore the paid ads in search results.

Google Ads (formerly AdWords) can be incredibly profitable for bigger businesses. Unfortunately for small businesses with limited budgets and expertise in PPC (Pay-Per-Click) advertising, it can quickly become a sinkhole for advertising dollars.

It's tempting to dabble. It seems easy (by design). You pay a little for each click, some of those clicks become you pay money to make money. And yes, this is possible when campaigns are set up properly and carefully monitored, but the margins are much tighter than you might expect, and it's a dynamic marketplace, with a lot of things favoring big budgets and 'the numbers game' (deep pockets to bid high and play the long game), and working against the little guy who wants to try it out.

One of those elements working against a small business PPC campaign is the fact that almost everyone now skips over the ads in Google. And while they do still get traffic, the listings are highly competitive and the clicks are low quality in general. So you end up paying a lot, and getting a little.

4. 75% of users never get past the first page of search results.

Getting on the first page of Google search results can be challenging, but it's worth the time and effort (or money if you're paying for SEO services). As consumers ourselves, we all know how it works: we click on the first few results and work our way down. And how often do you go to page 2 or 3 of the results? Likely not all that often, because there are plenty of listings on the first page that answer your query or catch your eye. So if your business is listed on the 2nd page of results (or lower), you're left fighting over the scraps - the measly 5% of clicks that come from pages 2 and beyond.

Getting visibility on page 1 can be transformative to a small business. We're talking about multiple inquiries a day versus the trickle of an inquiry a month - 50X the potential leads. Instead of 10 inquiries a year, 500 a year. And while shooting for the #1 spot is a lofty goal, every position gained along the way is highly valuable and translates to more inquiries and real revenue.

5. Search engine leads have a 15% close rate, compared to only 1% for traditional leads such as print.

Traditional advertising such as print has role to play for some businesses, but it underperforms online marketing. Print is easier to understand and execute, but it's also less measurable and much less effective than organic SEO or even PPC (Pay-Per-Click) advertising.

It can be tempting to 'stick with what you know', but the fact is there's vastly less accuracy and effectiveness in traditional advertising now. That said, it's understandably more comfortable for a lot of business owners to run an ad in the local paper or see their name in print and be satisfied that they're 'getting the word out'. While print can be part of the plan, the business marketplace today is online, even if you're not.

If your business is not visible and competing online, you're effectively surrendering all of your potential clients and customers to your competition. Even a modest search engine optimization effort can turn that around in 6-12 months.