Is SEO Worth it for Small Businesses?

Are you the owner of a small business? Have you been wondering whether or not Search Engine Optimization (SEO) can be used to help your business achieve growth? Maybe you have been asked to pay $10,000 by an SEO company. Is SEO worth that much? Hi, my name is Francisco and I am the owner of Planet Marketing. My company specializes in Google Ads, Facebook Ads and Remarketing. We also specialize in doing SEO for small businesses. Over the years, I have helped thousands of people use digital marketing to grow their businesses. In this article, I am going to:

  1. Reveal the challenges facing small businesses in terms of SEO
  2. Show you how to navigate around these SEO hurdles
  3. Answer the question; “Is SEO worth it for small businesses?”
  4. Show you alternatives to SEO

SEO for small businesses: The challenges

What can you expect as a small business when it comes to SEO? The following, in my experience, are the major challenges that small businesses encounter when it comes to Search Engine Optimization:

Not knowing what they want

Let me make one thing clear, a lot of companies call me asking for SEO services. However, in reality, they just need the phone to ring. Truth of the matter is, most business owners are confused in this regard! Knowing what you want is the first step in achieving success for your business. If you are a new business looking to generate traffic, why don’t you try Google Ads or Facebook Ads? These and other advertising channels are bound to get you better and faster returns than SEO.

Not knowing what is possible

Besides knowing what you want, you should also know what’s possible. What is it that you can achieve via SEO, considering the industry that you are in? And what is it that you can achieve using other digital marketing channels? Here are a few things that I have noticed in the years that I have been in business:

  • Some businesses are just too competitive: What’s the nature of the business that you are involved in? One thing that you may not realize is that some businesses are just too competitive for SEO. If you are into car insurance, as an example, you are unlikely to have much success using SEO. The same applies for those in the travel industry. If you are involved in these industries, forget it. As an SEO agency, I won’t even touch those types of industries! A small up-and-coming company will have to compete with players who have been in the industry for decades. What this means is that they have been doing what you are only learning to do for so long that you may as well forget about overtaking them. That’s not to say it cannot be done! It can be done and it has been done. However, for the most part, your SEO efforts are not going to give you the desired results.
  • SEO is not the task of a single day: Most people make the mistake of launching their SEO efforts today and expecting results tomorrow. To be frank, Search Engine Optimization is not for the impatient! If you think you are going to immediately begin to see results, then you are in for a huge disappointment. Remember what I have already mentioned about the field being usually already inundated? In reality, these well-established players have been doing SEO for decades. That is why they are at the top! Now, as a small business, your SEO efforts will eventually bear fruit, but after how long? Maybe a year or two. Do you have the budget to sustain your SEO efforts for that long?

Examples: Should small businesses bother with SEO?

This article is unique. Why? Because I use real examples to make everything clearer. Though you may encounter hundreds of similar articles on the subject on Google, none of them take this approach. Below are six examples showing you whether or not SEO for small businesses is possible:

  1. Real estate companies
Should real estate companies use SEO?
Should real estate companies use SEO?

I am going to start by using the example of real estate companies to illustrate some of the points that I am trying to make in this article. This type of business is one that’s almost a no-go area for me as far as doing SEO is concerned. Why? In the screenshot above, you can see that I have carried out a Google search for “realtor near me.” If you carry out a similar search, your results are going to be different, depending on where you live. That’s because Google tries as much as possible to localize search results. As a result, someone in Nairobi will get different results from someone in the United States.

As you can see in the screenshot, the results that you get when you carry out a search may include Google Ads. We will talk about Google Ads as either an alternative or a complement to SEO later in this article. However, Google Ads are not what we are interested in at the moment. If you scroll down your page, you may come upon Google Maps results, as can be seen in the screenshot below. Google Maps is not SEO, and so we are going to omit that for the moment.

Google maps
A search for “realtor near me,” turns up Google Maps results

I know that most people who are reading this article are not Realtors, but I just want you to get a handle of what I am talking about here. Competing in terms of SEO is tough for small businesses, as I have already stated. If you own a real estate company, you may have to compete with such established players as realtor.com. As you can see in the screenshot below, realtor.com dominates the search results. It’s almost impossible, therefore, for an upcoming player to beat that. In fact, realtor.com comes up six times in a row! Then there is also bhhscalifornia.com. You definitely can’t beat Warren Buffett. I am also getting results for zillow.com, which is another real estate company that you will be hard pressed to beat. If you look at the search results that I am getting, you will notice that Trulia and Redfin are not even on the first page. These are well established players when it comes to real estate and the fact that they are failing to compete should be telling.

realtor.com dominates results
Realtor.com dominates search results. Can you compete with that?

What can you do?

So, is it all doom and gloom for an up-and-coming business in a competitive industry such as the real estate environment that I have just been talking about? Well, there are things that you can do to compete with the established players:

  • Angle for local search: You can, as an example, angle to get traffic at the local level. I have already mentioned that Google places greater importance on local search results on local queries. Try to get your local office into Google maps. I wouldn’t bother with SEO, not in this industry.
  • Advertise on Google Ads: This is another option for those that are looking to make it in a competitive industry. Advertising via Google Ads means your results will get to the top of the Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs). This bypasses SEO. However, you will notice that your competitors will most likely outbid you for all the relevant keywords, meaning you may have a difficult time competing even here.
  1. Cellphone repair companies
Search results for cellphone repair companies
SEO for small businesses: Results for cellphone repair companies

Okay, let me take a look at another industry. Let’s assume that you own a business that’s into cell phone repairs. Would it be worthwhile for you to try SEO for your business? When I carry out a search for San Diego cell phone repair, I get the results that you see in the above screenshot.

As you can see, at number 1 is a company that has an exact match keyword domain; sandiegocellphonerepair.com. I have previously worked with this company. Then you get two results from Yelp and then a bunch of local based companies.

In this industry for cell phone repairs, it’s actually okay to do SEO. If you approach me and ask me to handle your SEO for you, I won’t immediately turn you away. Though the competition is tough, it is not insurmountable. That’s probably partly because the service that is offered is highly localized. Most people are going to start looking for local expertise to have their cell phones repaired. Then they will go elsewhere.

  1. Moving companies
SEO for moving companies
Should moving companies do SEO?

What if you are in the moving business? Would it be worthwhile for you to go the SEO way? Well, any business that sees the Google local services pop up, I believe, shouldn’t even bother with SEO. You can see what I am talking about in the screenshot above. There are three Google Guaranteed companies in the screenshot. These are “We Like To Move It,” “Sullivan Moving,” and “Best Fit Movers.” So, why do I say you shouldn’t bother with SEO in this instance? Well, I run an SEO company and if I owned a moving company, I wouldn’t even bother with SEO for the following reasons:

  • You should strive to get onto Google local services (also called Google Guaranteed). As you can see, results for Google local services appear right at the top of your Search Engine Results Page. The great thing about Google Guaranteed is that you only pay when people call in, and not when they click on your link. That’s basically what you want; to have people call into your business.
  • Below Google Guaranteed are Google Ads. What this means is that Google local services has a greater chance of getting clicks than Google Ads. Usually, it’s Google Ads that gets to the top of Search Engine Result Pages.
  • Below Google Ads is Google Maps. Every business needs to get onto Google Maps. It’s great for local searches. You should strive to get good reviews that can drive traffic to your business.
  • Finally, there is the organic part. This is what we are interested in for this article. SEO is all about organic traffic. The fact that organic results are below Google Guaranteed, Google Ads and Google Maps means that SEO is hardly worth the effort in this instance. Who is going to scroll all the way to the bottom of the page just to click on your results when there are so many options at the top?

On the organic results, you can see that I get content from Yelp and other companies. I know, a lot of people hate Yelp, but there is no denying that it’s out there and it is influential. At the very least, make sure that you have claimed your free Yelp listing.

SEO for small businesses
SEO for small businesses: Yelp can dominate some search results.

Google Local Services

Okay, let’s talk about Google local services for a bit. I mean, it’s not SEO, but there are so many people who call me about this stuff that it’s necessary to talk about it here. A number of companies qualify for it, including auto service companies, carpet cleaners, event planners, movers, locksmiths, pest control technicians, etc. So, if your industry is on the list, you need to first apply for Google Local Services before pouring thousands of dollars into SEO. Again, the service is pay per call and not pay per click.

  1. Plumbers
Should plumbers bother with SEO?
SEO for small businesses: Plumbers

How about plumbers? Should they even bother with SEO? Well, the answer is the same as in the above example. You can see in the above screenshot that the first results I get are for companies that have signed up for Google Local Services. So, you should do this before going the SEO way. Below that, there are Google Ads, followed by Google Maps. Google organic gets relegated to halfway down the page.

  1. Motorcycle shipping companies
shoult motorcycle shipping bother with SEO?
SEO for small businesses: motorcycle shipping

Here is another example of SEO for small businesses that looks at the search term “motorcycle shipping.” This keyword is a nationwide keyword. One company that you see on there is AA Motorcycle Transport. This company provides shipping all over the United States and it is one of my clients. You will notice that there are no local search results for this keyword. There are, however, Google Ads. My client ranks at number 3 in Google organic. Sometimes, a featured snippet from them is also shown. This depends on where the search query is happening.

So, should you do SEO for this type of industry? The answer to that is yes! SEO is something that you can definitely do for this industry. I have done it for my client, and so, and they are somewhere near the top when it comes to organic search engine results. To be frank, the competition is there, but it is not fierce. At least, it’s not as fierce as is the case in the Realtor industry.

  1. Dentists
SEO for dentists
SEO for small businesses: Dentists

What if you are a dentist? Should you bother with SEO? Well, dentists operate within an industry that’s also localized. What this means is that your clients are only ever going to come from so many miles around the physical location of your business. For the search term “dentists Chula Vista,” I get the results that you see in the above screenshot.

Chula Vista is the neighborhood where I live in. It’s a suburb of San Diego. You can see that I get Google Ads at the top. Then there is Google Maps. This is where I would actually focus most of my attention if I was operating in this industry. Having a listing on Google Maps is a great way through which you can inform people about the exact physical location of your business.

You can see in the screenshot below that most of the results that I am getting are from Yelp. So, is SEO even worth it? I don’t really think so in this instance. Truth of the matter is, your SEO efforts are going to have to compete with Yelp. So, why don’t you just join Yelp? That way, you can get the free version.

Yelp SEO
Yelp dominates results for dentists.

Is SEO worth it?

Okay, now we need to get back to the question: “Is SEO worth it for small businesses?” The answer is, it depends on the industry in which you operate. I am trying to keep this as unbiased as possible. So, I am not going to prescribe a blanket solution. Truth of the matter is, each business is going to be different.

How long does it take for SEO to begin yielding results?

That is the million dollar question. It’s the question that I get asked by people on a daily basis. Most want to know how long they are going to wait before seeing results after hiring my company. Running an SEO service is not an easy task. Doing SEO for small businesses is particularly challenging. One is liable to get bludgeoned or sued by impatient clients.

The trick lies in being forthwith. That is something that I try to do with all my clients. I tell them right off the bat that SEO is not the task of a single day. Neither is it the task of a single month or a couple of months.

If you hire the services of an SEO agency today, you can expect to begin seeing results after about six months. You need, therefore, to be patient. If you come across an agency that promises you immediate results, you should know that you are about to be scammed. No one is going to be able to IMMEDIATELY boost your SEO. They will work on your website today and six months or a year down the line, you may begin seeing results.

Alternatives to SEO

Everyone that starts a new business and sets up a website immediately thinks about SEO. However, as I have shown in this article, SEO is not always the best option for small businesses. Those in the Realtor sector, as an example, have their work cut out for them trying to compete with players that have been at it for decades. So, does that mean all is lost for these businesses? The answer is a big NO. SEO may not be the best option for you, but that does not mean you should immediately close shop and look for other business opportunities. The following are some of the things you can do to compete with the well established players. Note that I have already mentioned some of these things in the foregoing article, so bear with me:

  • Google Local Services: This is something on which I have already touched. If this service is available for your industry, then you need to go for it as an alternative to SEO. The great thing is that Google Local Services gets a slot right at the top of search results, which increases their chance of being seen by target audiences.
  • Google Ads: Google Ads is another great alternative to Search Engine Optimization. Again, this is something that I have already mentioned in this article. Google Ads are great in that they get shown above organic search results. Those that are familiar with the behavior of people who make search queries will tell you that the higher a result appears on a page, the more likely it is to receive clicks.
  • Google Maps: Getting a listing on Google Maps is a must for all businesses, particularly those that are localized in nature. If you own a restaurant, as an example, you are going to want to get a listing to get people to find the physical location of your business. So, how do you get on Google Maps? Well, to get on Google Maps, you first need to sign up for Google My Business. Once that is done, you will need to verify your business, after which your business will appear on Google Maps. Here, people can leave reviews. The great thing about all this is that it comes free of charge.
  • Yelp: You will have noticed in a couple of the examples that I gave above that Yelp dominates search results in some industries. If that is the case for you, then you need to use Yelp as an alternative to SEO. The great thing about Yelp is that you can claim a page for your business for free. Of course, there is a paid version of Yelp, but the free version is usually enough to get featured on some local Google search results.
  • Facebook Marketing: Facebook has, over the years, turned marketing into a whole new ballgame. It is another alternative to SEO that small businesses should consider making use of. The great thing about Facebook is that almost everyone is there. It’s easy, therefore, for businesses to find the exact audience they wish to target. There are a variety of ways through which small businesses can do marketing on Facebook. These include through a Facebook Page, through Facebook Ads and through Facebook Remarketing.

Why not take a combined approach?

This article tries to determine whether or not small businesses should bother with SEO. However, there is nothing here or out there that suggests you cannot do SEO and other marketing channels at the same time. You can, as an example, do Google Ads, Facebook Ads, etc. alongside SEO. As already mentioned, SEO is not the task of a single day. What it means is that you are going to have to wait long periods to begin seeing results. This applies even in those industries where I have stated that SEO can be workable.

The advantage of using SEO is that there is a lot of search intent behind Google. So, it doesn’t matter what industry you are involved in. Whoever types keywords into Google, they are in the market for something. Whether they are in the research phase, or in the buying phase, fact remains that they are looking for something.

With Facebook, it’s basically people wasting time, and then an ad pops out. The degree of intent is not the same as is the case with Google Ads. People are more likely to ignore the ad than not. I am just telling you this here because I do both Facebook Ads and Google Ads. Google has search intent while Facebook has no buying intent. You actually need to convince people to do stuff there. That’s not to say, however, that Facebook is inferior to Google Ads. Feel free to check out our articles on Facebook Marketing for more on how you can use Facebook to reach out to your target audience.

Finally!

So, I hope you really enjoyed this article. To sum up the issue of SEO for small businesses, one can say whether or not it’s worth it really depends on the industry that you are in. Take a look at your local results. If you do nationwide SEO and you can take on clients anywhere in the United States, you may actually want to get a marketing plan before you call marketing agencies. That way you won’t get pricing all over the place.

Personally, I don’t do SEO unless it’s like a $3,000 and up budget per month. It just depends on the industry. Many industries, I don’t even bother. If, as an example, it’s a travel agency trying to call me, I am not going to compete with Expedia, Travelocity and hotels.com. I mean, forget it!

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