Digital marketing allows small businesses to compete with the “big boys” in a way that has never been possible before. But what are small businesses doing with this opportunity? Clutch, a research company that provides analysis on leading service firms, sought the answer to that question with their recent survey “Small Business Marketing Plans 2015.”
I was honored to be asked to provide some insights on the survey results. Some of my comments are included in Clutch’s analysis of the survey results, which you can read at https://clutch.co/digital-
Here is the entire text of my interview with Clutch Analyst Natalie Beach:
1. What are your thoughts on the distribution of companies who practice SEO? How have you seen this play out over the past couple of years, and looking to the future?
It is actually surprising to me the number of respondents that are not likely to work on SEO or are ambivalent toward it. I would think that there would be a far greater number of “No, buts…” I understand that not everyone is ready for SEO, but this tells us there are still a significant number of businesses that simply don’t see the value in it at all. That means we still have a lot of education to do.
On the other hand, there is a far greater number of responses for people already doing some sort of SEO. My guess, based on our experience, is that a number of them are doing some form of SEO but are probably not fully invested in it. I think this coincides with the number of respondents that are doing SEO in house. I would guess that SEO is another job added to someone’s plate of work rather than having someone fully dedicated to SEO.
2. What is your reaction to the level of satisfaction that clients have with their SEO consultant/agency, compared to the satisfaction of those who do SEO in house?
Running an SEO agency might bias my answer here, but my best guess is that those who are doing SEO in house are doing so because they don’t have the budget to fully invest. That’s not to say that companies can’t or don’t have full-time web marketers on their team, but those seem to be reserved for the larger companies. The smaller companies are those that struggle to hire an outside consultant or firm so they give that job to their existing staff.
I’m also interested in the percentage of those that are somewhat/very likely to continue doing SEO in house (96% weighted almost entirely to “likely”) to those that are somewhat/very likely to continue to outsource (79% one-third of which are only “somewhat”). The survey indicates that most of these companies are at least somewhat satisfied with their consultant or agency, which leads me to think that they believe it’s cheaper to bring SEO in-house.
One thing that people don’t often think about is the range of skills necessary to execute a full-scale web marketing campaign. While businesses can hire one or two people to handle “SEO” for around the same cost of outsourcing, with outsourcing you get access to more experts with far greater experience than are usually available for bringing in house.
3. The survey indicates that 25% or more of SMBs that do active SEO don’t measure results or aren’t sure how they measure the results. What’s your reaction to this?
I’m not that surprised. In fact, I would throw those who measure by looking at “search engine keyword rankings” into this category as well since that’s not really a valuable metric. Too many businesses are simply not taking web marketing seriously enough to measure the most valuable metrics (conversions/leads, revenue, engagement, etc.).
Without the proper measurement, businesses are chasing all the wrong things and are often disappointed when they don’t “feel” like SEO is working. Either the rankings are there but business isn’t growing, or the business is growing but the rankings aren’t there. Either way, there is disappointment from the client. My philosophy to web marketing is if we can grow your business without getting a single keyword ranked on Google, we’ve succeeded. Rankings simply don’t grow businesses. They are a means for growth but not growth itself.
4. Given the number of respondents with an SEO agency/consultant that are “not sure” or “don’t measure” their SEO results, can you share some best practices for agencies/consultants on reporting?
I think every campaign needs to have established metrics that are being tracked. This is the only way to compare and see what is successful and what is not. There can be any number of goals worth tracking that are not specifically conversion related (downloads, engagement, brand reach, etc.) It’s up to each business to determine what is worth measuring.
While the ultimate goal is business growth, measuring and improving many of the other metrics first can and ultimately will lead to business growth. If you only track how many people cross the finish line, you get no insight into the reasons why the others didn’t make it. However, tracking these micro goals gives insight in how the site can be improved in a way to get more people across that finish line.
5. Additionally, what are some best practices that can be done on both sides to ensure a positive relationship between SEO consultants/agencies and their clients?
The most important thing is communication and being on the same page regarding expectations. That’s not as easy as it sounds. When a client’s money is on the line, it doesn’t matter how much you tempered their expectations, they still want to see results quickly. SEO isn’t quick.
The other main thing we try to communicate with our clients is that SEO is a team effort. Not just our team, but us working with their team. If they are responsive and have someone who can work with us, then their SEO campaign is more likely to be successful. Clients that disregard our advice and recommendations or fall out of communication for a while will see their results suffer. By and large, for every five hours of work we do, there is at least an hour of “homework” for the client. If the client isn’t doing their job, we can’t do ours.
6. How can small businesses best align SEO practices with their business objectives?
Determine what goals they have, figure out what they need to do to achieve those goals, and commit to investing the time, money, and energy into seeing those goals fulfilled.
7. What do you think of the distribution of small businesses that do online advertising (e.g. Google AdWords) versus those that do SEO? Do you think that both paid search ads and organic SEO are useful to small businesses?
I actually would have thought that more businesses participated in online advertising than SEO. Google has done such a good job of selling the idea that AdWords is easy, and it can, if managed properly, lead to more immediate results, whereas SEO is more of a long-play.
However, AdWords isn’t really something that you can roll the cost into an employee’s workload. If you have a small staff, you can easily assign someone to manage the SEO at not additional cost. If someone manages AdWords, you still have to pay Google for the ad spend. This tells me that budgets are pretty tight all the way around.
So there you have it, my take on the marketing plans of small businesses in 2015. Don’t forget to check out Clutch’s article for more insights by other SEO experts and the complete survey results.