How To Sell "Mom and Pop" On SEO Services

by Steven Bradley March 28th, 2008 

While some small business owners are on board with the idea of search engine optimization many still aren't. However, even with those who aren't quite on board yet, there's an increasing awareness of this thing called search marketing and small business represents a fertile market for SEOs. The difficulty is the increasing awareness still hasn't reached the point of realistic expectations and costs for many small business owners. So how does an SEO sell services to a market who's needs and wants are often out of alignment with realistic expectations and pricing?

You've probably had your share of encounters with a small business owner inquiring about seo. Often after putting together a package of services along with a price you never hear back. There's a sense that small business either isn't willing to pay a fair amount for search marketing services or that they simply can't afford to pay for those services. Both are certainly true of some, but I think the truth is a little different.

My experiences with small business owners has shown the truth isn't so much that they won't or can't pay, but rather they can't afford to pay for everything all at once. An approach other than an all inclusive package with associated pricing is often necessary. What's important is to understand who your potential client is, what he or she is looking for in your services, and how best you can deliver a win-win situation.

Who is the Typical "Mom and Pop" Client?

The definition of a small business varies somewhat. In the U.S. a business with under 100 employees is a small business. But a company with 90 employees is very different than a company with two employees. The businesses I'm referring to here are more the microbusinesses and "mom and pops" with less than 10 people working for the company.

Most of us won't have to look to far to understand who the microbusiness owner is since most of us fall into the category. Think about your own business for a moment and consider how you decide on purchases. I know there are plenty of things I want to buy to help my business. I know that many of those things will ultimately help me make more money fully justifying the expense. I also know that many of those things aren't going to be purchased by me in the immediate future.

It's not that I don't have the money to afford say some software application. It's more that with so many different things I want to purchase I have to prioritize which is most important, with rent and bills usually taking the top spot on the list of priorities. Your "mom and pop" client is the same. It's not that they won't pay for your services, it's that they have a lot of choices to make about where to best spend their money.

You and I know the value of search marketing. Your typical "mom and pop" is still learning. They're often still at the very early stages of search knowledge at the point where meta tags are seo. They've heard of seo, but don't yet realize the work that goes into building a search presence.

They may also have been burned in the past by a less than reputable seo firm who promised everything and delivered nothing.

"Mom and pop" are ready for seo services, but they need to be gently brought into the process.

Selling SEO to "Mom and Pop"

The approach that's worked best for me to get "mom and pop" to buy into seo services is to not overwhelm them upfront with all the site needs. Instead of presenting everything at once you might do better to identify a few smaller, but important things the site needs and sell the smaller work, while explaining what you are doing and what results can be reasonably expected from the effort.

Spend a few hours fixing a duplicate content issue or plug the whole in the site's shopping cart. Once your client starts seeing the results you won't have to work so hard to sell your client on a blog strategy.

"Mom and Pop" may balk at paying several thousand dollars right away for services they still aren't sure will work, but they will often accept a series of smaller fees for smaller projects. Again it's not about being unable to afford services, but rather being unable to pay for them all at once.

If possible try to uncover how much your client is willing to budget for your services and then figure out what you can deliver within that budget. Your clients will usually want more than than they have to spend, but most will be reasonable and understand that their budget is the limiting factor. All they ask is that you can provide value within that budget.

It's also very important to educate your clients as you work on their site. Many "mom and pops" are still at the point where they see seo as magic formula. Place a few words here, add a few others to your meta tags and your done formula. Before negotiating a price I find it best to explain in some degree how much more the process is and do what I can to bring expectations back to reality.

If you can sell a smaller project withing the larger process, explain what results can be reasonably expected, and then deliver those results you'll find it much easier to sell the next small project. In this way you can slowly pull your client into the seo process and in time sell them on all your services.

Why Work with "Mom and Pop"?

SEO clients fall into several different types. You probably aren't going to get rich working with "mom and pop," but you can still make a good living and working with them has additional rewards. "Mom and pop" are often much more appreciative of your efforts than larger businesses will be. They also tend to become more loyal to you as you'll inevitably end up working more closely with them.

Larger business will be less inclined to worry about you if the time comes for them to consider a new vendor. The contract might be greater, but the feelings of loyalty for past work isn't. "Mom and pop" will remember what you've done for them, not just what you've done for them lately. Once you have built trust with them you might find less need to "sell" your services to them.

It can also be very rewarding to know you've directly helped another individual with their business. Helping a large company make thousands doesn't compare to helping a one person operation pick up a few hundred dollars that keeps them in business longer. At least it doesn't for me.

There's a sense of satisfaction working with someone who in the beginning had little understanding of what value you could bring to their business and slowly bringing them through the process until they do see that value.

The key to working with "mom and pop" isn't about forcing them to do things your way. The key is to understand where they are coming from, who they are, and what they are capable of putting into the process and then finding a way you can offer value within the limits defined by your client. Working with microbusinesses is about you fitting into their way of doing business, not forcing them into your way. If you're willing to adjust your thinking the market is ripe and the rewards are great.

Steven Bradley is a Web Designer/Developer and SEO. He writes about topics related to marketing and search engine optimization at TheVanBlog and can be found in many places online under the username vangogh.

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17 Responses to “How To Sell "Mom and Pop" On SEO Services”

  1. Dave says:

    After years of research, I have only recently become successful at SEO because I now know which keyword phrases I should be targeting for fast results. It all comes down to choosing long tail keyword phrases that have little competition so that with only 100 or so one way links with the same anchor text you can get in the top three in Google. Find multiple long tail keyword phrases to target and the traffic quickly mounts up (and because its highly targeted it usually converts better as well). There is no point targeting generic keywords with the most competition because you will need thousands of one way links.

  2. Oliver Taco says:

    I simply could not agree more. We recently wrote a free SEO tool for Yahoo!Store owners, most of which are mom-and-pop. The response was really quite heartwarming because we'd given them something they could extract actionable information out of that they knew would improve their bottom line.

    Mom and Pop will pay for things that give them marginal return – they understand that stuff.

    Keep up the good articles!


  3. vangogh, great post! I have worked with mom and pops and fortune 200 firms. They both have their positives and negatives. Working with smaller clients can be very difficult because it is typically very difficult to show them much of an ROI with $500-$1000 budget. Plus the fact that SEO takes time to see the benefits always hurts your cause. The client really needs to have a tremendous amount of "faith" in you, even at only $500/month.

    I totally agree with Dave and Oliver Taco in that long tail is the way to go initially, especially for mom and pops. But for some clients the longtail really does not convert well.

    Its all about providing an ROI or at least backing your work up with solid gains in analytics to build value. Either way, accountability is the key, and your clients will really appreciate that!

  4. Another benefit of working for for small business owners is that they tend to be networked with other small businesses in their area and might generate some more contracts for you via word of mouth.

  5. GiorgosK says:

    Great post Steven,

    I am a relatively new freelancer and I ONLY have small business as clients and it is indeed difficult to convince them the worth of your services.

    I tend to offer inexpensive monthly service which soon shows results and encourage them to keep the service for as long as they think its beneficial to them.

    Pricing also depends on the type of product their website is offering. In some niches bringing a few extra visitors that convert might justify a higher monthly fee.

  6. I specialize in Mom and Pop outfits because I am one.

    I've been in the "SEO and related" world since 97 and find a lot of happiness and personal pleasure in making "Mom and Pops" more successful – I even have an attractive package tailored for them.

    Of course I do work with some big companies (some really big) but at the end of it all I don't need to make that much and happiness is more often than not way more important than money :)

    Charlotte, NC

  7. […] Back across the big pond now to Rand Fishkin's house of SEOmoz where they published “The SEO Industry Survey Results” a must read – credit to SEOmoz for this one. AbleReach reveals a bug in StumbleUpon with “Social Media : Can Broken be Better”, Search Engine People invite Steven Bradley to talk about How To Sell “Mom and Pop” On SEO Services. […]

  8. Dev Basu says:

    Great Post! I find it much more fun working with small biz's over medium or large sized enterprises because they really value what every cent invested returns for them. The key is in the upsell and keeping things cheap and cheerful! In certain instances, a firm's smallest client grows to be its biggest 😉 – Jenn you know what I'm talking about!

  9. godfrey phillips says:

    why are you referring to these businesses as 'mom and pop' stores if you are talking about businesses that employ less than 10 people. Not to 'nit pick' but if that how you define your market you are talking about 5.5 million businesses (that employ at least one person). Much of what you say about how they value honest marketing assistance is right, but the 'mom and pop' thing does them a major disservice and creates the wrong images….

  10. Great post. I've provided SEO works from large organizations to the mom and pop companies. One of the most difficult tasks is to set the expectations of the client. Offering them small valued services, I typically start with the local search directories, can lead into more SEO work which in turn should create a better ROI.

  11. SEO Pricing says:

    I agree with your general point of view Steven, but I also think it's wise to share some pricing of your competitors to comfort the customer that you're being fair.

    They often see the pricing *reputable* SEOs are charging for services and immediately think "wow, this guy/gal is trying to make a mint off of little old me" then goes shopping for someone a little less expensive. I have had this happen on multiple occasions, but the client eventually returns after being burned by the lesser expensive option.

    Like you say, it's not necessarily that they can't afford the services, but they have a certain preconceived value in their head of what THEY believe the services should cost which is often less than their true market value.

    Do they have other costly marketing strategies they are weighing? Sure they do, but they shouldn't dictate the value of YOUR services, and we shouldn't be expected to make an "exception" every time a mom and pop comes calling.

    The moms and pops are often times more work because they believe they can do much of the work themselves or out-task it to their son, daughter, niece or nephew then wonder why the results aren't similar to that when they were paying you the full amount. They'll also hound you about rankings on a daily basis then panic when their site falls two or three spots at 2 AM when there is an algorithm change.

    It's another balancing act, but be careful of making too many exceptions to your own pricing models. It can really bite you in the rear especially if your moms and pops talk to other moms and pops about what they are paying you for similar services.

    To that end, I created a pricing comparison report the other day that compares 50 of the top SEO firms in the world. gets you to the registration page, and I hope your readers take a peek at it if for no other reason than to understand the current market so they don't get burned by low price (dare I say Wal-Mart?) shoppers.

  12. […] How To Sell "Mom and Pop" On SEO Services – I think what is so interesting about this post is it translates so well to Higher Education. Break it down into small bite size and easy to understand chunks. […]

  13. […] How To Sell “Mom and Pop” On SEO Services by Search Engine People Blog […]

  14. Suthnautr says:

    A lot of good replies here, and a great article about how to sell to the small businesses. There are those of us with families to support though, who are facing college expenses coming up for our kids, older ones who are looking down the road toward retirement and needs that exceed the long work hours and relatively low budgets of smaller businesses. Yet, as David Saunders in North Carolina posted above "I’ve been in the SEO… world since 97 and find… pleasure in making 'Mom and Pops' more successful…"

    I am in total agreement with that. Our local businesses do indeed deserve support if we can afford it. After all, we are highly educated technical white collar workers (khaki collar at worst – but at our knowledge, skill and level of responsibility definitely not blue) and in all capitalist systems deserve above average earnings.

    David Saunders goes on to say "Of course I do work with some big companies (some really big) but at the end of it all I don’t need to make that much and happiness is more often than not way more important than money"

    Which sums it up the old Greek Proverb "First secure an independent income, then practice virtue." – he's got some really big clients so he's not struggling and can afford to provide local low cost package services as a benefit to the community.

  15. I totally agree with Dave and Oliver Taco in that long tail is the way to go initially, especially for mom and pops. But for some clients the longtail really does not convert well.Its all about providing an ROI or at least backing your work up with solid gains in analytics to build value. Either way, accountability is the key, and your clients will really appreciate that!

  16. Ricky says:

    Great blog, I personally find that there are probably more shady seo companies out there than genuine and 'reputable' ones. Therefore, people often get their fingers burnt and find it hard to trust other seo companies. I personally would not go on the '1000's of one-way backlinks' thinking. the value of each link holds a different weighting, one link from the bbc is going to be better than 1000 links from a forum/article directories.

    The key is quality links in content so not on 'Link' pages.
    Just my 2 cents