5 Ways to Engage Small Businesses in SEO

by Dev Basu March 4th, 2008 

Credit: William Cho

Getting Small Biz to engage with Search Engine Optimization is difficult to say the least. That said, the opportunity for elevating SMB's from traditional print and radio advertising to an online platform is massive, given the sheer number of businesses that contribute to the economy through a vast number of product and services.

As search marketers, bringing about a shift towards an online presence is a win-win situation for both the client and the service provider. So the challenge is definitely there, but I'm about to provide you with 5 tips that are geared towards engaging SMB's to consider SEO and online marketing in general.

  1. The Approach - It's a human connection after all - sales is about being persuasive while still keeping a relationship with the customer. I'd start by approaching businesses that already utilize some for advertising: such as radio, or print advertising. Tell them you Googled their business and couldn't find them, but perhaps found their competitor instead.
  2. A Website isn't Enough - Whether the small biz you're pitching has a website designed in 1997 or post 2004, the real question you should be asking is whether they get any traffic. Chances are, they don't have an analytics program installed, or have no idea how to leverage their website to gain more prospects to their business.
  3. Start Small and Up sell - Most SMB's don't have a budget carved out for something 'new' such as SEO, so this isn't the time to quote an extraordinary amount. Aiming for premium SERP rankings won't mean much to a small biz, if they don't see a tangible benefit associated with their investment. Instead, start small with services such as Google local, to at least get their name on the map.
  4. Pay for Performance - When starting out with a reluctant small business, it may be beneficial to structure a contract based on a pay for performance plan. Reporting on this can be as simple as asking the business (if they are excited about going online) to ask their customers how they found them, or by setting up goals through Google analytics if they happen to have a website. Once you're able to make a tangible link between your efforts as a search marketer to increased ROI for the small biz, you can change the plan to an hourly rate or a monthly retainer.
  5. Develop Relationship with Other Stakeholders - Being part of a channel marketing solution is often the best way of employing pull marketing. By this I mean developing strategic partnerships with traditional advertising service providers that small businesses are already used to and have a budget for. Reaching out to that local newspaper or radio station might provide valuable opportunities to add SEO and search marketing in general as a 'upgrade' package to their traditional advertising services. It's important to remember that the search marketing services are completely in your control and the contracts are directly outsourced to you or your firm to avoid the parent agency promising anything that you can't guarantee (eg: #1 rankings guaranteed in the SERPs).

I'm sure there are many more to consider, including the example of the gentleman who got free pizza for life by securing his local pizza place for a premium ranking on Google. Leave a comment and add to this conversation about how you'd approach a local small biz.

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13 Responses to “5 Ways to Engage Small Businesses in SEO”

  1. Shana Albert says:

    Great Post, Dev!! One thing I noticed though….you mention 10 tips, but there are only 5.

    I love posts that combine small business and SEO and this post is no exception. :)

  2. Dev Basu says:

    *Edited* Sorry about that Shana! I'm glad you liked the post :)

  3. ShariV says:

    Many small businesses with an under-performing web site are frustrated, but don't know where to turn. They've been sold a do-it-yourself package that doesn't work as advertised, or they've worked with a designer who charges for every update, but doesn't have any understanding of SEO. The small business owner is painfully aware that their web site is an expense, but not an investment.

    I approach small businesses after reviewing their competitors' web sites. Many times, the competition doesn't have any concept of SEO either. Once I know that I can help them, I show them that I understand what needs to be done to draw traffic to their site, and that I understand that a web site should boost their business, not drain money from it. From there, it's a matter of learning what they can afford, and determining if I can afford to work with them.

    I like your idea of structuring pay for performance, but how do you get past the initial time investment before the SEO sees a return on investment?

  4. Shana Albert says:

    No need to apologize, Dev. I just wanted to let you know so that you can make the change. :)

  5. Tad Chef says:

    Yeah. Very down to earth post resonating with my experience. I just don't convince people to do SEO though. They have to see that their competition outranks them before they come by themselves.

  6. Dev Basu says:

    @Shariv – My philosophy towards small biz seo entails creating long term relationships with the prospective client. Often times as you've described, the competitors have no idea of seo and it may not be excessively difficult to get them to rank within the firs 30 or so results. Taking baby steps is important, as many clients consider it enough to just SEE their name on a search engine result. That said, I may operate at a loss initially using the pay for performance plan, but I have the opportunity cost of creating a long term relationship with the client.

  7. SEO London says:

    I like the idea of pay for performance. I think Small business seems to be very reluctant to spend money on anything for which they don't get results straight away. I cant believe the negative attitude some potential clients have towards SEO.

  8. Some great tips. I can see alot of small businesses agreeing to the pay by traffic or even better for them conversion.

  9. I could see it being very difficult to switch from a pay-for-performance model to a retainer. Even with a good relationship, what motivation is there for the client to take on more risk just because results to date have been positive?

  10. […] 5 Ways to Engage Small Businesses in SEO […]

  11. Héctor says:

    I have been asked many times about a pay-for-performance by small business and I always was reluctant to. Anyways, you made me think a lot about that and I promise I will start thinking how to improve it in my two companies

    Thanks for your Help

  12. Nick James says:

    Great post Dev. I know exactly what you're on about, I've blogged about it before.
    Here in the UK there seems to be a complete lack of understanding from small businesses as regards to SEO and online marketing. It's often a case of "I've paid an arm and a leg for the website, surely that's enough. Why on earth should I pay any more?"

  13. Dev Basu says:

    @SEO London – I guess the case here is that the onus is on us as search marketers to show value in seo for SMBs. Any new advertising medium faces an initial resistance, but things are getting easier.

    @Marios – Any changes in the contract are difficult to come about, especially if the client is happy with the plan they are already paying for. That said, I'd say the key is in the upsell. Show your client how much better their competitors are doing, and how much more flexibility you'd have to have them rank in premier positions. I know for many an established seo, the smallest client in the initial stage became the biggest client later on.

    @Nick James – SEO is intuitive in many ways, so I'd explain the website vs seo debate this way – you need eyeballs for your website no matter how pretty it is..No eyeballs = 0 Sales garnered from online lead generation