We are often asked is SEO worth the effort for small businesses. In our opinion, it depends on the target audience (local or national), the market and the level of competition.
What Is SEO
You want someone to make contact to discuss (better still buy) your product or service. Unless they are at least aware of what you offer then you have no chance.
So how do you make them aware? There are many ways, but if you assume they will search online then your webpages need to appear in the search result listings (SERPS). People are unlikely to scroll through many pages of results, so you need to appear in a high position in those listings.
Search engine optimisation is a process designed to increase the visibility of your web pages in the search results.
How To Rank – The Basics
In simple terms your webpage needs to be relevant to the searcher’s query, it must match the searchers intent and it should have authority. Where authority is defined by the search engine algorithms. The webpage (or website if you have many pages) must be technically correct.
You need to pay attention to your website structure and the content on your pages (more on that below). But critically you need authority, for most small businesses that is the main challenge.
Local Vs National
Are you looking for customers in your local area or nationally? It makes a huge difference to your investment in SEO.
The local SEO process is different to the process required for national coverage. Generally, it is easier (and cheaper) to rank in a local area for search terms with a local element (‘service’ in Nottingham).
If you want to rank nationally, you will need to build authority and that takes time and effort. It is more challenging and therefore expensive.
To rank in a high position in the SERPS in a local area you will need a technically correct website and content (text, video, photography, graphics). You will need reviews and citations and you will need (local) authority.
What builds authority? Many things but probably the most important is backlinks.
There are other elements specific to local SEO, of which a Google My Business listing is the most important.
National Search Engine Optimisation
If you want to rank nationally, there is much more competition. The specific elements (like Google my Business) that can help at a local level are not available.
A technically correct website, content and matching relevance and intent will help. However, without authority, the chances of ranking at a high position for your favourite keyword phrases are minimal.
There are many elements to building authority, but it takes time and expertise and that is expensive.
So Is SEO Worth It?
Infuriatingly, the answer is it depends. It depends on what you are selling (and its value), it depends on your market niche, and it depends on where you sell. It depends on the level of competition in your market, and it depends on how established that competition is online.
Don’t believe the hype you may read online and put together a website and a little content and expect it to rank highly in the SERPS. It won’t, especially if you expect to rank UK wide.
You need to think through what you can afford to invest in SEO, build a process, then deliver that process over time. For some businesses, the investment in SEO will pay back many times over. For others, it will be a complete waste of time and money. It depends.
What is clear it is getting harder for a small business to generate an ROI from SEO.