What is the value of SEO to small businesses? Does the effort (and cost) deliver an acceptable return? That’s the question we try to answer in this post. We don’t cover local SEO here. That’s a related (but different) approach covered elsewhere on this blog.

The first step is to ensure the SEO basics are in place. Define your objectives. Where does SEO fit within your business promotion plan? What are your expectations? What skills do you have in house and what will you need to outsource? What content (text, graphics, video, audio) can you produce of value to your potential customers?

If you came to this post expecting a quick and straightforward answer I am sorry I cannot provide that. All I can do is suggest one way to establish if SEO might work for your business or if it is a complete non starter.

In all that follows I assume the business website is technically sound with well thought out navigation. To have a reasonable chance of success a keyword strategy and content strategy should be in place. A conversion process/flow should also be thought through in advance.

The Value Of SEO – The Numbers

You may read reports suggesting 10-15% of organic visits to turn into a lead. You may see others that claim 2-3% is the norm. The point is there is no normal, conversion depends on a large number of factors. 

A range of factors is in play. These include page position in SERPS (search engine result page), the nature of the page, conversion flow, trust and (perceived) quality. An example may help.

For illustration purposes let’s assume a small business website selling a service. We will assume the website is well structured and has no technical issues. We will also assume the service has a level of sophistication. It is not a ‘me to’ type service where the only real distinguishing factor is the price.

A small proportion of those landing on the site (perhaps 1 to 2% of total organic visitors) will be ready to buy. Assuming the site makes it easy to take the next step, it builds credibility and presents trust signals then those visitors should at the very least make contact.

What else? A typical split between total home page vs total blog traffic is 40/60. It is important to think through how to convert that traffic. How to keep them on the site or at the very least ensure they take some secondary action that can be followed up.

The conversion flow on the home page will probably be different to the blog. Those landing on the blog page will, most likely, have a different intent (be in a different stage of the buying cycle) than those reaching the home page. 

Perhaps, it is starting to become clear that generalised conversion numbers are pointless. The only way to estimate the value of SEO is to map out the flow of those using the website. The estimated conversion at each step and conversion on follow up of secondary actions.

The following steps will at least give a rough estimate of the potential return on SEO activity:

  1. Estimate the effort you will need to put in (or pay for).
  2. Estimate the organic traffic you expect each month.
  3. Take 2% of the total organic traffic number and use that as your conversions.
  4. Do the number stack up or are they way off.

Remember a conversion is someone getting in touch, not a sale.

For example, assume a kitchen company makes £2000 profit on each sale and their SEO costs are £1,000 per month. Assume they generate 500 organic website visits a month. 

If we use the 2% number they could obtain 10 customer conversations in the month. If they manage to convert 3 of those conversions to customers they will make £6,000 profit. Given their SEO costs that seems OK.

If we assume the same SEO cost, traffic numbers and conversions but the profit is only £200 each sale then clearly it does not work. Either the traffic needs to go up or the SEO costs need to come down. Of course, all the above assumes you can measure what conversions (incoming phone calls, emails, shop visits) are a result of website traffic. 

Depending on the market an increase in traffic could be possible. There are markets where the search volume will be much higher than a ‘kitchen’ related search. More search volume potentially means more traffic but then the search competition will also be stronger.

Unfortunately, there is no standard calculation you can use to decide if investing in SEO is right for your business. You have to do the numbers for the specific industry, the specific business and process. However, there are tools available to help you make a reasonable assessment of the value delivered by SEO. This is covered in more detail in our SEO for small business guide.

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