Consumers instinctively search with Google when they're researching products or looking for neighborhood shops, restaurants and other businesses to patronize. Until that ingrained behavior changes, search engine optimization (SEO) remains a top priority for all types of businesses, but small businesses in particular.
What is SEO? For the initiated, here is Webopedia's entry for the term:
SEO is short for search engine optimization. Search engine optimization is a methodology of strategies, techniques and tactics used to increase the amount of visitors to a website by obtaining a high-ranking placement in the search results page of a search engine (SERP) — including Google, Bing, Yahoo and other search engines.
Ranking high—ideally first—is vitally important for businesses that want to get noticed by internet and mobile users. The search engine results that attract the most mouse clicks or touch-screen taps are likeliest to attract their dollars, after all.
Given this, it's natural for small and midsized businesses to seek out the services of an SEO firm. Tim Clarke, Research Manager at business-to-business research firm Clutch, shares his tips for finding an SEO service that works for you.
"Companies should beware of over-the-top promises that only require a few hundred dollars of investment per month. SEO campaigns typically need three to six months to produce tangible results for all industries, and competitive markets may require even more time," said Clarke.
"Avoid packages or arrangements that sell a set amount of keywords. Many SEO firms will focus on keyword growth even if it doesn't lead to client sales or revenue," he added.
While budgeting for an SEO campaign, SMBs should prepare for an approach that's as individual as their own organization.
"Every SMB should create a custom online marketing plan. One-size-fits-all never works. Firms that haven't engaged in much marketing of their website often start with paid search through Google AdWords or other search engines," said Clarke.
"Generally, these companies are willing to buy traffic to their website in the early stages of organic SEO. As organic returns begin to show over time, they will reduce PPC [pay-per-click] advertising and direct mostly or all on organic SEO," he continued.
Recently, Clutch published its Business Guide to SEO Services report, complete with survey results gathered from 500 large enterprises and 305 small businesses. Among small businesses, 52 percent use SEO.
However, the experience doesn't appear to have been a pleasant one. After interviewing 150 clients of SEO and digital marketing agencies in the company's listings, Clutch found that 19 percent had a negative experience with an SEO provider before settling on the right firm.
Naturally, no business owner wants to see their online marketing dollars go to waste, so it's important to select the right SEO firm.
Basic and effective SEO packages for local small businesses can costs $300 to $500 per month. "Basic SEO services are a low-cost, low-risk investment for smaller businesses and local contractors, companies with a new website, or companies with fewer SEO services demands," states the report. For that kind of money, customers should expect "local organic optimization techniques" that include listings on Google Local Business and other local directories.