Are SEO Services Worth It For Small Businesses?
For millions of small businesses in the U.S. striving to gain invaluable exposure online, the allure of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is understandably intoxicating. The mere thought of having one's business and brand float to the top of Google's search results is enticing enough to make plenty of small business owners write big checks to the SEO gurus who promise big results.
What services will a qualified SEO specialist provide?
An SEO expert will typically work either directly with the small business owner or his designated staff to perform a variety of functions -- usually off-site -- on a recurring basis. Such functions will normally include:
- Ongoing review of your website's content and structure
- Keyword research
- Technical advice on further site development
- Localized, geographic market research and analytics
If all goes as planned with the SEO specialist you've selected, the results should include:
- A more comprehensive online presence
- A boost in your site's search engine ranking
- Improved attraction of targeted consumers
- Better control of your company's online reputation
- And ultimately... higher sales and a better bottom line
Although SEO services is appealing for a variety of credible reasons, the truth, according to some online marketing experts, is that not every small business actually needs help with or will benefit from search engine optimization. Google, after all, ranks the value of a site's content based on a number of criteria, some of which are known only to Google. Google does, however, acknowledge that page ranking is aided greatly by the number of backlinks available to your site. That is, the more websites that provide a referral link to your site, the more your site is perceived to be of value. As a a natural consequence, your page ranking grows.
In fact, Google admits in its very own SEO Starter Guide that the practice among many SEO providers to pay for links can actually be harmful to a site's overall ranking. Google flatly admits that business owners should refrain from “purchasing links from another site with the aim of getting PageRank instead of traffic." Instead, Google advocates the slow and steady organic growth of backlinks. There's no SEO service that can truly guarantee better results, but small businesses seek often expensive SEO services because they're either in a hurry or in the dark. If you do hire an SEO expert, it's important to make sure you aren't buying something that will ultimately penalize you.
Legitimate service or snake oil?
Unfortunately, there remains a significant gap -- if not a chasm -- between the promises some SEO experts make and the results they ultimately deliver. So how do you know if the SEO provider you're considering is credible? According to online marketing experts, selecting an SEO provider should resemble how you shop for a car: Do your research, check under the hood, and always negotiate.
Many SEO providers are actually startups with only a few clients to boast of in their fledgling portfolio. If the job you have is small and the price promoted is just as modest, perhaps one of the new kids on block can do an adequate job for your company. Of course, if you're planning to fork over thousands of scarce marketing dollars on an ambitious attempt to secure the highest ranking possible on the web's most prominent search engines, you should not only ask for references, you should meet with them in advance to gauge their experience and corresponding results.
Is SEO right for you?
No matter which way you slice it, SEO should never be ignored by anyone with a business that occupies digital real estate on the web. But whether SEO services are appropriate in your circumstances depends greatly on the nature and scope of your business. Simply put, you don't need SEO services just because "everyone else is doing it." If you're a small business based exclusively on the web and 100 percent of your sales are generated online, quality SEO should probably be among your highest priorities, whether you hire someone to do it for you or not. If, on the other hand, you own a tiny thrift shop in a small town and don't sell any products through your website, the money you would spend for an SEO specialist can all but certainly be put to better use elsewhere.
Michael Essany is a business writer for Intuit and is passionate about solving small business problems.