Hiring an expert to help you with search engine optimization (SEO) is a strategy that sounds important, but you must carefully weigh the pros and cons.
Data indicates it can be beneficial. Over 50% of organic website traffic still comes from organic search engine results, reports BrightEdge. And almost 2.46 trillion searches were conducted last year.
More importantly, 87% of shoppers now begin their product searches online, even though 46% of them say they prefer to buy the product at a physical location. So having your company appear in top search results will help get you more website or store traffic, and new paying customers.
However, the small business SEO consultants, experts, and service providers you might hire to achieve these goals vary significantly from the solutions they offer to their areas and years of expertise.
We’ve put together this guide to assist you when evaluating whether an SEO service is right for your small business. You’ll get tips on how to shop for the right partner, and intel on what most services cost.
What is SEO?
Essentially, SEO is the process of evaluating your website’s search engine rankings (on sites like Google) against a set of keywords for which you’d like to be found by customers. You must then determine how to boost those rankings to appear, ideally, on the first page of search results.
When Google is deciding how to rank and display companies on search engine result pages (SERPs), it looks at many variables, including:
- The searched keyword’s relevance to the content on your website
- Your company’s distance from the person’s search location (for local searches)
- The prominence of your company online
An SEO specialist will use keyword research services and tools to determine how competitive a particular keyword is and decide whether it’s worth the time and effort to spend on enhancing your site’s visibility for that word or phrase.
Once they identify targeted keywords, a specialist will develop strategies to:
- Add those keywords to your site, both on relevant landing pages and through content on your blog and social media posts
- Create and negotiate backlinks to those pages through social media, partner sites, and third-party content (e.g., guest posting on other blogs)
The more backlinks you have, the more prominent your business looks to Google, which helps to boost your rankings even higher.
There are additional strategies you can use. However, focusing on adding the right keywords and getting links back to your site should be a priority — even if you do the work yourself.
The importance of SEO for small businesses
If all goes as planned, the results of your SEO service provider’s efforts should include:
- Achieving a more prominent online small business presence
- Boosting your website’s search engine rankings
- Driving more targeted customers to your website or store
- Having better control of your company’s online reputation
- Generating higher sales and a better bottom line
There’s no doubt that by doing SEO right, you’ll grow your business by helping customers find you, rather than your competitors. But how do you know if it’s the best solution for your small business right now?
Benefits of SEO services
There are many pros and cons to working with an SEO service provider.
- It saves you time, so you can focus on building your product or better serving your customers
- You don’t have to invest money in SEO tools that an expert may already use
- You can outsource the project, rather than paying someone full-time in-house
- You may not have the budget for it right now
- You’ll have to give an outsider access to your site, so you need to trust them
- SEO takes time and patience as it won’t always get you immediate results
Regardless of the pros and cons, the truth is that not every small business will benefit from search engine optimization right away.
For example, if you’re a freelancer and get more business through word of mouth than you can handle, then your money might be better spent elsewhere.
And Google ranks the value of a site’s content based on many criteria, some of which are known only to its search engineers. Google does, however, acknowledge that you can boost page ranking by the number of backlinks directed to your site.
Still, Google admits in its SEO Starter Guide that the practice among many SEO providers to pay for links can be harmful to a site’s overall ranking. Google advises that business owners should refrain from “purchasing links from another site with the aim of getting PageRank instead of traffic.”
Instead, the search engine company advocates for the slow and steady organic growth of your website backlinks. No SEO service can guarantee better results, but small businesses often seek SEO services because they’re either in a hurry or in the dark.
Therefore, if you do hire an SEO expert, it’s essential to make sure you’re investing in the right services, and at the right time.
Types of SEO services and costs
An SEO expert will regularly work either directly with you or your staff to perform a variety of functions — usually off-site. Their tasks will include:
- An ongoing review of your website’s content and structure (or SEO audit)
- Keyword research to find the best words or phrases to target
- Technical advice on further site development to boost your rankings
- Local SEO services & geographic market research for better local search performance
Overall SEO optimization and strategy recommendations
- On page optimization (for content) & off page optimization (for link building)
- Revising your site’s meta-data
- Website analytics to see how your efforts impact customer visits and behavior on your site
What is the cost of SEO?
According to RankPay.com, a quality SEO specialist or agency will charge you roughly $75 to $150 an hour for their services. Many of them work on retainer and charge anywhere from $750 to $1,500 per month for long-term engagements.
If you hire a service provider for a one-off project, your costs can range between $1,000 to $7,500, depending on the solutions they provide.
If those numbers fit within your budget, then the next step is to decide if you should move forward right away, or hold off for the right timing.
Deciding if an SEO service is right for you
To help you decide whether to hire an SEO service provider right away, ask yourself or your team the following questions:
- Is organic SEO traffic vital to the success of your business right now?
As I mentioned earlier, some small service-based businesses can generate a lot of sales through word of mouth in the beginning. Never underestimate the value of a happy customer to bring you more business. Direct mail and generating online reviews might also be beneficial before focusing on SEO.
If you’ve been in business for a while, have a website, and can add staff when you bring in significantly more customers (or aren’t getting enough customers through the other channels I mentioned), it may be time to start investing in SEO.
Additionally, if you sell products online, and need to generate traffic to sell more products, then SEO should be a critical part of your growth strategy.
- Do you have the resources and time to research keywords, get backlinks to your site, and create content on your own?
If you don’t have the time to invest in either learning how to do SEO yourself or the money to hire a team member to do it for you, then an SEO service provider may be the best route to take.
- Can you find a service provider that will work within your budget?
Even if you can’t do it yourself but still want to have an SEO strategy, it’s vital to find a provider that can work within your budget. Otherwise, you may want to hold off just a little longer and invest in generating more online customer reviews instead on sites like Google Reviews, Yelp or TripAdvisor.
When your answers to these questions indicate it’s time to hire an SEO service provider, the next step is to choose the best option for your business needs.
SEO service providers for small business
There are a variety of SEO service providers and solutions to evaluate before you move forward. Each one is beneficial to a different subset of small businesses. Here are the most common options:
The best SEO companies or agencies
If your business is in hyper-growth mode, and you can afford a larger SEO budget, then an agency may be a good investment. They will have a team of SEO specialists, with varying backgrounds and levels of experience to help you develop an SEO strategy and continuously increase your website’s search engine rankings.
A quick Google search for best SEO agencies for your country or city will return several listicles with local options from which to choose. If an agency listing shows up on its own on the first page (and it isn’t a paid ad), it’s a good indication that they know what they’re doing.
SEO freelancers and consultants
If you cannot afford an agency, you may want to investigate hiring an SEO freelance specialist. They may be more open to working with smaller budgets or one-off projects, and many of them can act as an extension of your team.
In addition to searching for SEO specialists on Google, ask other small businesses to make recommendations. Additionally, search LinkedIn to see which specialists turn up, then reach out to the ones whose profiles sound like a good match for your small business.
Other affordable SEO services for small business
If the first two options we’ve recommended aren’t feasible right now, there are some other alternatives to investigate.
Smaller and budget-friendly agencies
You can also look into working with smaller agencies, which may offer more budget-friendly solutions. They’re often startups looking to build their clientele or are focused on small businesses.
If the job you have is small and the price promoted is just as modest, perhaps a new SEO service can do an adequate job for your company.
Again, you can do a local search to find “cheap SEO services in [INSERT CITY OR COUNTRY NAME].” Many of them offer monthly flat-fee packages that include a fixed list of SEO services to fit your budget.
SEO plugins and built-in tools for websites
If you’re willing and able to do some SEO work yourself, you can use plug-in SEO tools for website optimization. Here’s a list of five plugins or built-in tools that can help you improve your search rankings.
- Yoast SEO: An SEO plugin for WordPress that helps you improve page titles and meta descriptions (which search engines read to determine what your site is about), analyze text for content optimization, and uncover SEO analytics and insights.
- SEMrush: A suite of SEO optimization tools that many experts subscribe to and use to do all of the analysis and work that you’d pay them for boosting your site’s search rankings.
- Google Search Console: A free Google tool that helps you understand your site’s search performance and rankings, and fix any issues that are hurting your results.
- AHrefs: Like SEM Rush, AHrefs is a paid tool that many bloggers and marketers use to boost their search traffic, and beat their competitors to the top of the first results page.5. Moz: Moz Pro is another suite of tools you can pay for to do SEO work on your own. The Moz SEO toolbar, or MozBar, is a Chrome browser extension that you can use to look at the search rankings of any search engine response page and subsequent pages that you visit. It’ll help you understand the competitiveness of keywords that impact your website (or a competitor’s) domain authority, link metrics (for link-building), and more.
Of course, these paid tools will cost you a flat or monthly fee. Many of them offer a variety of price points, however, based on your needs and to suit your budget.
Additionally, many website building platforms like Wix offer built-in basic and advanced SEO features for an additional fee. It’s something to consider before building your small business website.
Once you decide which option is right for your small business, get quotes from several SEO service providers before you make a final decision.
What to look for when outsourcing SEO services
Unfortunately, there remains a significant gap between the promises some SEO experts make and the results they ultimately deliver.
Selecting an SEO service provider should be like shopping for a car: Do your research, check under the hood, and always negotiate.
To start, conduct a Google search to see which businesses turn up based on the options we provided above. As we’ve indicated, if they appear on the first page, you’ll know right away if they’re good at SEO.
If you’re planning to invest thousands of marketing dollars to secure the highest ranking possible on the top search engines, you should not only ask for references, but meet with them in-person to evaluate their knowledge and experience. Ask them to demonstrate how they will get you the results you desire.
Here are some useful questions:
- What services and solutions can they offer within your budget?
- When can they complete the work and does that fit your timeline?
- Do they have references or case studies to show what they’ve done in the past?
- Have they worked with clients in a similar industry as yours?
- Do they offer training so you can manage it long-term (if needed)?
As always, ask them to put together a formal business proposal, so you can see exactly how your money will be spent. Having it in writing, and included in a signed contract, will ensure they’ll deliver your project on time, on scope, and on budget.
SEO checklist before pursuing a service provider
Before hiring SEO services for small businesses, there are a few things you can do beforehand — especially if you target local customers online.
These quick hits will save you some money as the SEO service provider won’t have to do them for you. And if you can’t afford to hire an SEO service provider right now, these steps are a good DIY starting point.
1. Establish your web presence
You obviously shouldn’t hire an SEO service provider if you don’t at least have a website and a few social media profiles up-and-running.
A service provider will need to do an audit of how your site is already performing for SEO, so you should also install a web analytics tool like Google Analytics, at least a few months in advance. That way, they can look at past site visitor behaviors, and identify which keywords drove them to you.
Refer to our post on how to build a website for tips and tricks.
2. Register, claim and verify your business listings
Next, try to gain control of your online business listings. Google My Business is an excellent place to start. Once you create an account, enter your company’s name and address to get a Google business listing, which will show up in search results and on Google Maps.
If Google or another person already created a business listing for you, you can use Google My Business to claim it.
Before you can take control of the listing, be sure to verify that you’re the owner. Doing so prevents anyone else from changing your listing details. Google allows you to verify your business by mail, phone or email. If you’ve already registered your website on Google Search Console, you might be able to verify your listing instantly.
3. Make sure your business information is accurate
Take some time to make sure the information is accurate. Fill out every section of your Google business listing. The more complete your entry is, the easier it’ll be for Google to match you with the right searches.
Focus on your:
- Physical address
- Website URL
- Social media profiles
- Phone number
- Hours of operation including holiday hours
- Business type
To attract the right customers, it’s a good idea to provide specifics about your product or services. For example, if you specialize in home bathroom renovations include that in your profile.
4. Upload photos
Google allows you to upload pictures of your business for your listing, as well. It helps you to build a visual connection with customers and enables potential customers to more easily find your office, store, or restaurant.
Additionally, it reassures people that you’re a professional and credible business. Be sure to add photos to your Yelp, TripAdvisor, and social media pages, too.
5. Cultivate Google customer reviews
When customers search online for your business, Google displays your average customer review score, star rating, and the number of Google reviews you’ve generated. Your ratings and reviews are part of your Google My Business listing.
If customers are using Google Maps, your stars and ratings show up right under your company name. A high score can help convince customers to choose you over a competitor.
To encourage your happiest customers to make reviews and ratings, you can add links to Yelp and other review sites on your website. You can send an email to past customers requesting a review or add the link to your electronic invoices, as well.
Once you have reviews, take the time to thank every reviewer for their feedback. If someone leaves a negative comment, it’s a good idea to apologize and tell the customer how you plan to fix the issue. It’ll demonstrate that you’re committed to offering the best service to all customers.
For more do-it-yourself tips on boosting your site’s search engine rankings, review our post, which covers 7 SEO tips to raise your ranking.
Is an SEO service right for you?
The decision to enlist SEO services to help you rank higher on search engines depends on the nature and scope of your business.
You don’t need SEO services just because it’s a proven growth strategy. If you own a tiny pet store in a small town and don’t sell anything online, then the money you would pay for an SEO specialist can likely be put to better use elsewhere.
However, if your small business is based exclusively on the web and 100 percent of your sales are generated online, then quality SEO should be one of your highest priorities, regardless of whether you hire someone to do it or not.
Every strategy must be executed at the right time, and for a price you can afford. Hopefully, the guidance we’ve provided in this post will help you evaluate whether to invest in SEO services right now.