Making the Case for SEO to Small Businesses

Filed in Miscellaneous by Matt McGee on February 13, 2007 5 Comments

(Pssst. I usually write for small biz owners, but this one’s more for fellow search marketers. Let’s keep it just between us, ‘K?)

In the last two hours, I’ve read no fewer than three people talking about the difficulty of selling SEO to small businesses. Hey – been there, done that. (Still doing it some days, actually!)

As search marketers, we’re too deep in this stuff to bother questioning the value — of course it’s a good investment! But the small business owner isn’t deep in it, doesn’t quite understand it, and doesn’t know what she’s going to get in exchange for writing that check. So, how do you sell SEO in these situations? Here are some ways that have worked for me:

1. Education/Google

Google is the great equalizer. Everyone knows what it is. Even when speaking to a business owner who’s never heard of SEO, Google is your common language. You can educate them in simple terms that SEO is the process of getting your web site to show up when people use Google. This doesn’t work with Yahoo! or MSN because those are more than search engines. Yahoo! might be where the business owner checks her stocks. MSN might be her ISP. Google is search.

2. The Competition

As you’re sitting down with a small business owner in 2007, chances are good that her competition is already doing SEO. If you can show that to be true, you’ll hit that “keep up with the Jones” nerve that many business owners have.

It’s usually pretty easy to tell a web site that’s had some SEO done, but if you’re not sure, use The Wayback Machine to do a Then vs. Now look at the competition’s site.

3. Authority/Expert Status

I’m pretty well convinced this is why so many search marketers blog: It’s a great way to establish and show yourself as an expert in the field, as someone with a good reputation who knows what s/he is talking about. I’m also convinced this is why so many search marketers would love to speak at the various conferences. It’s a badge of honor that helps sell to future clients. And judging from the amount of business cards that get exchanged after every session, it helps sell right then and there!

4. Referrals and Testimonials

Small business owners live and breathe word of mouth marketing. Referrals are the foundation of many successful small businesses, and they’ll help you, too. The challenge is in getting clients to agree to have their name used — that’s another post for another time. The point here is that being able to show a portfolio of past SEO work and happy SEO clients is a big selling point with small businesses. You need evidence that you know what you’re doing.

5. Stats

This won’t always help, and may actually hurt your pitch. Some people just glaze over when you bring stats into the mix. But for those who don’t, it’s helpful to have some handy statistics to reference about the effectiveness of SEO on a company’s bottom line. Here’s a good one from a recent ad:tech and Marketing Sherpa survey which asked marketers, What online marketing tactic worked best in 2006?

online marketing stats

What stands out for me is that, among all of the “Best Performing” tactics, SEO is the only one that went up substantially from 2005 to 2006 as a successful tactic.

6. Proven ROI

This might fit partially under #4 above, because you’ll need to refer to past projects as evidence. If you can show how other companies have met their online marketing goals via an SEO campaign, that’s worth its weight in gold. In the end, success sells. To borrow a line from Jerry Maguire … Show me the money!

What tactics have you found successful when making the case for SEO to your prospects and clients?

[tags]seo, search marketing, small business[/tags]

Comments (5)

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  1. highrank says:

    Nice post. I especially agree with #4 and # 6.

    With any business, small or large, it always comes down to money in the end. A pretty successful method I use is to find out what their average sale is worth to them. This is always crucial when it comes time to close the sale in order justify my costs while at the same time helping you determine what you should charge for your SEO work (it helps me determine anyways). Some small businesses “freak out” at the thought of spending thousands of dollars a month on an Internet marketing campaign until you show them the numbers and justify the marketing costs. For example, I recently had a small business owner call me extremely interested in my services. I had no idea how much money he had to spend on SEO. I asked him how much his average job is worth and I was suprised to hear him say $8-10,000 dollars. Now, proposing to spend $4,000 a month on my services is not so insane anymore if I can help him generate at least two new clients at month. Spending $4,000 to make at least $16,000 is money well spend. In this case, my client picked up 7 new projects in his 3rd month with me. Now I can use clients like him for testimonials or even to develop case studies to show to other businesses what SEO can do for them.

  2. Matt McGee says:

    I like that idea, highrank – good stuff. Any time you can put it in such clear terms and show the opportunity in black and white (or green, I suppose!), you end up making the case pretty strongly.

    Thanks for commenting — hope you’ll stick around and share your thoughts and expertise.

  3. pete says:

    Great article with some really handy hints. I’ve always found that offering a no risk pay on results stratergy always helps.

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