Small Businesses Can’t Afford SEO – Hogwash

Small Businesses Can't Afford SEO_Little Girl Giving it a Thumbs DownI recently read an article in which the author suggested that small businesses don’t need to do SEO and that they should implement a pay per click (PPC) strategy instead.  He actually said that small businesses can’t afford SEO. I haven’t stopped shaking my head about it since reading it.  I can only hope that it isn’t turning into a resource that people are using to advise business owners.

The gist of the article is that small businesses often operate on a ‘shoe-string’ budget and that they “can’t afford to do SEO,” but they can and should anti up to pay for advertising online. I couldn’t agree with him less.

To be fair, he did bring up a couple of valid points:

  • SEO has many moving parts and some of them are technical
  • Search engine optimization is ongoing and it can take months to see real results

While I would agree that search engine optimization has its complexities, in many ways I believe that SEO is simpler than it ever has been before. SEO always has been and always will be about content and it’s a great opportunity for businesses who are willing to spend the time and effort. Creating and publishing content that provides value for your visitors will result in more leads and increased sales.

PPC has it’s own set of complexities and in order to be done effectively you need to understand many marketing concepts and understand how to set up effective AdWords tests.  I know many SEO professionals who think PPC is just as complex as SEO, just in different ways. The author suggests that it’s simple and it should be used as a litmus test for SEO.  This may be well-intended advice but it’s misguided.

They are two distinctly different marketing strategies and while there is some overlap and there can be synergies they should be coordinated efforts but treated differently. The approaches to keyword research for SEO vs PPC are different and the margin of error is different, a mistake in PPC could end up costing you big bucks.

Even if it were a good idea to use paid advertising campaigns as a testing ground for keyword research and SEO, that requires enough traffic that it’s statistically sound and you can use it to make a decision.  Advertising on a shoe-string budget isn’t going generate that kind of volume.

AdWords is Auction Based Bid OnlineIt’s also important to note that there is no guarantee that just because you’re willing to pay for a click on your Ad that Google is going to display it.   Google AdWords functions on an auction model and many of the same factors that apply to SEO are also important for PPC. If you don’t have a well structured site with relevant content you will be no more successful with PPC than you will with SEO.

The article doesn’t mention local SEO, which is critical for survival and most certainly can help to level the playing field.  Granted not all small businesses are local, but it’s worth mentioning.

I personally don’t see how any business can succeed online without an SEO strategy.  If no one but your current customers or your Aunt Martha can find your website, how will you generate new business? If you don’t generate new business, how will you survive?

I think what bothered me most is that this article was positioned in such a way that it appeared to be providing education and advice about SEO and in doing so made it seem complex beyond belief and in my opinion it didn’t present all of the facts.

I hope to see a shift in the SEO profession to educating and assisting business owners learn how to create valuable content and connect with their communities in addition to helping them understand the fundamental and somewhat more technical basics.

In my mind we should be de-mystifying SEO, not trying to scare people into thinking it’s so complicated and expensive that they can’t and shouldn’t do it because it’s too ‘expensive’ and difficult. I believe that SEO is important for businesses of all sizes and it needs to become an ongoing part of a long term strategy.

I also think there needs to be a mind-shift among small business owners and they need to evaluate where they are currently spending their marketing dollars and reallocate them to developing and executing a search engine marketing strategy, which in all likelihood would include SEO, PPC, and social media.

Most of all, business owners need to take the time to become educated about these strategies so that they can make good business decisions and partner with the right people. Whether it’s an SEO workshop or a credible on-line tutorial or a class through a community college, I would encourage anyone who owns a business to invest this very important education.  The future of your business may depend on it.


  • Definitely agree with you, Beth. I’ve run a few PPC campaigns that have used up their daily budget, but have gotten very few conversions. We cannot control who else is competing for the keywords in our PPC campaign, or how much other companies are willing to spend, but we *can* control the amount and type of new content we generate.

    As long as we focus on creating content that is interesting and relevant to our target audience and stop looking for a quick sale, we will be building up the foundation of our web presence. Building our web presence will help us ranking higher in the long run, even if we need to stop for a short time If we stop paying for PPC ads, we drop off the paid areas of the search engines immediately and completely.

    • Excellent points Linda – so true that the budget can get used up quickly and if we stop the ads we drop out of visibility completely.

      Your comment about being able to control what content we create is spot on.

      Thanks for sharing your insights!