Search engine optimization (SEO) is a powerful tool to help small businesses compete with other options available to consumers. In this post, we’ll learn the power of SEO and how you can harness it to improve your market performance.
First, let’s gain a little understanding of SEO. SEO involves using an algorithm to rank internet content. Search engines use this ranking to ensure that users get the best experience from their search by getting the best answers first. Google excels at this task of providing valuable content first, so it’s the 600-pound gorilla when it comes to search. According to recent data, nearly 92% of all searches occur on Google with almost 62% of users doing so using Google’s Chrome browser. For this reason, we focus our conversation on the power of SEO on the Google search engine, with some specifics that apply to the Chrome browser. This allows us to give more nuanced advice than if we considered SEO in general,
Why rank matters
The true power of SEO lies in its ranking algorithm. By showing up higher in search results, content receives more clicks. And more clicks translate into more opportunities to achieve your business goals. Take a look at the graphic below showing the relative number of clicks to content based on its rank in search results (called SERPs). Note the vast majority of clicks (22.3%) go to the content in the first position and the number of clicks declines rapidly for content in subsequent positions. although results differ between mobile and desktop search behavior. Once your content moves to the second page of search results, you might as well not have the content at all, as nearly no one progresses to the second page in search of answers to their query.
Next, let’s move into a discussion of how SEO provides value to small businesses.
Why rank matters
As a small business, you might wonder why it matters if you rank toward the top in search results. But, as a small business, you know you compete with larger businesses in your niche and these businesses spend thousands or millions of dollars every year to gain awareness of their brand names, their niches, and their products. You don’t have this benefit. So, the potential for users to Google your brand name is minuscule. The only chance you have of gaining awareness is by ranking well when users search for products similar to the ones you sell. Google uses this search intent to determine which content links show up and then uses its algorithm to rank these links.
Thus, the most important power of SEO is to increase your visibility to searchers.
Increased visibility and traffic
Effectively using SEO tactics on your website helps it rank higher in search engine results for keywords related to your business. This increased visibility can lead to more organic traffic – that is, visitors who find your site through search engines without paid advertising.
Organic traffic represents 63% of all traffic visiting the average website. For small businesses, organic traffic is incredibly important as it’s more cost-effective than paid advertising, generates more leads than social media marketing, and delivers over the long run. In a recent comparison of traffic sources for websites, Marketing Insider found that the next most common source of traffic is direct at 22%, referral at 10%, paid at 3%, social at 2%, and email at 1%. (Note that organic social media traffic continues to decline with a drop of a full percentage point from 2.53% to 1.50% in 2023, making this a much less valuable digital marketing strategy for small businesses).
Note that organic search traffic also delivers the highest conversion rate of any digital marketing tactic, with the exception of email marketing. But, when you consider that this high conversion rate traffic source represents more than half of all traffic visiting your website, the value is well above any other digital marketing tactic you can try.
Unlike paid advertising, organic traffic generated through SEO does not require you to pay for each click. Although implementing effective SEO incurs costs for content creation and other digital marketing efforts, the direct cost is non-existent. Paying a provider for SEO, which includes content creation, can be costly, starting at about $500/ month. However, you can do SEO yourself with 0 cost, once you learn how to do it. In fact, I offer a coaching program where you can learn SEO, among other digital marketing tactics, for as little as $60 per session.
This makes SEO a cost-effective strategy, especially important for small businesses with limited marketing budgets.
Building credibility and trust
Websites that appear higher in search results are often perceived as more credible and trustworthy by users. In fact, not having a website or having a poorly designed website can translate into lost sales because users don’t trust your brand.
The power of SEO is consistency
Let’s delve into the five tactics shown in the image above that help optimize your rank. These are on-page factors that are easily implemented with limited knowledge and no coding ability. Please note this isn’t a Chinese menu where you choose the tactics you want to implement but a full process that will optimize your content. Over the last 14 years, I’ve implemented these strategies to accrue over 300 page-1-ranked keywords as well as other high values on key SEO performance metrics.
If you don’t have a website or choose to build a better one, I offer a free ebook that helps you through the process with tons of images to help you. If you don’t code, this is an excellent tool to help take the frustration out of building a website.
In a physical business, we all know the adage, “location, location, location,” which means where you locate your business really impacts your potential success. Well, we can say the same for website hosting. Choosing a host like Wix, Squarespace, or another website builder is like building in the worst neighborhood possible. It tells search engines you’re not serious about your website because it’s coded inexpertly, looks like a bunch of other websites in your niche, and lacks the elements, such as metatags, that search engines use to rank online content. Website hosting is paid per month or per year and ranges from about $4.95 a month to hundreds of dollars a year. Starting with a low-cost hosting company works as long as they offer 99.5% or better uptime and fast content delivery.
Instead, choose self-hosting with reputable website hosting companies such as (many of these offer WordPress hosting. WordPress is a content management system used by about half of all websites to make development easier. WordPress hosting makes your job a little easier)
I don’t recommend buying your domain (like the address for your website) from your hosting company to make it easier in case you want to switch hosting companies over time. Instead, here’s a link to buy discounted domains. Buy a few (buy the .com, .org, .info, and maybe a few more, including common misspellings) as they’re very inexpensive and ensure security in case your website’s successful and others try to capitalize by buying up the name.org that you ignored.
Choose a mobile-friendly theme
A few years ago, Google increased the impact of mobile-friendliness as a ranking factor given so many folks use mobile devices to connect to the internet. Most reputable sites offer mobile-first themes that look great on mobile devices but there are a bunch of crappy themes out there you should avoid. Themes, like hosting and domains, don’t cost much, and most are one-time purchases, so don’t skimp on price here.
I often buy themes for clients from Themeforest, although Genesis has some great themes as does WordPress.org (not the .com version). Paid themes often offer additional features and functionality, are easier to use, and offer support.
Choose the right keywords
Keywords are an important element since search engines use your keywords and match them to the user’s query as a means to determine whether your content shows up in the SERPs. Keyword is a misnomer in today’s internet landscape where over half of users employ voice search to find relevant content. This factor leads to keywords that are actually phrases given the name long-tailed keywords.
The Google Keyword Planning Tool, available free through the Google Ads platform, is a great way to find keywords to use in your content. Only use each keyword once, so you need a bunch of them. Choose ones that are popular but don’t have a lot of competition. The image above shows the average monthly search volume and level of competition for some keywords related to jewelry. In general, you want specific keywords versus generic ones as it brings traffic interested in what you offer, resulting in higher conversion rates.
Create valuable content
This is the most time-consuming part of SEO. You must create valuable content on a consistent basis if you want to improve your market performance. As you can see below, adding content more frequently, results in more leads.
Finding topics for content is a little challenging. I recommend using a content marketing calendar to alleviate the stress inherent in facing a blank screen with a deadline. Check out social media posts by your competition, monitor consumer conversations around your niche, and use Google trends to find out what folks are talking about so you can create content that resonates with your target market. For instance, King Arthur Flour grew from an obscure company into a powerhouse by posting recipes featuring its flour.
Create content for each of your target segments, and for each stage, consumers go through before buying your products. Also, create content to encourage repurchase by former customers.
Think like a member of your target market to create content they’ll find valuable. I find it helps to write like I’m speaking with a specific member of my target market.
Monitor to see the power of SEO
John Wannamaker, owner of a successful chain of Philadelphia department stores, once said he knew he was wasting half of his marketing budget but didn’t know which half. Luckily, in the digital world, we have metrics to help optimize our marketing spend. You can use Google Analytics to determine which content resonates best with your target market and generates the highest conversion rate. You can use this information to create better content.
You can also see which traffic sources send traffic to your website, and by coding the links outside your website, you can even determine which social media post or which email delivered the kind of results that help ensure your business’s success.
As a business new to digital marketing, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with the vast amount of data available. Instead of facing a wall of numbers, your first step is to identify KPIs (key performance indicators) that demonstrate your progress toward reaching your goals. Since we’re talking about the power of SEO in this post, let’s focus on KPIs related to organic search. Here are some I recommend:
- Domain authority, which is a function of the number and quality of backlinks to your content. There are a number of free domain authority trackers out there. I recommend Ahrefs and Moz.
- Time on site, number of pages per visit, and bounce rate (you want a low one here)
- Sources of visits
- You might want to investigate the demographic breakdown of visitors to ensure you’re reaching your target market effectively (to collect demographic information, you must select this option in the Google Analytics admin panel, it’s not automatic)
- Keywords delivering traffic to your website
- Number of pages with a search rank <10
- Visits for top pages, which help you identify opportunities for creating new content
- Organic clicks/ organic search impressions
It’s important that you track your performance on these KPIs over time rather than as static numbers. I recommend creating a dashboard (I use IBM Cognos) to create graphics showing the performance against KPIs over time.
Don’t expect a miracle overnight. Improving SEO takes time and consistent effort. Give yourself 6-12 months before you abandon your SEO effort, although you should tweak them if you don’t see improvement over a month or so.
As you can see, the power of SEO is strong. You also learned some ways to improve the rank of your content in Google search results. Armed with this information, you’re ready to reach for the stars.
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Hausman and Associates, the publisher of MKT Maven, is a full-service marketing agency operating at the intersection of marketing and digital media. Check out our full range of services.