In the last few months, I've read a lot of people talking about the difficulty of selling SEO to small businesses. Hey - been there, done that. Tell me something I don't know.

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 article 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. A recent ad:tech and Marketing Sherpa survey asked marketers, What online marketing tactic worked best in 2006?

Answer? SEO finished third overall among the "Best Performing" tactics. But here's the key: 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!

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.

June 4, 2007

Matt McGee is SEO Manager at Marchex, a search and media company in Seattle, Washington. He's guided successful projects for clients of all sizes and budgets, with special emphasis on traffic acquisition via organic rankings. Matt is a speaker at the Search Engine Strategies conferences, and writes about online marketing at Small Business SEM. He's a frequent contributor to several SEO/SEM forums, and is a moderator for the Small Business Ideas Forum.

Search Engine Guide > Matt McGee > Making the Case for SEO to Small Businesses