One of the questions that I keep hearing from small business owners every year is this: How can a small business like me afford SEO/SEM? It's a fair question coming from budget-conscious business owners. Not everybody can afford SEO. But, nobody can afford NOT to SEO.

We recently had a "small" business come to us for a proposal. We talked at length about their needs, concerns, and budget for SEO, PPC, and Social Media campaigns. We found out that they were spending over $1.5M a year on phone book advertising. For a lot of small businesses, this is an incredible sum of money.

As we developed their proposal, this company became concerned about the PPC budget we had recommended, which was well under 10% of their phone book ad spend. When they asked, "How do small businesses afford SEM?" I initially dodged the question. Every small business is different, but if you can spend $1M on phone book advertising that is completely un-tracked, you can certainly siphon money out of that to invest in SEO and PPC which is trackable. Especially PPC, which can be tracked down to the nth degree.

Understandably, this client doesn't want to pull all of their phone book ads. I get that. Even if you don't know whether it is working or not, you know you've been successful. The last thing you want to do is yank marketing that could be responsible for your success. (Just the fact that this is an unknown, yet so much is invested in it boggles my mind!)

I understand the slow migration philosophy... cut it, but don't eliminate it. Take money out of that and invest in something new. That "something new" must prove to be successful, both on it's own and as part of the bigger picture.

For instance, the PPC may bring them a positive ROI, but they may find that they lost money overall by taking it away from the phone book ads. I know, I chuckled too when I wrote that, but lets just consider it a "possibility". If that were to happen, then we know that money needs to be re-invested back into the phone book. But, that also means new money needs to be invested in PPC.

Why? Because the PPC is profitable. Any marketing that is profitable is smart marketing. If you gave me a dollar and you knew, through proven historical metrics and tracking, that it would return $5, would you walk away because you didn't have a dollar? Not me. I'd go diving under the sofa cushions to get whatever change I could find. As soon as I rummaged up a dollar, I'd invest it, take the $5 I earned, return the $1 back to the couch (thanks, Mr. Sofa!), and re-invest the remaining $4, eagerly awaiting my $20.

That's the beauty of any marketing that is trackable. Once you know that every dollar you spend returns a profit, you're a bit foolish not to continue to invest money in that marketing avenue. Eventually there is a tipping point, but again, good tracking has your back on that.

Some businesses understand the value of SEO. They have invested their entire marketing budget on SEO/SEM because they know that's where the money is. I have clients that came to us years ago when they were still publishing catalogs or traveling in RVs to peddle their wares. The economics of those old school marketing efforts worked, but clearly not as profitable as the online marketing efforts.

But, unless those efforts are proven money losers, I say keep doing them. Profit is profit, no matter where it comes from. Of course, this is only valuable once you've hit your profit tipping points in the other areas. As long as there is room to invest more in your highest ROI marketing avenues, keep investing!

Unfortunately, for the REALLY small businesses that are just starting out and don't have a significant budget to work with, SEO can be an expensive foray. This is the case of finding a way to invest the little you have and turn it into a little more, and then turn that into a lot more.

I don't envy the small business in that position, but that doesn't make SEO/SEM any less important. You may not be able to invest thousands of dollars a month in SEO or PPC or Social Media. Heck, you may not even find a qualified SEO provider that will take on your account for the budget you offer.

But, you still cannot afford NOT to SEO!

Fortunately, there are plenty of self-help SEO tutorials out there, as well as consultants that can answer your questions on an hour by hour basis. Your options may be limited, but you still have them. It's just a matter of finding out how best to invest what you have, so you can get some return and grow your pot of SEO gold.

January 19, 2011

Stoney deGeyter is the President of Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. Stoney is a frequent speaker at website marketing conferences and has published hundreds of helpful SEO, SEM and small business articles.

If you'd like Stoney deGeyter to speak at your conference, seminar, workshop or provide in-house training to your team, contact him via his site or by phone at 866-685-3374.

Stoney pioneered the concept of Destination Search Engine Marketing which is the driving philosophy of how Pole Position Marketing helps clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Stoney is Associate Editor at Search Engine Guide and has written several SEO and SEM e-books including E-Marketing Performance; The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!; Keyword Research and Selection, Destination Search Engine Marketing, and more.

Stoney has five wonderful children and spends his free time reviewing restaurants and other things to do in Canton, Ohio.


Now this is a great article, but as you mentioned the company you used for an example had $1.5 million to spend on advertising. But what about the local guys like myself, whom work with clients with far less of a budget than this? Do you just scale the SEO accordingly?

Looking forward to hearing your response!

Great Article Stoney,

In India SEO is really tough to get clients or to understand what SEO can do. We will still fight for it & try to make people understand about its profit.

Looking for more articles like this which will make us helpful to explain clients or ordinary person. :)

I understood That "something new" must prove to be successful, I need a qualified SEO for business.Thanks;)

Great article because it's true. I also heard someone say that "SEO is not necessary for this site because it doesn't get a lot of traffic". Enough said about some clients... I guess it'll still take some time for some people to understand the benefit of SEO and SEM, people will always fight change and that's ok, because those embracing change will always come out to the top and there can only be so many at the top.

This is one of the biggest challengers an SEO sales person needs to overcome. Budget and Price. A company spending X in one marketing campaign may not want to reduce that at all.

Hi, every information is great! But could you tell me how does a company that invested $1.5M to its telephone advertising as a small business firm?

$1.5M is alot of money to spend on phone book advertising today. I guess it's the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" mentality. I get that, but a company with that kind of money to spend on marketing should really invest some into SEO. More and more people are conducting their search, even at the local level, online.

I am an SEO consultant and also work as marketing manager for a respectably ecommerce site. One of my methods has been educating everyone about SEO. I have taken less of a rule of doing post work SEO and putting more focus on "educating" everyone on the SEO. I have got some good results doing so, so I thought I share.

Great post! A website for your business is essential to increase your profits by generating new business and also keeping your existing customers up-to-date with any changes or product ranges. So,look for a web design company that provides not just web development but also SEO services.

@Lianne - I don't completely agree. Many (most) web developers that I've run across that claim to know SEO didn't really know a whole lot. They optimize a few tags and say "the site is optimized" when in reality, it's a long-term process.

I think the problem with many small businesses is to get them to believe in SEO. If there are organisational or personal barriers, then you are fighting an uphill battle trying to persuade them that it can be profitable. Sometimes I have found that PPC is more affordable for some small-scale campaigns for small business and as you say more trackable. I'm off to find some coins under my sofa...

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