Do-It-Yourself SEO Advice For SMBs

In last week’s Small Is Beautiful column, Hanan Lifshitz posed the question “Do SMBs Still Need the Middleman to Advertise?

It’s an especially timely question, given the recent Borrell report about the number of small businesses who cancel their contracts with online advertising providers within a year. The short version of my reaction to the study is that there are simple explanations for this churn:

  • a sales mentality rather than a service mentality on the part of the providers, and
  • an exclusive focus on scalable Pay-Per-Click offerings as opposed to organic SEO, which requires a more individualized approach.

Many SMBs, however, simply have a “Do-It-Yourself’ mindset. It’s that mindset that encouraged many owners to go into business for themselves, and there are plenty of examples of business owners who simply have a knack for marketing themselves online.

With that in mind (and this might amount to heresy in the SEO industry) – I’m going to disagree with Hanan that a middleman is “a critical component” of the online ecosystem. Caveat: hiring a top-notch search consultant will almost always bring a positive ROI.

Depending on the size of your business (for instance, if you’re a mom-and-pop with one location), your level of commitment to online marketing, and your company lifestage, there are plenty of low-cost baby steps you can take for yourself, without any help from a third-party provider.

I. Take a few hours to learn the basics of search marketing

I’ll admit, one of the problems with a DIY mentality in SEO is that it’s hard to know whom to trust.  There are a lot of shysters out there. So let me simplify things for you by pointing you to a couple of fantastic free resources (besides Search Engine Land of course!) where you can learn the ropes.

SEOmoz’s Beginner’s Guide to SEO and companion Beginner’s Checklist are excellent places to start. So are Matt McGee’s “How to Promote a New Small Business Website” and Lisa Barone’s “How to Launch that SMB Website.”

At the very least, reading these resources will raise your knowledge to a level where you can make an informed decision about what third-party companies are trying to sell you.

II. Learn what your customers are searching for

Most small business owners and prospective clients come to me with a “money” keyphrase they want to rank for. This is a good starting point, but sometimes owners describe their business, or what they sell, differently than consumers do.

Luckily Google has an external keyword research tool that is simple to use. Just punch in a few (or a lot of) phrases you think customers would use to describe your business, and Google will return related phrases and show you how many times people search for them. In general, you want to think about using terms on your website where Google shows a lot of volume, but not a lot of advertiser competition.

If you already have a Twitter account, Twitter can be a great research tool also. Depending on your business, you might be able to see hot trends on that are worth pursuing. You could also ask your followers “what keywords would you use to search for my business?” and get a few responses.

And don’t forget about offline possibilities. Asking your walk-in customers what keywords they would use in searching for a business like yours via a comment card or business card raffle could reveal some interesting findings.

III. Create a web presence

Notice I said “web presence” and not “website“. Don’t even want to deal with setting up or revising your website right now? No problem? You can rank in plenty of Local search results without one.  Think about using your profile on a powerful website like Yelp or Yahoo as your initial web presence-for more on this strategy, see Will Scott‘s article on “Barnacle SEO.”  Use some of the keywords from Step II in describing your business.

But if you are ready to take the plunge on an actual site, or revise your current one, I highly recommend building it on WordPress. Buy a domain name and a sign up for a hosting account (approximately $10 and $50-$100 per year, respectively) and install this free publishing platform.  There are literally thousands of high-quality free or cheap themes for WordPress on places like Smashing Magazine, Premium Themes, ThemeForest, DIY Themes, Design Disease, and Brian Gardner.

IV. Submit your business to the local search engines

While you can’t really submit a website to a search engine anymore, did you know that you can submit your business information to them? Tell Google’s Local Business Center, Yahoo Local, and Bing Local about your business at a minimum (shameless plug: you can submit to all of them from one place at Use some of the keywords from Step II in describing your business, and make sure you place yourself in the proper categories.

The “Big Three” are not as dominant in Local Search as you might think, though, so don’t stop there. Sign up for listing syndication services Localeze and Universal Business Listing as well.  Be consistent with your information and sign up on as many additional directories as you have time to do.

V. Track and analyze your results

Even without a website, Google’s Local Business Center can show you how many people view your business profile on Google, and the top keywords they are using to find you. I suspect Yahoo and Bing will be following suit shortly, let alone portals like Yelp, Superpages, and  Keep track of this data & see which keywords you’re not showing up for but should be.

If you decide to start or revise website, install Google Analytics‘ free tracking code. You’ll find out what pages people are landing on & the ones that are catching their attention the most (hint: look at the time on page statistic).

Yes, this might all be confusing and require the help of a professional SEO eventually, but you may learn one or two things about your customers that you didn’t know before.

VI. Get social

At this stage, if you haven’t joined Twitter yet, now is the time. Make friends in your community (you can use to find them) and let your customers know your Twitter handle in your offline and online marketing materials.

If you’ve done a good job with Step IV and submitted to the major Local Search engines, suggesting that your customers review you periodically on their favorite one will help round out your web presence.

VI. Stay informed about best practices in small business and local SEO

Read bloggers like Mike Blumenthal, Matt McGee, Miriam Ellis, Andrew Shotland, Local Search News, and this column on a regular basis! And if you’re into the whole Twitter thing, follow the experts there, too.

Total financial cost of all of this: $30 – $200 per year

As you can see, it’s easy to get started on a pretty reasonable budget, if you’ve got the time and interest in doing your internet marketing “in-house.” Here’s just one example of the success that an actual small business owner had by following these steps. Note that Local SEO Don Campbell advised the SMB on this process, but did not require a long-term consulting contract up-front.

And if you’re an Internet Yellow Pages company, or other service provider reading this column, I’d recommend–as I’ve said for the last two years or so–that you develop some basic expertise in search engine marketing (beyond just Pay-Per-Click) among your salespeople. Transition your primary business model from selling a product to selling a service.

Your reps don’t need to be SEOs or SEMs per se; rather, they should help SMB’s find the right mix of search and internet advertising products to fit their budget and time comfort zones. Help them get their feet wet with some of the strategies above, and they’ll turn to you for more advanced (read: expensive) expertise later on. Demonstrate the power of the Internet to transform their business, rather than simply overselling them on empty click packages.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Other | Small Is Beautiful


About The Author: is Director of Local Strategy at Moz, and the architect of Moz Local — a newly ­released software product that distributes U.S. business listings to the primary local data aggregators and important local directories.

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  • roopam.bahl

    Hi David,
    Nice post. However, its easier said than done. If you are an SMB with people not knowing you, even if you set up a completely SEO compatible website, not much will happen. and lets assume you have time for social networking, having a twitter account etc, no one reads tweets unless you are something credible, saying something of value, something they need to know. and you need to continue saying it for a long time before they take notice! Hence, this entire activity is too time consuming.

    I guess businessmen should stick to what they do best- their business and leave this to consultants for the initial phase. Once things start to move, he can definitely take it in house!

    Roopam Bahl
    Research Endeavors

  • nickstamoulis

    Hi David – This is EXCELLENT all around advice…personally I believe that the first recommendation to “Take a few hours to learn the basics of search marketing” is one of the most important.

    As an owner of a smaller search engine marketing firm that works with many small to mid-sized companies, I always find that an educated client of the basics of SEO/SEM always have a much better working relationship and can actually allow us to do our job…

    Regarding the DIY approach, my thought has always been, people in general have their strengths and weaknesses, but often have ego in the way that they “don’t” need anyone’s help…for instance if I need legal help, I would NEVER do it myself, I would hire a professional for help.

  • JeffMHoward

    These are all good places to start informing yourself. Its hard to know exactly where to start if your a small business, some might just need good old fashion SEO. Kind of like a local gym. Others, like a local fashion store, or restaurant may need a creative approach and use social media and build reputation through word of mouth.

    For those who want to do SEO themselves and understand the benefit I offer local search training

  • rjowais

    Nice informative post…
    But i must say that SEO is not one day’s game…
    It takes time to perform and hard work for excellence.
    Earn money now!

  • Online Selling Shawn

    I think learning the basic of SEO is the best approach, even if you have a third party doing it for you. Because then, you would have an idea, if the person you are paying to promote your site, is really doing its job. I am currently learning SEO on my own, and just taking all in, everything that I encounter online, and taking down notes. But i have to say, its a whole lot of information out there, and it surely is not an overnight make over.
    Good post by the way.


  • ttelford

    I think one major point that’s been missed is time. Most SME’s are already juggling many balls, from management, to finance, to HR, let alone their service/product offering – many don’t have time to learn SEO, let alone keep on top of the ever changing roller-coaster of knowledge! If their site converts, or has potential, and the spend can be justified in the real world, then most non-technical folk will still choose an agency/consultant, and rightly so.

    However, I do totally agree that the sales mentality within makes this hard to defend. All the SME is looking for is another route to market that’s cost effective – they may not want to become a net-head! But, guiding your way through the “Guaranteed position 1″ advertisements is a daunting process.

    It won’t take a rocket scientists to build ranking on the long-tail, and I think it’s a blend of in-house knowledge and outsourcing, when the time is right with the right person. How do you gauge that person? Credibility, proven results and trust!

    Rant over.


  • kmeghji

    Some very good points have been made. I’ll underscore one point – take advantage of quality directory-like sites that exist if you don’t already have a website or aren’t prepared to update it. These sites are already working hard to drive traffic and you may get some benefit quickly – and if you’re considering building reputation, social media marketing and/or leveraging customer referrals as part of an online marketing strategy, some of these sites could play a role in helping do this with minimal effort. Full disclosure: I run a site helping home service businesses (e.g. landscapers, roofers, handymen, plumbers etc.) do exactly this.



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