Here’s What’s Different About Being Small

Last week’s Small is Beautiful column asked, “What’s So Different About Being Small?”

The answer? Time. Money. Knowledge.

Those are the three biggest challenges a small business must overcome to achieve search marketing success, and the three things that make small business search marketing unique. Many small businesses have one or two of those, but not the third. And some small businesses don’t have any of the three, making their road to search success even harder to travel.

Here’s a quick look at each challenge in more detail:

Time. As any search marketer can tell you, there are no short cuts to success, no quick fixes when it comes to a broken web site or unsuccessful search marketing campaign. SEO is a process that demands time, and that’s often in short supply at small businesses. According to the MasterCard Global Small Business Survey 2006, small business owners worldwide work an average of 54 hours a week. That’s 11 hours a day for a 5-day workweek. So, for every small business owner that dared to only put in a 40-hour week, someone else was on the clock for 68 hours. For many, trying to run a business and execute a search marketing campaign is easier said than done.

Money. According to the same MasterCard survey, only half of small businesses owners worldwide are confident they’ll meet their financial goals in 2007. The U.S. Small Business Administration cites a 2005 study that says only 44% of new small businesses will survive four years. The National Federation of Independent Business cited the financial impact on small businesses when it opposed the recently approved minimum wage hike in the U.S. Money is obviously a Big Issue for small businesses. $50,000+ SEO campaigns and 6-figure PPC budgets just aren’t realistic for many small businesses. When you’re small, the challenge is how to get more bang from less budget.

Knowledge. I shared an anecdote in last week’s column about David Wallace finding only 2 of 20 small business owners he spoke to doing search marketing. The other 18? Not doing it, or completely unaware of search marketing altogether. In the comments of last week’s column, Miriam Ellis of Solas Web Design underscored the challenge for a webdev/marketing shop working with small businesses:

“…most of the clients who approach us for web work have never even heard of SEO. We’ve even had prospective clients act as though we must be pulling their legs in terms of what people do to get those top rankings, traffic and sales.”

So, what’s a small business owner to do with little time, money, or knowledge? And what’s a search marketer to do when small businesses make up the lion’s share of your clientele?

In future columns we’ll get into the hands-on aspects of how to do the best you can to overcome the problems of limited time, money, and/or knowledge. We’ll talk about SEO and SEM basics, as well as some creative ideas that don’t involve Google, Yahoo!, and the main search engines.

For now, here’s a Big Picture positive spin on what’s different about being small when it comes to search marketing.

  • Small businesses can move more quickly than larger companies. Recommendations get implemented sooner, not later. Decisions and adjustments are made more quickly because small businesses don’t have several layers of management that have to review and approve new ideas or changes to existing plans.
  • Small businesses can take more chances than larger companies. It’s easier to try new things and test new ideas when the media isn’t watching your every move, and when you’re not investing huge sums of money in a marketing campaign.

Being small isn’t easy, but if you use size to your advantage, it can be successful.

As always, thoughts and ideas for future columns are encouraged via e-mail to

Matt McGee is the SEO Manager for Marchex, Inc., a search and media company offering search marketing services through its TrafficLeader subsidiary. Matt writes about small business search marketing at Small Business SEM. The Small Is Beautiful column appears on Wednesdays at Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Other | Small Is Beautiful


About The Author: is Editor-In-Chief of Search Engine Land. His news career includes time spent in TV, radio, and print journalism. His web career continues to include a small number of SEO and social media consulting clients, as well as regular speaking engagements at marketing events around the U.S. He recently launched a site dedicated to Google Glass called Glass Almanac and also blogs at Small Business Search Marketing. Matt can be found on Twitter at @MattMcGee and/or on Google Plus. You can read Matt's disclosures on his personal blog.

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  • Miriam

    Hi Matt,
    I think your time, money, knowledge equation is just right.

    Of these 3, I believe education is the most critical factor.

    One of the things I seem to say most to small business owners is that the small business owner’s education is what makes the difference between success and failure. Luckily, the small business owner need only invest time to achieve education, because so many of the ‘answers’ are out there on the Internet about how search engines work, how other companies are marketing themselves, etc. These answers are free for anyone to read, if they can invest the time.

    But, if they can’t invest the time, they have to be able to invest the money to hire someone who has spent the time becoming educated about this.

    So, I’d say, if you don’t have money, you’ve got to have time. If you don’t have time, you’ve got to have money.

    Great post, Matt. I really enjoyed this!
    Kind Regards,

  • Anita Campbell

    Hi Matt,

    I always advocate that business owners and staff in small businesses learn about SEO and online marketing. Because you can’t be an active part of marketing your business today unless you have a baseline of knowledge about the Web and how to get found on it.

    Today even if you have what you consider to be a “local” business, the Web usually plays a role. In my talks I explain it as the slingshot effect. Done right, your offline marketing can help you do more business online, and your online marketing can cross over and help you do more business in the physical world. It’s like standing in one state or province, and using a slingshot to hit something across the state line. You just have to aim in the right direction.


  • HawksM

    The agility that small businesses have because they don’t have to wait for ideas to get approved is a definite advantage. That advantage can save money and wasted time. I think it is important that a small business owner learns at least the basics of SEO/SEM. If they are outsourcing, which they should be, it helps them understand the work involved and more importantly the benefits. I think SEO/SEM professionals have a responsibility to educate as well. It is just good business, after all a relationship is being built between small business and SEO/SEM professionals. I feel knowledge is the key to success, I also think it can save time and money in the long run. So keep the discussion and education going Matt. It helps us all.




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