Survey Says SEO The Single Most Important Marketing Channel For SMBs

SEO: one channel to rule them all? A new “merchant confidence survey” from lead-gen company MerchantCircle/, among 2,500 US small businesses, finds that search engine optimization is the marketing channel they would choose if they could choose only one.

The question asked was: “If you had to put all your marketing time and budget into only one channel, what would it be?” The list of choices included SEO, paid search, mobile, social and traditional media. As you can see below SEO beats everything else by a mile.

What’s also interesting is how high “traditional media” ranked. That category would include newspapers, yellow pages, direct mail, traditional radio and so on. Newspapers and direct mail were the top traditional channels being used by this group of survey respondents.

However Facebook (not Facebook Ads) was the most common marketing tool, used by 70 percent of these SMB respondents. The question was, ”Are you promoting your business with the following websites/services?”

The online survey was conducted in November. The sample came from MerchantCircle’s 1.6 million SMB member database. Just under 80 percent of respondents were businesses with fewer than four employees. The majority (63 percent) had annual marketing budgets of $2,500 or less.

There are additional findings about the use of social media, deals and mobile marketing that I discuss on my personal blog Screenwerk.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Google: SEO | SEO - Search Engine Optimization | SEO: General | SEO: Local | Stats: General | Stats: Popularity | Top News


About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

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  • Jaan

    With those results I bet a lot of those 2,500 serve the local markets and not national.

  • E.R.

    With 80% of the 2500 respondents having 4 or fewer employees, it is impressive that SEO has that level of awareness, though the Merchant Circle user population is no doubt is skewed more tech savvy than a broader population of SMBs, who usually give a dear in the headlights look when hearing the terms SEO/Search Engine Optimization. These are very impressive SEO awareness numbers nonetheless. WRT local markets, SEO is still important, but with some tactics unique to local, especially if Google/Bing localize search results for your queries related to your product or service (e.g. civil attorneys). For local search optimization, obtaining profiles (free or paid) on Merchant Circle, Google Places,, daily deals sites, even GPS POI (Points of Interest) database, etc. are key tactics for local businesses.

  • Evan W.

    Your title is misleading.

  • Kevin Webster

    16% said social media? They must be agency people.

  • wendy holmes

    Hi Greg,

    Did you find it interesting that 63 percent of those responding had an annual marketing budget of $2,500 or less? It would be really interesting to see what these annual advertising campaigns look like in terms of reach and ROI.

    I was a newspaper consultant for years, and in my experience a $2,500 annual campaign does not get you very far.

    I also think it is very telling that the third most popular answer was “none of the above.” I wonder what channel they are choosing.

    On the flip side, kudos to the SMBs for recognizing the value of SEO.


  • Laura

    How many of them are successful with Facebook? I believe that most SMB’s feel that SEO is where the answer is but do they understand it?

  • Josh Reeve

    Using the rule of thumb about marketing budgets and sales revenue (between 2% & 10% of sales revenue) their annual sales represent between $25,000 and $125,000. These figures hardly represent equitable sales for a business once you consider the cost of sales, wages and other administration costs.

    If I was the owner of a business with that budget and employees, I would be considering my future options…

  • Asif Anwar

    Greg, there is a reason. I use the Right Message to the Right People in Right Time, these 3 matrix to identify the best marketing strategy. If I use it for Email Marketing – Then the best situation can be The Best Message to the unverified Right People, but not in the right time. So, SEO is just only strategy that can get all the 3 ticks.

  • A.T.

    I agree with some of the comments above: Some people/businesses don’t really understand SEO and so look at it as a Golden Calf. Of course for some it would be if they could commit the resources, but not for everyone.

  • Mayank Raturi

    Interesting Article.But what is the option none of the Above which 17.9% of people responded, are these people doing nothing in terms of promoting their projects.
    Plus with the budget of $2500 annually I wonder how far can they go?

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