What’s So Different About Being Small?

Let’s get this out of the way right now: Hands-on SEO and SEM for small businesses is no different than it is for large corporations.

Small businesses need to develop great content around targeted keywords and get quality inbound links… just as any other business does. On the PPC front, small businesses need to write great ads, target the right keywords, and have great landing pages… just as any other business does.

This begs an obvious question: If it’s all the same, why is Search Engine Land starting a new column dedicated to small business search marketing?

You’d have to ask Danny, Chris and the rest of the Search Engine Land team to be sure, but here’s my take:

Small is the Now: Based on its most recent figures (2005), the U.S. Small Business Administration estimates that 99.9% of the country’s businesses are small businesses. The U.S. Census Bureau says small businesses employ slightly more than 50% of the workforce.

Small is the Future: The recent Intuit Future of Small Business Report cites a 2005 Gallup/CNN/USA Today survey, in which nearly 80% of 18-29 year-olds questioned said they’d rather start their own business than work for a big company. The report specifically mentions technology as a driving force behind the growth of small business among young adults:

They are inspired by entrepreneurial heroes such as Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, and they like working on their own. This interest in entrepreneurship, coupled with the business opportunities created by digital technology, will likely result in increased small business formation rates by Generation Y.

If stats bore you, and you prefer pithy one-liners from a highly respected marketer, consider the title of Seth Godin’s latest best-seller: Small is the New Big.

Yes, indeed.

At last summer’s Search Engine Strategies conference in San Jose, a session devoted specifically to small businesses returned to the conference lineup after a short hiatus. “Big Ideas for Small Sites and Small Budgets” was my first speaking opportunity, and I didn’t know what to expect. Neither did fellow panelists John Carcutt (also a first-time speaker) and Jennifer Laycock (a veteran).

We were scheduled against a “Linking Strategies” session featuring fellow SEL columnist Eric Ward, Debra Mastaler, Mike Grehan, and Greg Boser, and a “Search Engine Bloggers” session featuring Matt Cutts, Jeremy Zawodny, Gary Price, and Niall Kennedy. Talk about competition!

What happened?

As we arrived at the dais, I mentioned the Who’s Who we were going up against, and told Jennifer and John we might be lucky to get a dozen people in our session.

We got standing room only. And, with all due respect to my fellow speakers, it had nothing to do with name recognition. It was the topic. Small business. Small sites. Small budgets. Big ideas.

We also got a 4-star rating from attendees, and an invite to do the session again at SES Chicago this past December. And there? Another packed room and another 4-star rating (New York attendees are out of luck; we’re not presenting in April).

I don’t share all this to pat Jennifer, John, and myself on the back. I share it to make the point that there’s a strong desire in the business world for search marketing ideas and discussion that focus on the needs of small business. And if there’s a desire, those of us in search marketing should be there to fulfill it.

I chuckle a bit when I read blog and forum posts that talk about 6-figure SEO projects, and 7-figure monthly PPC budgets. That’s great if you have the money to spend, but it’s just not realistic for most small businesses. In fact, one of my favorite blog posts so far this year came from David Wallace of SearchRank, who wrote about a talk he gave to small business owners in the Phoenix area:

What shocked me a bit was when I polled the group as to who was currently doing any kind of search marketing. Two people out of the twenty raised their hands. The remaining either were not doing any search marketing or were completely unaware of its existence. We who are so embroiled in the industry often forget that there still remains a wide opportunity to reach businesses with the search marketing gospel, especially small businesses.

Lack of information is one of the three biggest challenges small business owners face in search marketing; the other two are time and money.

Together, those three things will color a lot of what I’ll be writing about in this new small business column every two weeks on Search Engine Land. I expect local search, link building, and even social media will be occasional topics, as well – all from a small business perspective.

If you’re a small business owner, or are someone who’s interested in small business search marketing, I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas for future columns. I can be reached via e-mail at matt [at] smallbusinesssem.com.

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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  • http://www.solaswebdesign.net Miriam

    Dear Matt,
    I wanted to say I’m THRILLED Search Engine Land is adding this column.

    Because I work with small businesses, about 60% of the time I spend reading most forums/blogs about SEO and Marketing, I come away saying, “these guys’ clients must really be well-funded,” and struggling to find some way to apply their wisdom to my own field for the benefit of my clients.

    I’ve had to insist to disbelieving marketers/SEOs that 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.

    Education is incredibly important to me, and I am simply delighted to think that the wonderful, wise folks at SEL will be devoting some time to this area. I know I will learn a lot!
    Kind Regards,

  • http://www.lonelymarketer.com Patrick Schaber

    Matt, This is great! I can’t think of a better person to write this article. I’ll look forward to it and let my readers know to look out for your posts.

  • Matt McGee

    Thanks for the kind words, Miriam and Patrick. I’m glad to see there’s interest in the small angle, and I’m looking forward to writing more. And I’m serious about that questions/ideas by e-mail part — don’t be afraid to speak up. :-)

  • http://www.seobythesea.com Bill Slawski

    Congratulations, Matt

    I’m looking forward to more posts from you and Christine, on small business related topics. Nice start.

  • http://www.linux-girl.com Asia

    I’m excited about this column, a lot of businesses I work with are small to mid-range companies. SEO is quite different in a lot of ways for smaller companies and in many ways more demanding. I’ve managed to maintain my rankings for clients in the top 3 for Search Engines regardless of an update and without the need for a front page digg article and frankly tired of the usual – get on digg for relevant links. It doesn’t work for my clients, their sites are not digg friendly and I’m not looking to sell anything to that community either.

    I would like to see features on targeting relevant blogs and utilizing those partnerships for link generation as well as generating quality traffic. I want more on external search engine marketing tactics, get outside of Google and Yahoo and get into ‘marketing your website for targeted traffic’.

    I would love to have articles out there about what is possible for the smaller guy vs let’s all raise engadgets rankings.

    I’ve followed Danny around since his early SEO days and I intend on continuing that trend – but I can’t handle any more Google news and want to see more relevant articles that I can’t get off the front page news. It’s been awhile since I’ve clicked into an RSS link to this site, I just want to hear more about the real SEO challenges that everyday SEO/Marketing people face, so cheers on this great new section!

  • http://www.davidmihm.com davidmihm

    Really excited to see this column — I second the digg comment above — there is simply a di(gg)sconnect between a lot of the link-baiting strategies out there and what applies to small businesses with small budgets that are not going to appeal to the tech community.

  • Matt McGee

    Bill – thanks very kindly.

    Asia – thank you, too. There’s a lot of things I’d like to cover, but if you’ll be patient, we WILL get to some non-traditional search marketing opportunities down the road.

    David – I’m on the same page as you and Asia where Digg is concerned. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  • HawksM

    Great column idea. I find that talking to small businesses that SEO/SEM is overwhelming for them. They start studying the topic because it is new to them, they take in so much that they do not know where to start. I wouldn’t mind reading about results before and after marketing ideas are implemented. I took on the project of building a new site from the ground up which I have never done before, so any topics as they relate to new sites would be helpful. I also find that “content ads” do not perform as well “search ads” so ideas on how to improve conversions when doing “content ads” and whether they should have a different set of best practices.


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