Why These SMBs Say No To SEO - InformationWeek
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11:22 AM
Kevin Casey
Kevin Casey

Why These SMBs Say No To SEO

Is search engine optimization a holy grail or fool's gold? These small businesses say it's the latter, and explain why they no longer bother with it.

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Rare is the small business that would not love to appear at the top of relevant Google search results. Yet plenty of those businesses think search engine optimization (SEO) is worthless.

Their reasons vary. Some have been disappointed by SEO vendors that pitched the sun, moon, and stars. Others found little return on the investment of financial and human resources needed to do SEO well. Then there are those that run afoul of Google's policies, even if they don't quite understand why. The reasons are many, and they often overlap. But the end result is the same: They've all quit SEO.

"Time equals money, and SEO takes way too much time, with results that are not directly quantifiable," said 30A owner Mike Ragsdale, via email. 30A is a "hyper-local" community guide that's part of the TownWizard.com network. Ragsdale dropped his formal SEO efforts about two years ago even though every penny of 30A's $300,000 annual revenue is generated by its various Web properties. Instead, he now focuses on pay-per-click advertising, social media, and "writing authentic content." Both social media and content marketing are rapidly expanding facets of SEO; in that sense, Ragsdale's still very much participating in it. But you can bet that he won't be paying anyone else for help.

[ For more on SEO for small business, see SEO For SMBs: 7 Timely Tips. ]

"I wasted way too much time and money dealing with online snake oil salesmen who claimed to 'have a friend who wrote code at Google' or people who promised top-level rankings for certain keywords within six months," Ragsdale said. "After dealing with a dozen different options over a period of years, I walked away from all of their virtual voodoo."

The SEO game's shadier operators--those vendors promising all manner of too-good-to-be-true results--have fostered a brood of disillusioned small businesses. "I gave up on SEO last year after spending way too much money on empty promises from reps who promised me I'd get on the first page of Google," said Shane Fischer, an attorney in Winter Park, Fla., via email. Fischer couldn't recall precisely how much cash he doled out for such services, but said they cost anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000 per month.

The real issue for Fischer, though, was that the calls he received as a result of hiring SEO help weren't the calls he wanted. "The inquiries I did get were from people who were price shopping, rather than people who were concerned about spending the money necessary to ensure I do a good job on their case," he said. Fischer has since reallocated his SEO spending toward networking events and referrals through various business organizations. "I find that referrals from these sources generate more revenue and more repeat business than anything SEO ever did for me," Fischer said.

The husband-and-wife team behind Jolly Good Tours, which runs guided tours of England and Ireland, thinks it does just fine with SEO. Co-owner Gregg White still isn't a fan. "It is pointless," he said via email. One of White's reasons: Page one is often dominated by paid ads, particularly in his industry. Another: In his view, most people aren't very good at using Google and its various tools and tricks for improving search results--that's particularly true of college students, a key customer segment for Jolly Good.

Finally, like Ragsdale and Fischer, White isn't offering a ringing endorsement for SEO experts. "When small business owners attend workshops on SEO, the experts never ever mention that it depends what you are selling," White said. Geography also plays a role. "If you have a coffee shop in town, you will get on the first page--unless there just happen to be 1,000 coffee shops in your town. In our business, searches for England tours regularly turn up 100,000,000 results." (White might actually be underselling it; my search for "England tours" returned 136,000,000 results.)

Still, when SEO is done right, strong rankings can drive powerful traffic to smaller companies with limited marketing resources--traffic that's all the more invaluable when those businesses exist entirely online.

Several small business owners told me that "SEO done right" is an increasingly moving target that makes the legwork decreasingly worth their while. Google's Panda and Penguin updates to its search algorithm were the most commonly cited reasons. Those changes revamped the conventional wisdom about SEO fundamentals such as keywords and links--"have a ton of both," to paraphrase the old rules.

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Jose Capelo
Jose Capelo,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/5/2013 | 5:56:11 PM
re: Why These SMBs Say No To SEO
SEO is important, but it has to be seen as a long-term strategy. Small businesses fail to consider this and they expect results in 24 hours. I feel that SEO is fundamental for small business and if done right it can help them enourmously.
Eric Shannon
Eric Shannon,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/17/2012 | 7:15:49 PM
re: Why These SMBs Say No To SEO
Hi Paul, I'm the Eric mentioned on page 2. The article isn't saying that strong Google rankings are worthless. Not at all.. traffic from targeted Google searches is just about the best possible, highest converting traffic you can get.

I'm saying that the amount of uncertainty about how to actually get those rankings now makes the time, effort, and expense to chase those rankings much too expensive and risky. Especially for small businesses that need to see an immediate return on advertising spend.
User Rank: Apprentice
7/17/2012 | 2:32:47 PM
re: Why These SMBs Say No To SEO
What an ignorant article. What's more scary is that such a well-respected online medium would publish such nonsense.

First and foremost this is a very poorly researched. Kevin, you make this bold premise, "Why These SMBs Say No To SEO" and then you allow support for this claim to be, "It it pointless" from a husband and wife team? You know what this article proves? How ignorant and short-sighted most small- to medium-sized business owners really are.

Working with several small- to medium-sized businesses over the years, let me point out the 5 biggest mistakes they make when it comes to purchasing or doing SEO.

One, If you deliver a terrible service or created a useless product - DO NOT DO SEO. For that matter, do not waste a single dime on any form of advertising. Go back to the drawing board and create something of value to your customers.

Two, SEO is no different than advertising. Our job is to get people in the door and it's your job to keep them there. Yes, it's annoying that so many "web geeks" got involved with SEO. and that they have failed to realize it is another form of advertising. However, this doesn't excuse the fact you didn't do your homework before opening your wallet.

Third, SEO is only half the battle. What good is getting on the first and second page of Google if no one stays on your site? Your website is just as important as SEO. However, if you hire some designer, who rather create "Picaso" then actually get you sales, what good are they? You better make sure you hire an SEO company, or you'll end up with one expensive "award-winning" website that made you zero dollars.

Fourth, Mike Ragsdale, continue writing "authentic content". But make sure you stay within the theme or niche of whatever you are trying to target. It sounds easy, but it's not as simple as writing about your local Florida event and activities.

Also, I reviewed your site and you're making the biggest mistake of all. You have two sites running simultaneously and therefore, our competing against one another for your content and links. What your "web SEO snake oil salesman geeks" failed to mention is that "www.30a.com" is NOT the same as "30a.com".

Type both of those URLs in your address bar and you'll notice that your site appears. What that means is that half your traffic is going to "WWW.30a.com" and your other half is going to "30a.com". So all your "authentic content" you are writing is being seen as duplicate. All of the links you acquire from Social Media are being split. So of course the SEO company couldn't get you ranking cause Google has no idea which of those URLs you want. Therefore, Google gives authority and credit to both of them, thus diluting your ranking power - I won't even charge you for that "virtual voodoo".

Fifth, out of all the people you questioned Kevin, how many of them would go to a doctor who works in some back alley? The problem here isn't that SEO is no good, it's that there's a huge gaping hole of what exactly SEO is. Because of this, small- to medium-sized business owners do not know what they are paying for. As a result, they nickle and dime the good SEOs and end up with the back alley ones.

It's the old adage, "You get what you pay for this in this world". You want to get a "deal" to do SEO fine. Just realize your "deal" is now going to affect the scope of work being done and the quality delivered.

I find it funny that a few small- to medium-sized business owners want Rolls Royce SEO services for Honda money.

What most don't understand about SEO is that it's a way of organizing your site not only for the search engine spiders but for the user as well. This is actually biological - a person wants to exert the least amount of effort to gain the biggest reward - hence the food chain. It is no different for your site.

You have 8 seconds to capture their attention. Beyond that, you have 8 seconds to capture them with the RIGHT message. So you better make sure your site is structured so that your user can get in and get out as quickly as possible. Not many designers are going to mention that to you in their pitch. Moreover, you better structure your site simply for the search engine spiders or they won't reward you with good rankings.

So next time, you want to write something with such a narrow perspective, at least present a legitimate argument with specific examples that span,

"I wasted way too much time and money dealing with online snake oil salesmen who claimed to 'have a friend who wrote code at Google' or people who promised top-level rankings for certain keywords within six months,"

These "snake oil salesman" are in every business including yours. So please do not give SEOs the "Scarlet Letter" when every other vocation has these same "snakes."
User Rank: Ninja
7/14/2012 | 8:39:57 PM
re: Why These SMBs Say No To SEO
Articles like this one are way more worth than a link on Google. I got to know way more about the companies reading this article.
User Rank: Apprentice
7/13/2012 | 7:50:58 PM
re: Why These SMBs Say No To SEO
I donG«÷t know why companies would think that SEO is worthless. I am pretty sure that most people who Google search usually select 1 of the top choices on the first page that is displayed. I do not understand that if your company appears in those top results you will be the most likely choice for them to pick. To me that sounds like a very good investment towards building a small business into a large business. You cannot put a price on business growth. It makes sense if people think that they are worthless, because the company they chose to promote their company did not hold up their end of the deal by optimizing the companies Google search results.
I personally use an OSE service provided to me free of charge because of the university I attend. I find it very useful and beneficial to me when seeking employment.

Paul Sprague
InformationWeek Contributor
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