By Hannah Bryan

If you’ve ever worked with an agency or a marketing firm, chances are you’ve heard the term “SEO” thrown around as something that big companies need to do. And they’re not wrong.

But, the part that’s not always talked about is the positive impact that SEO (aka search engine optimization) can create for small and medium sized businesses. There is a lot of misinformation about what SEO is, what it takes to work, and who it helps.

In my opinion, there’s only one thing to know: every business with a digital presence can benefit from organic optimizations. The plan and the action items will differ, but there is always a place for SEO in a company’s marketing plan.

For the purposes of this blog post, we’ll be looking at SEO from the perspective of a business owner with a new, local cafe that serves Instagram-ready lattes with coffee from fair trade beans that is roasted in-house. Toasty Bean Cafe stays open late, has comfy couches and plenty of seating, and — the piece de resistance — free and fast wifi for their customers.

Using Toasty Bean Cafe as as an example, here are five of the biggest myths in circulation about SEO for small businesses in 2018.


#1 – Only big national brands can benefit from ongoing SEO.

A lot of the case studies that you will see shared from search engines are talking about international, multi-billion dollar companies that use SEO tools to improve and zero in on their ideal markets and customers. Google just wrote a case study about eharmony’s use of their attribution tool, for example.

But that does not mean that SEO is only helpful or insightful for big businesses. In fact, it’s often more insightful for smaller organizations because of the level of detail and specificity that SEO tools can achieve for their smaller market businesses when compared to the big guys.

For Toasty Bean Cafe, we can find out when millennials are coming to the site, what coffees they are researching the most, what local hashtags are being used to cultivate #coffeeconversations, and what devices they’re digitally interacting from. With that information we can adapt the homepage to include a Twitter feed with the local hashtag, begin posting more latte art photos to Instagram to attract an audience, and test out the mobile site with the most used devices to improve the experience.

Can McDonalds get to that level of specificity? No. Can they pivot their strategy and A/B test optimizations with results in a week? Not a chance! Because the data set is smaller and the queries earned are more specific (think about modifiers like “near me,” “open now,” “best,” and “healthy”) SEO can lead to more impactful conversions for small businesses.

Simply put, SEO and small businesses go together like donuts and coffee.


#2 – You have to spend a lot of money to benefit from SEO.

Large international brands work with a lot of data, and when you have to analyse big data to make business decisions, you buy big machines to do the heavy lifting. Big machines cost big money.

This is NOT the case for small to medium sized businesses. Google has specifically made SEO tools that are user-friendly, easy to set up, and best of all…free! All businesses can take advantage of Google Analytics, Google My Business, Google Search Console and Google Trends — all you need is a Gmail account.

Our new coffee shop can create social media profiles, claim their Google email address, add their business listing to Google My Business (GMB), and can add Analytics code to their website, and verify their properties in Google Search Console for free. Google representatives are also available to help with any problems in set up.

When Toasty Bean Cafe reveals its new homemade pop-tarts , the owner can post the news to his GMB listing for free and track all referral traffic to the site and engagements from GMB.


#3 – You only have to “do” SEO one time.

A lot of businesses out there will reach out to a company with a scary “FIX NOW OR YOUR SITE WILL BE PUNISHED” email that’s full of problems they found on the business’ website. It’s usually quickly followed with a “pay us one time to fix everything and you will avoid any punishments from Google!,” along with a hefty price tag attached to the analysis.

Don’t fall for this. SEO is a cyclical process and while an initial audit to identify problems is a part of any healthy SEO program, it is not an “end all, be all.”

As it launches its new website, Toasty Bean Cafe will have a lot of SEO work from the start, but it will be an ongoing process to see what people are searching for, what content they can write to match customer questions, and what keywords and other best practices they can implement as the user landscape continually changes.


#4 – Google will find and rank my business all on its own — they’ll figure it out.

Google may be an impressive company that seems to be “doing it all” with seemingly minimal effort, but that doesn’t mean that every single business and action on the internet will instantly be brought to their attention.

Big businesses get the benefit of dedicated representatives and the most experienced professionals to ensure any changes to a website are absorbed with minimal disruption by Google. For small businesses, you likely aren’t as connected to free resources. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make a difference all on your own.

In a world where hundreds of thousands of new websites are published daily, there are quick and easy steps to take via SEO to ensure your business website is found, crawled, and ranked for relevant keywords.

Think of it like digital networking — you could write the best piece of content in the world about the craft of coffee roasting, but if no one can find the content, it’s a waste of time. Use SEO to bring your content to a local audience as they are naturally searching.


#5 – Ranking number one for a “magic keyword” will double my business.

Gone are the days where focusing on optimizing for one keyword will make a difference for your business. The competition has risen and the organic landscape in search engines results pages has shrunk with the advent of Google’s Knowledge Graph, Local Pack, and People Also Ask widgets. People are searching like they talk and keyword queries have only become more and more long-tail (i.e. including more words per search).

Instead, small businesses should try to put themselves in their customers’ shoes. If you’re the Toasty Bean Cafe, it makes more sense to optimize your website for groups of keywords that are relevant to different kinds of customers versus simply focusing on the singular “coffee shop” keyword ranking.

For example, you could create content for “coffee shop Raleigh,” “locally owned coffee shop Raleigh,” “best coffee shop in Raleigh,” “independent Raleigh cafe,” “locally roasted coffee beans,”… among many others. These specific and localized keywords will bring more qualified and high-intent customers to the website versus being #1 for “coffee shop.”

Just remember, in a world of big pros, SEO can help the smaller and medium sized players too.

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