Survey: Only 36% of SMBs Have an ‘SEO Strategy’

Despite the waning visibility of organic content, SEO is arguably more important than ever. The vast majority of search clicks occur on organic links/content. Yet, according to a survey from Clutch, only 36% of small businesses (SMBs) have an SEO strategy — though an additional 38% say they plan to in the future.

Clutch uses the SBA’s problematic definition of SMB to include firms with up to 500 employees. However there’s a radical difference between firms with two or three employees and those with 75 or 99.

A little more than half (54%) of this respondent pool had 10 or fewer employees, while 22% had more than 50 employees (7% had more than 250) — making the SEO finding all the more striking. One would expect larger firms that can hire agencies and SEO specialists to be more focused on organic visibility.

Clutch SEO survey

Source: Clutch survey of 529 SMBs (2019)

Several years ago SEO was a top digital marketing tactic according to LSA survey data, although different surveys have shown somewhat different percentages of SMBs engaged with SEO over time. In 2016, an LSA survey found 52% of SMB respondents using SEO to promote their businesses. Since that time social media has taken over as the top SMB marketing channel. In 2018, LSA survey data found that 62% of SMBs said they were using social media to promote themselves, while 35% were doing SEO.

According to the Clutch survey, among the 36% doing SEO, the top tactics are:

  1. Social media
  2. Mobile friendly website
  3. Keyword research
  4. Content marketing
  5. Link building
  6. Voice search optimization

Missing from this list are: GMB, listings management/citations and review management. It’s not clear whether these were simply not options in the survey or whether they didn’t register among these respondents.

For the SEO SMBs, the majority (54%) were doing it in-house, 50% were using SEO tools/software, 42% were using SEO consultants or freelancers and 28% were using an SEO agency.

The top metrics used to measure SEO success were:

  1. Website traffic
  2. Conversions/leads
  3. Backlinks
  4. Keyword rankings

So what’s going on here? Are we seeing SEO growing or waning?

SEO is a changing and complex methodology. It’s also not well understood by a large percentage of small businesses.

Social media is more straightforward and less mysterious, which is partly why it has taken over as the top SMB digital marketing tactic. The use of the word “strategy” in the survey question may also be problematic; it may imply a level of sophistication that many of these respondents don’t identify with. Yet they might actually be using some or many of the individual tactics that comprise a “strategy.”

The Clutch survey spins the findings as SEO is gaining among SMBs. However, the internet is 30 years old; Google is 20 years old. SEO is not a novel marketing tactic. It’s a moving target that many SMBs can’t fully understand let alone keep up with.

SEO is often a difficult sale to SMBs, in part because results take time to materialize. Marketing firms that cater to SMBs probably need to stop talking about “SEO” and speak exclusively in terms of outcomes that small business owners care about: visibility, traffic and ultimately customers.

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