Can SMBs Pull Off SEO?

One dirty-little secret of SEO is that the most impact can come from practices that aren’t highly technical. That includes things such as content quality, keyword density and other things that are done by non-SEO folks. The best direction of course comes from SEOs, but execution can lie with non-SEOs.

As examined astutely by in-house SEO expert Jessica Bowman in Search Engine Land, this often comes up in larger enterprise contexts. But the theme applies to SMBs (more on that in a bit). In the enterprise, SEOs (both in-house and external) set the guidance but others have their hands on the levers.

For example, a consumer-facing corporate site can have several individuals producing content on a daily basis. That’s press releases from mar-comm departments; thought leadership and content marketing from executives on a corporate blog; and IT jurisdiction over site architecture, pages and links.

According to Bowman, the list of SEO-impactful, non-SEO roles in a given organization (say that three times fast) often include:

  • Writers
  • Merchandisers
  • UX designers
  • Product Managers
  • Project Managers
  • Developers
  • QA testers

For a given SEO pro, that becomes a game of training, discipline and herding cats. Bowman asserts that its smart to recognize a classic 80/20 rule that exists in SEO: 80 percent of SEO impact comes from 20 percent of content practices. So zero in on those attainable goals in disciplining far-flung colleagues.

That’s different for each of the above roles. Ideally, training incorporates SEO into the competencies of a given role. In other words, meet individuals halfway by bringing SEO to what they do, rather than force-feed it in ways that deviate from their competency. That way, SEO can become a core competency.

“Non-SEO teams need training and tools that are proportionate to the level of organic ranking risk (and opportunity) each role has for the site,” writes Bowman. “I believe that every role needs to master their 20% of SEO that makes 80% of the impact for their role. This 20% needs to be a core competency.”

Teach a Man to Fish

That brings us to SMBs. The above challenges, when applied to SMBs, raise a double-edged sword. SMBs are small enough to avoid the fragmentation and cat-herding outlined above. But they’re often too small to have in-house SEO chops. The result is that some do nothing and some hire SEO agencies.

The latter becomes similar to the in-house enterprise scenario where the agency executes a certain amount of SEO work (title tags, meta descriptions, etc). Then they have to coach the small business on daily practices. This is less cumbersome for static sites that don’t update content (such as a blog) often.

But back to the 80/20 rule, this all raises the question if SMBs can pull off effective SEO on an ongoing basis. If Bowman’s construct applies to SMBs in any way, it’s likely that their effectiveness with SEO-impactful content management is a function of how well their agency can prime them to do so.

This thought exercise emerged when reading Bowman’s insights. In her case, the “client” is in-house colleagues. But a client can also be a large enterprise… or an SMB. Of course, there are nuances between them, but training the client in each case to execute on their own appears to be a common success factor.

This is a sort of “teach a man to fish” strategy for SEO. And it isn’t new: It aligns with lots of thinking in the SMB SaaS world over the past decade. In the spectrum of DIY to DIFM (not to mention (BIY), teaching a man or woman to fish (DIWM) can have scalability advantages in offloading high-touch rote work.

But we’ll admit that the fragmentation of vertical, horizontal, demographic and psychographic segmentation among SMBs makes it difficult to apply constructs like this across the board. Some SMBs want their hands held, while some may not have the capacity to learn how to fish. So mileage will vary.

Speaking of non-SEOs, this all admittedly comes from the perspective of an industry watcher who examines SEO as part of the SMB SaaS universe. But it doesn’t come from SEO practice, meaning we’re eager to hear from SEO pros with additions (or subtractions) to this analysis. It will be an ongoing focus in 2020.

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