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SEO Strategies That Work on a Small Business Budget

This post was written by guest blogger, Brad Shorr. Brad is Director of Content Strategy at Straight North, an Internet marketing services agency headquartered in Chicago.

Small businesses with tight marketing budgets have a three-prong built-in problem with SEO. Here it is:

  1. To make SEO work, a high enough volume of organic traffic must be driven to a website to produce a “critical mass” of conversions. With too few conversions (inquiries or consultation requests), the SEO campaign will never generate ROI.
  2. High-volume keywords are expensive to optimize because there is a lot of competition around them. Optimizing content for just one of these keywords could chew up the entire marketing budget of a small company.
  3. Lower-volume keywords (long-tail keywords) are also expensive to optimize because the small business must select a lot of them to reach that critical mass.

So, if optimizing high-volume keywords is too expensive, and optimizing low-volume keywords is too expensive, how can a small business succeed with SEO? My agency grapples with this issue every day, and there’s good news. There are strategies that will work. Here is the process to follow.

Build Your ROI Model

You have to start somewhere when forming an SEO strategy, so how about here: How much can we afford to spend on SEO?

Consider that SEO is a long-term proposition that may take months, if not a year or two, to ramp up. A reasonable trial period for SEO is two years. If you feel comfortable investing $1,000/month, your SEO spend for the trial period is $24,000.

Then, ask how much revenue you need to make the $24,000 investment pay. To calculate this, consider your ROI on other marketing campaigns, and also the lifetime value of a customer. An SEO-driven, one-time order of $1,000 is much different from a $1,000 order with a potential lifetime customer value of $10,000.

At this point, don’t worry about whether or not you can achieve your desired SEO — at this point, you are only creating a model to construct your SEO campaign around.

Invest in Keyword Research

Without identifying the right target keywords, an SEO campaign is doomed regardless of how many dollars go into it. Thus, investing in professional SEO research is a preliminary investment a small business should make. Keyword research starts with the universe of all possible keywords, and then groups and ranks them into a pecking order based on variables such as user intent, volume, competitiveness and relevance.

Once the lineup of possible target keywords is defined, it’s possible to evaluate the likelihood of achieving your SEO ROI goal.

Use tools like Google Keywords Planner, WordStream’s keywords tool or another free option (which you can find with a simple Internet search) to get started.

Select a Sustainable Basket of Keywords

When reviewing the list of keywords, perhaps with the aid of your keyword research expert or an SEO consultant, you can consider which and how many of the keywords you can afford to optimize. Base this on the estimated cost to optimize them and the estimated amount of traffic they can produce (keeping in mind traffic will increase over the two-year trial period).

The cost of optimization includes a lot of technical activities, but one of the biggest costs is content creation. If your business has the ability to create excellent content, then your agency/freelance SEO costs will be considerably lower. At this stage, your SEO consultant should be able to give you an idea of how much content you will need to optimize the targeted keywords. This will enable you to determine how much content creation you can do, and how much needs to be budgeted.

A typical strategy following this process will result in about 10-20 core target keywords, including 1-2 high-volume targets and the rest long-tail. It all depends on the nature of your business and the competitive SEO environment in your niche.

Remember to Convert

Finally, be sure to do everything possible to convert organic traffic from your SEO campaign. E-commerce sites must have top-drawer shopping carts. Lead generation sites must have top-drawer offers and inquiry forms. Many an SEO campaign has been undone because the organic website visitors never took action. Don’t let that happen to you.

Have additional insights on how to implement SEO strategies on a small business budget? Share your feedback in the comments below!

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