Semify’s Small Business Survey Finds Half of SMBs Don’t Use SEO

In October 2022, we conducted our “Small Businesses and SEO” survey to learn more about the relationship between SMBs and search engine optimization. We’ve already shared some of our survey data related to the average cost of SEO per month, but there’s actually an even bigger takeaway:

Over half of small businesses we surveyed either aren’t using SEO or aren’t sure whether SEO is part of their marketing strategy.

As a marketer, you may find this hard to believe. After all, we feel the value of SEO is pretty clear. Not only is the ROI of SEO more substantial than other marketing channels, but it provides a cost-effective way to build trust with customers without relying solely on external platforms.

Still, the numbers don’t lie. Let’s unpack the data and discover how you can turn these findings into growth opportunities for your own agency.


40% of Small Businesses Don’t Use SEO; 16% Aren’t Sure, According to Our SEO Survey

In our “Small Businesses and SEO” survey, we asked, “Is SEO (search engine optimization) part of your marketing strategy for your business?”

While around 44% of respondents answered yes, another 40% definitively stated that they do not use SEO to market their business. Another 16% of respondents in our SEO and small businesses survey weren’t sure about whether they use search engine optimization.

It’s certainly possible that this 16% may include businesses that rely on other experts (e.g., in-house employees or external agencies) to develop their marketing strategy. But if you have no idea how your business is promoting itself online, you’re probably not prioritizing it enough – and there’s a good chance you don’t know because your company isn’t doing it at all. Either way, this data suggests that a good portion of small businesses aren’t sure about what SEO involves.

What really caught our eye was the fact that nearly 40% of businesses aren’t using SEO at all. Our results support similar findings in the small business world. In 2020, a survey conducted by The Manifest found that only 30% of small businesses were using SEO, meaning that 70% of SMBs had no established SEO strategy.

When The Manifest released updated survey data for 2021, the company revealed that 49% of small businesses were investing in SEO, with 31% saying they don’t currently use SEO but eventually plan to. A shocking 18% of participants answered that they have no plans to ever invest in SEO to market their businesses. That’s like 1 in 5 people saying they care about dental hygiene but refusing to brush their teeth.

While we’re encouraged by the fact that almost 44% of businesses in our survey are already using SEO in their marketing plans, that still means that more than half of SMBs aren’t convinced that SEO is worthwhile.

If 56% of Small Businesses Don’t Use SEO, Is It Really Essential?

It may seem hard to prove why SEO matters when you learn how many respondents in our small business survey still aren’t using it (and presumably don’t believe their results are suffering as a result). But while you can drive traffic quickly to your site with an ad, that ad will do nothing for your brand’s reputation – and it certainly won’t help you once your advertising budget has run out.

For small businesses that do use SEO, the potential payoff is huge. Because more than half of all web traffic comes from organic search and 93% of buying experiences start with a search engine, SMBs that focus on improving their search ranking receive a higher portion of relevant web traffic (and, potentially, more customers).

SEO also gives business owners more control over their marketing efforts than social media marketing or paid ads. Meta and Google Ads determine what they charge for advertising and how many people see your posts, which can throw a wrench in your marketing plans (and budget). But SEO only builds on itself over time and does so in a way that doesn’t cause advertising fatigue for your customers. Although we can’t control how quickly Google ranks or indexes websites, we have a pretty good idea of how to improve a site’s SEO over time. Once those improvements are made, no one can take that away from you – even when Google inevitably updates its algorithm. Business owners can set themselves apart by publishing helpful, optimized content to create trust and drive traffic at the same time.

With so many businesses neglecting to use SEO, the ones that do will find it easier to outpace the competition. Although you may have some hurdles to clear as an agency owner, proving why SEO is important for small businesses can allow you to scale your business while helping your clients succeed.

Small Business SEO Survey Reveals Strategic Opportunities for Agency Owners That Address Common Concerns

So why isn’t SEO more of a priority for many SMBs?

Although SEO has been around since the 1990s, it’s still a concept that many small business owners aren’t too familiar with. They may use search engines to find information on a daily basis, but they may not give a lot of thought to how search results are actually determined. Unless you’re already aware of SEO and how Google’s algorithm works, it’s all a bit of a mystery. If you’re finding the information you need without much fuss, it makes sense that you might not dwell on how that information is delivered.

Keeping up with SEO best practices and changing trends can be a heavy lift, especially for small business owners who believe they have to do everything in-house. By offering a reliable outsourced small business SEO solution, you can relieve them of that burden and help them get results without a huge investment.

SEO also requires a lot of patience. We know that setting SEO expectations with clients can ensure they have a realistic timeframe in mind, but some small business owners will reject SEO entirely because of how long it takes. We know, however, that this longer time frame allows for organic trust-building and visibility that doesn’t depend on ad spend or social media followers. Long-term growth tends to get overshadowed by fast results, but slow and steady really does win the race.

You just need your clients to see that those benefits outweigh instant (but fleeting) gratification. Of course, grabbing the attention of these hesitant(or even dismissive small business owners can be a challenge. But if you can counter SEO client pushback and show them why it pays to stay the course, you’ll stand to grow their business and yours.

That’s especially true if you can offer affordable SEO services for small businesses. We now know from our survey how much small businesses pay for SEO every month. By working with a white label SEO company for fulfillment, you can offer small business SEO services that align with your clients’ budgetary goals – which means you’ll have an easier time convincing them why SEO matters for their marketing efforts.

Show Why SEO Is Important for Small Businesses to Gain Big

As someone who already knows exactly why SEO is important for small businesses, you may feel discouraged to learn that many small business owners still fail to see the value of SEO.

But viewing this small business survey data as an opportunity, rather than as a setback, can put your agency on the path to success. There’s a large untapped market of businesses not currently using SEO. By bridging the knowledge gap with your prospects, you can prove that small business SEO services are not only accessible but highly valuable.

Ultimately, the results of our SEO survey should empower you. When you’re able to show your prospects why SEO matters and how it can have a positive impact on their business, you can convince some of those people in that 56% that this area of marketing is worth investing in.