Why small business owners are afraid of SEO is a matter of much debate. Local businesses are run by a hardworking bunch of creative and innovative people. We wouldn’t know what to do if they suddenly disappeared. What if there were no longer any gardeners or dog walkers, cleaners, ­­decorators or plumbers? Small business owners are at the heart of every community. I have enormous respect for their dedication at bringing their gifts and expertise to us.

Take for example a cake maker. I’m rubbish in the kitchen and those commercially-made birthday cakes often taste just awful. Nope, you won’t get me donning an apron and holding a piping bag anytime soon. I’d rather hire someone locally who delights in covering their kitchen counters in plumes of flour.  The fact is, they make our lives easier, often relieving us of the tasks we don’t or won’t do ourselves.

Websites don’t reflect the passion

The small business owners I meet are incredibly smart. They are passionate about what they do. They can talk for hours and days about the minutiae of their business without getting tired or depleted of energy.  I  look at their websites expecting to see the same level of passion, professionalism and detail. More often than not, I am perplexed by what I see – websites reminiscent of those created in the early days of web design with only a few pages and barely any content. Yes, those websites do exist, but I ask myself why? Why don’t the business owners I meet have fully responsive, user-friendly websites with fresh and unique content? After all, WordPress is free and premium themes don’t cost all that much. It no longer needs to cost thousands just to get a pretty-darn-good site up and running.

Fear is the underlying driver

I Googled “Why small businesses don’t do SEO” to find out how small business owners feel about SEO. All of the articles gave me the same rather standard reasons. They all boil down to lack of time or money, other priorities, less clout with link building, inability to compete with big brands and no relationship with Google. These are all contributing factors, yes, but it does not tell the full story.  Those answers did not satisfy me.  I decided to do my own research. After interviewing small business owners who had at least heard of search engine optimisation and were new to SEO, what I found was that at the kernel of it all was FEAR.

To me, small business owners are a fearless bunch – going out on their own, not relying on a guaranteed monthly paycheque. A few years ago, I left the “safe” world of the civil service to run a dog walking company. I swapped policies for pooches and mundane meetings for moggies, but I also swapped a predictable salary that would pop into my bank account quite promptly at the end of the month for an income that was anything but guaranteed. As all small business owners will know, that guarantee is not guaranteed at all. So, knowing just what it takes to go from salaried to self-employed, I was rather surprised that FEAR was the underlying driver for not doing SEO.  It’s unlikely a business owner new to SEO will say “I’m afraid of SEO”, so here is how that fear presents itself.

1. Seen and not heard

If you’ve grown up in an environment where the pervasive view is that “children should be seen and not heard”, you might very well take that view into your adult life and unwittingly into your business. One business owner I spoke to certainly does. She is wonderfully creative and exceptionally talented, but her website is screaming out for care and attention. Her website reflects her deep-seated thinking that one should not boast about one’s talents.  When staring at the almost blank pages of a lack-lustre website, I find myself blinking hard and fast as my mind churns through all the reasons why this way of thinking is so wrong and so disappointing.

2. I don’t understand SEO – and I don’t want to

Now, I’ve heard it many times that SEO is too technical and far too time-consuming, and the lack of immediate results can put people off. When I was running my dog walking business, I never said to myself “I’m not going to spend money on getting my van fixed because I don’t understand mechanics and I don’t want to.” I did the exact opposite in fact. I spent money on getting it fixed because I don’t understand mechanics. I left it to the professionals. What I did do, was call around to get several quotes and to gain just enough knowledge to ascertain whether or not the person who I was entrusting my van to was going to do a good job without fleecing me.

3. I’ve heard about SEO but it’s too overwhelming, so I don’t bother

This is similar to the point above but rooted in the belief that small business owners think they should know how to do everything themselves. Since when do we have to be experts in all aspects of our business? Delegating tasks to someone more experienced leaves you to concentrate on running your business. I am in no way suggesting that a business owner should not spend time learning SEO. What I am suggesting, is that if the whole idea of SEO is too overwhelming, then offload the task to an SEO expert. As you start to see the benefits of SEO, you may take over some aspects of the SEO strategy. Deciding to do nothing because you don’t understand all the ins-and-outs is like deciding you won’t start a business because you haven’t got the answers to all the questions that might arise.

4. I can’t afford it. I get my business from word-of-mouth

Money is a touchy subject and so I will tread carefully here. It’s not for me to say what a small business can or cannot afford. SEO company fees can range anywhere from £200 – £2000 and more, but I’m just going to use an average figure of £400 just to make my point. If I had been running a business for several years and didn’t have the wiggle room to invest £400 a month back into my business for between three to six months, this to me is a red flag.

SEO Is An Investment

You may be getting a lot of business through referrals and that is absolutely fantastic, but what about all the people you can’t reach through this form of marketing? Not everyone who needs your services will come across someone who knows someone who knows you.  Maybe you have put £400 aside for that yearly networking fee – that tried and tested approach that sends you just enough business your way to keep you motoring. Why just motor when you could be flying. I believe that a small business can’t afford to NOT do SEO. SEO is an investment in time and money and does take commitment.

No Magic Formula

We live in a digital world where people want products and services lickety-split. They will simply not wait around for that slow, unresponsive website to load. No thank you – far too busy for that. An SEO campaign that’s rooted in a well thought-out online marketing strategy and solid keyword research should provide you with a good return on investment. There is no magic formula but SEO is invaluable if you want to rank more highly.

I am of the view that if you are lucky enough to know what your gifts and talents are, then in order to fulfil your higher purpose, you have an obligation to bring those gifts and talents to the world. So, if you are indeed lucky enough to be making a living out of those gifts, why wouldn’t you want to tell as many people as possible? Caitlin Moran’s article “Never Apologise For Who You Are” in the Times struck a chord with me. The vibrations of her insistence to women to “take up your space” reverberate each time I look at a website that is apologising for the owner’s gifts and talents. There is a stark but subtle difference between leading with ego and leading with value.

There’s an SEO professional right for you

SEO is not something that’s nice to have, it’s a must-have. It is something you can do and learn yourself, but the point is you don’t have to.  Let’s stop just “limping along” and “just getting by.” Burst out of your comfort zone and into the unknown. There’s no need to be afraid of SEO and there is no need to step out alone. There are SEO professionals who will hold your hand and those who will guide you gently along the path. They can even just get you where you want to be without boring you with all the nitty-gritty in between. Either way, there’s an SEO professional out there that’s right for your business, budget and level of SEO knowledge.

Still afraid of SEO? Feel the fear and do it anyway and let’s stop apologising for who we are.