White Paper: Should Small Business Invest in SEO?

Compiled by Claire Carradice, White Paper, Case Study and Blog Post Writer

At the heart of this white paper is the answer to this question: is an SEO strategy worth it for small businesses, and more specifically, for your business?

Type of content:

White paper

Industry:

Technological e-commerce, but any small business owner with a website will benefit from this white paper in order to decide whether an SEO strategy is worth implementing in terms of resources and cost.

Target audience:

Small business owner of a website.

How will reading this white paper benefit you?

If you own a website, and would like to get more traffic to it through search engines, and if you would like to optimise your website so that as many visitors as possible convert to paying customers, this white paper will demonstrate what you may be doing right [or wrong], and give you ideas to improve.

You’ll discover the issues small business owners have with implementing an SEO strategy, what the best e-commerce stores are doing to get the monopoly, and how you can emulate them to improve your results, no matter your niche.

See how one small online business stacks up against two of it’s local competitors and a global benchmark company.

You’ll also be able to answer for your own business, whether implementing an SEO strategy would be worth it.

Length of white paper:

5463 words (yup, you’re going to need a cup of coffee for this one…)

Complexity of content:

Beginner

Date of analysis:

End 2016

 

The problem with SEO and small business

Many small business owners recognise a high level overview of the value of search engine optimisation, but naturally, only to a certain extent.

So before we proceed with the issues around SEO and small businesses, what is SEO?

What is SEO?

SEO – search engine optimisation – is the process used by website owners to get as close as possible to the first results that search engines display to people who conduct an internet search.

SEO is very closely linked to online marketing.

Benefits of SEO

By implementing an effective SEO strategy, your website will attract the right people (those who are prospective buyers of the products or services you sell) via search engines who will recommend your website to the users who are searching for the solutions you offer.

Major benefits of SEO are:

  1. To attract vistors to your website without paying advertising costs.
  2. When your site is listed on search engines before your competitors are, you are more likely to “nab” visitors before your competitors do, because most people usually don’t continue their search after about the first three pages of search results.
  3. As long as you keep adding content to your site so that search engines keep recommending your content to their users, you won’t need to pay for other methods of attracting traffic.

In essence, why bother with SEO?

  • The TYPE of traffic = higher conversions because of search intent
  • SEO is a SUSTAINABLE approach; the effect doesn’t end when ad money runs out
  • It’s CHEAPER than advertising in the long run
  • It’s easier to DOMINATE your online market
  • Search engines are the ideal MATCHMAKER between your business and prospective customers
  • Organic traffic = instant CREDIBILITY boost

This now begs the question: how do websites get traffic?

How do websites get traffic?

There are three methods of getting more traffic to your website:

  1. By paying for advertising.
  2. By optimising your website for search engines (SEO).
  3. By sending traffic to your site through manual means, like social media posts.

For small business owners, each method has it’s pro’s and con’s:

  1. Advertising online is powerful and an affordable way to create awareness to make more sales.

But…unless you’re an online marketing pro, attempting to do it yourself is not recommended.

Online advertising only works when you know what you’re doing, so you need to hire a pro to do it for you.

To be effective, the ad expert needs to know how to set up your ads for maximum impact, and they need to build the right kind of processes for the right phase of the sales funnel.

The problem with this option for most small business owners, is cost and the know-how of hiring the right person for the job.

  1. Optimising your website for search engines can be complex and also requires expert help: first, you’ll need a technical SEO expert to check the technicalities of your site.

Then, you need an on-page SEO writer to handle your content, because if you’re not a writer and you don’t understand SEO, this option is also not going to work for you because SEO is all about off-page SEO (the technical aspects of your site) and on-page SEO (how your site’s content is compiled and how often content is added).

In addition, depending on which niche you’re in, you can’t just plonk any old content on your site and think it’s going to do the trick: if you are in a competitor-free niche, you can get away with using a relatively inexpensively priced writer, but if you’re in a competitive industry, you’re going to need to hire a writer who understands SEO (not just keywords) in order to get results, or you’re going to waste money on wrong type of writer.

The issue most small business owners have with this option is cost, and the fact that they don’t get to see results instantly, because this is a long-term investment that may take up to nine months before it reaps rewards.

In the meantime, you as the small business owner need to spend money and trust that the help you hire is going to work in the long run.

Naturally, this is a very hard thing to do, because there are no guarantees that the money you spend will give you a return.

  1. By sending traffic to your website by yourself via social media or other means, you’ll either need to take the time to learn how to do it yourself, or just like the other two methods, hire someone to do it for you.

As you can see, the big problem with SEO and small business, is five-fold:

  1. Small business owners usually don’t understand SEO and when they begin looking into it, they get overwhelmed and as a result, simply ditch the idea.
  2. Small business owners usually carry out all their own marketing, but because of it’s complexity, an SEO strategy requires professional assistance. This comes with a price tag.
  3. When small business owners have the cash to spend on an SEO strategy, they are unsure about how to hire the right people to help them, often getting ripped off by so-called SEO “gurus” who promise them all sorts of things they can’t deliver on.
  4. An SEO strategy comes with no guarantees, no matter who you hire to help you, so it’s like taking a stab in the dark – you have to pay upfront to have the strategy implemented, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to work as you expect it to.
  5. An SEO strategy does not succeed over night. It is a long-term strategy and the small business owner is forced to depend on the hired help.

Background: search engine marketing analysis of one small online business vs. it’s competitors and a global benchmark company

The client is a small online technology company called Student Deals, situated in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. They sell student technology and books for university learners.

TO AVOID CONFUSION, PLEASE NOTE: STUDENT DEALS WAS REHABONLINE AT THE TIME OF THIS ANALYSIS (December 2016).

Small business website owners usually find SEO overwhelming and as a content strategist, it’s difficult for me to help them understand  the value of implementing an SEO strategy for their website, because SEO is a long-term strategy, so the results are only visible 3 – 9 months down the road, depending on the level of competition they face.

Their big question is: why should we trust you?

Because to them, trusting me would mean paying an amount every month, for up to 9 months, and then patiently waiting to find out whether the strategy is working. Most small business owners – understandably – need something more tangible.

I needed a way to show my client the value of SEO and content in a real way.

Now, I had been consulting with Student Deals for a number of months, and in the hopes of helping them to understand how I could help drive more traffic to their site, I decided to do a competitor comparison, which is how this white paper was birthed.

So. With that in mind, the focus of this white paper analysis is obviously on Student Deals.

Competitors and benchmark background

Two of their local competitors websites were analysed (Laptop Direct and Wootware). Location is key because the majority of South African website owners have not yet caught on to the power of SEO and online marketing content. Student Deals, Laptop Direct and Wootware are all based in South African and all deliver anywhere in South Africa.

Since both the two local competitors had also not properly caught on to SEO or content marketing, I needed a benchmark.

To find the benchmark of online technology e-commerce companies, I did a world-wide Google search with the term “buy laptop online”.

The first result on the Google search page was Bestbuy, so they are used as the benchmark in this white paper.

Competitor analysis details

The benchmark website – Bestbuy – was analysed first, and then the two local competitors of Student Deals.

Each company was analysed in these eight online marketing areas:

  1. Social media
  2. Website
  3. Site traffic stats
  4. Unique value proposition
  5. Online branding
  6. Digital content (product descriptions, keywords, blog)
  7. Call to action
  8. Trust and credibility

Let’s roll, starting with the analysis of the benchmark company.

Analysis of the worldwide benchmark: Best Buy

Best Buy was the first Google worldwide result for the search term:“buy laptop online”, which means that it has the highest SEO score in the industry for that search phrase and can therefore be viewed as the worldwide benchmark for technological e-commerce.

When starting my analysis of this site, I could immediately see why they dominated…

Social media analysis

Bestbuy boasted 7394962 Facebook likes, with a 100% message response rate.

They use their own designed images, and their posts have some personality to make it personal:

However, their Facebook page could do much better by offering value add posts together with promotional, instead of posts only about promotions.

Website

Best Buy’s domain is older than 11 years, which gives it authority in the eyes of search engines.

When you land on their website, this is the page that is displayed:

bestbuy website screenshotIt is simple, relevant, clean and attractive, and personalised to make the customer experience a rich one.

Visitors are directed to the appropriate site for where they are situated, and according to the customer’s language. That enhances the customer experience and journey.

Site traffic

Best Buy gets 48.7 million clicks to their website every month.

Out of those, 616.1K come from paid clicks – in other words, they pay for those clicks by paying advertising costs. When you do the maths, you’ll see that it means that the majority of clicks to their website are from natural, organic traffic; i.e. people searched for a phrase via Google and landed on their website through a search engine search.

This is called SEO and content marketing and costs nothing, unlike advertising.

Unique value proposition

Best Buy’s UVP is “Expert service. Unbeatable price”. It’s situated right in the prime spot of their website, on the top left corner, which is good as visitors see it immediately.

Statistics show that when someone lands on a website, they usually stick around for less than eight seconds if nothing keeps their attention, so optimising the top part of your site especially for those eyeballs, is critical.

When someone lands on the site, within seconds, they know exactly how the site will help them. This is important because if the site is confusing to a visitor, chances are that the visitor will simply click away to another site that is clear about what it can offer.

Online branding

Branding is consistent on all channels, to make the company professional and clearly identifiable.

Digital content

Best Buy’s SEO strategy is what makes it excel, and the reason why they are number one in the search results for the term, “buy laptop online”.

Out of all four of the sites analysed, this site is the only one to include value-add content that is not solely focused on duplicated product descriptions. They offer real value to their website visitors, unlike the three South African companies we will analyse in this white paper.

Content is what separates this site from the other sites and makes Best Buy the worldwide leader in its field online.

Product descriptions

Their product descriptions are exceptional, and unlike the other three sites analysed in this white paper, they have been customised to read as plain English for normal humans, instead of Geek for tech peeps. Brilliant. Here’s other reasons why they rock, based on the screenshot of a laptop product description page:

  • As a potential customer, you can select from a large volume of images from different angles, and zoom into them for a closer inspection. This is important for e-commerce because it’s the only way customers can see the goods, and they feel better about buying when they can see products up close and personal.
  • They tell you clearly how much you are saving when you buy through them.
  • They provide a completely customised product description that is not simply a cut and paste from the manufacturer’s spec.
  • They offer a laptop buying guide, which is excellent for SEO purposes, and very relevant. Most importantly, it adds value to the lives of their customers.
  • They’ve included reviews and ratings for each product, which helps build trust in the minds of new visitors.
  • Like Amazon, with BestBuy you can see what other customers bought together with the product you are viewing.

Keywords

Best Buy has more than 700 000 organic keywords. They rank for 247,452 keywords that their competitors do not rank for, clearly dominating their industry.

Blog

Not only do they have a blog, but they boast forums and “IdeaX” where users can ask questions and get answers, or provide ideas. With all this content as well as their customised product descriptions, it’s no wonder they’re at the top of their game.

Call to action

They offer gift ideas and holiday deals during certain seasons, which their customers can sign up for. However, the sign-up form should be placed closer to the top of the site instead of in the footer area, which does not give it the visibility it deserves.

Bestbuy has a weekly promo deal for which they use to direct traffic to dedicated landing pages.

One of their landing pages has received almost 600K shares through Facebook, which show that they actively promote their promotions.

An example of their landing page can be seen here: http://www.bestbuy.com/site/promo/arlo-pro. None of the other featured sites in this post use landing pages. For a landing page, this one could do much better if all the distractions were removed, as it looks just like a webpage and as such, will lose conversions as people get distracted by all the other stuff.

Trust and credibility

There is no doubt about it: just looking at this website inspires trust and credibility because of how professionally it’s organised and because of all the value-add content.

Analysis of the client: Student Deals

Out of all three of the South African websites analysed, Student Deals scored the lowest in terms of SEO strategy and marketing elements.

Proof of my analysis is their low traffic statistics.

Social media analysis

Student Deals (at the time is was Rehabonline) has a Facebook page with 5839 likes, which is really good considering they have not been promoting the page via Facebook ads for long.

Now, like many brands, their posts seem to attract high engagement, but nobody from the company responds, even to direct questions.

You can clearly see that their customers are engaging with the brand, but the brand is not engaging with their customers.

As a test, on Friday 02 December 2016, at 13h50, I sent a direct message, and got a response a day later. A response within 24 hours is not bad, since some brand pages don’t even respond, but people are expecting a faster response nowadays.

The other thing I noticed was that the exact same wording was being used for every post, and every post was a sales post about products.

They would do much better adding some value-add content, directed at their target audience, and giving their brand some funk, as their target audience are students.

Website

Their website domain is less than one year, which means the website needs to work harder to increase site traffic, unlike the older, stable domains which already have search engine credibility due to their age alone.

The good news is that Student Deals/Rehabonline is the youngest out of all the websites analysed, so it would be expected that their traffic would be a lot lower than their older competitors, especially if they are not doing anything to boost organic, natural traffic (which they are not, at this point).

Site traffic stats

According to PageRank, the website gets an average of 10 000 visitors a month.

Out of the four websites evaluated, Student Deals gets the least amount of traffic.

Since three out of the four do not use content like blogging on their sites, the traffic they do get is probably coming from their detailed product descriptions and from advertising.

The two other competing websites also have a lot more products, which gives them more traffic due to a large amount of product descriptions.

Now the thing with this is that the product descriptions are simply copied and pasted from the manufacturer, and search engines will penalise for this, but at the moment, these companies can still get away with it only because South Africa is way behind in this area. If these companies were selling to a different location, in the UK or US for instance, their traffic numbers would suffer due to the duplication of tech spec descriptions.

Unique value proposition

Student Deals/Rehabonline’s UVP is “Rehabilitating high prices” – not bad, as it addresses the need of their customers.

But…it should not be repeated in greyscale right next to the main logo, as it is wasting space in a prime area and serves no purpose.

The “Whatsapp chat support” is brilliant, as they target students whose main mode of communication is Whatsapp. Next to that, the “we accept financial aid” is also excellent to have been included, because students who get financial aid are one section of their target audience:

Online branding

Their branding is clean and professional, but they could try adding more personality to attract more engagement from their young student target audience.

Digital content

Product descriptions

Some of their product descriptions lack detail.

Where there is sufficient detail, the manufacturer’s spec has been used. This is duplication of copy from a search engine’s point of view and search engines hate duplicated content. The company should use their own words to create product descriptions that speak to their target audience, instead of the technical spec provided by the manufacturer.

After all, who but the tech company knows what “Integrated Intel® HD” means? Certainly not their clients who simply want a laptop that works according to their needs.

Make things make sense for your audience!

Analysis of a product description.

Each product only has one image, which is not good as people rely on the images online to convince them to purchase.

The client has included a reviews section which is essential, as people listen to other people more than they listen to a brand.

But, the company needs to actively source genuine reviews instead of leaving it to chance, which they were doing. Reviews are powerful from a sales point of view, as well as an SEO point of view.

Keywords

The site does not rank for any keywords. Keywords are a key part of an SEO strategy, as they form the basis for search engines to understand what websites are about.

Having said that, if you search “buy laptop and books online student south africa”, then Rehabonline now Student Deals, comes up as the 6th result on the first page, which is excellent. This is because the search term is clear, and contains the exact product (laptop and books), as well as the target audience (student), plus the location (South Africa). Although they compete for technology and book sales, there is no other brand offering student technology deals in the vicinity, which impacts SEO.

But…should another company rise up to offer exactly what Student Deals offers, they would need to seriously step up their SEO efforts, or lose traffic to their competitor.

And, it is not likely that real customers would do a search term using this entire phrase (“buy laptop and books online student south africa”), which means they would not find Student Deals.

Certainly, if you did not add the location, they would not feature anywhere close to the front page of the search results, which means that they lose traffic.

Blog

The site does not have a blog, and the content on their site is:

  • Duplicated (bad for SEO strategy)
  • Minimal

To increase site traffic, they will need to add a blog – or another form of content – to their e-commerce website, or depend on paying advertising costs to keep people visiting their website.

Call to action

There is no call to action. Having a CTA has to be part of the small business’es online marketing strategy, as online businesses rely on email marketing, and without collecting email addresses, you can’t nurture leads. The company will miss out big time on sales, especially over time.

Trust and credibility

Student Deals does not:

  1. Use testimonials on their site or
  2. Have an About page (which helps build trust when compiled properly), and
  3. There is no social proof, and although there is a section for reviews, there are none (which is worse than eliminating the review function completely. They should rather delete the section because a page for reviews where there are none is negative.)
  4. There are no trust seals. For online commerce, this is critical, or people will be hesitant to buy online.

All of these elements would work to help customers feel that it’s safe to buy from Student Deals. The only element that works on the trust factor is that the website is clear about customers being able to buy using financial aid, and that it’s an online SBux store, which is recognised locally and well-known.

Now that we’ve analysed Best Buy, the benchmark company, and Student Deals, around which this white paper is focused, let’s move on to checking out their two main competitors.

Analysis of Student Deals competitor #1: Laptopdirect

Laptopdirect, while getting more traffic than Rehabonline, needs to work on their SEO strategy in order to get more online traffic and sales.

Social media analysis

Laptopdirect currently have 23569 facebook followers, which is impressive.

They are more Facebook savvy than Student Deals, and offer lots of specials and competitions on the social media network.

They are responsive to Facebook engagement, but they could do better by adding character and more value-add posts, as they currently only focus on posting about specials and competitions.

Website

The domain is almost 11 years old, which is a huge factor in search engine ranking.

Site traffic

According to PageRank, their traffic is fairly low at 100K pm but this is still way more than Student Deals.

Unique value proposition

Laptopdirect has a messy website and header, with no UVP.

In prime space, they don’t even have a logo, just the name of the company, and where the UVP should feature, is gobblygook – nothing that is of value to their visitors.

Overall, the site looks cheap and nasty and contains far too much irrelevant “stuff” like a picture of a car on the right (which I later found out was actually an ad), and various font colours.

The aim of this website should be to build trust, credibility and sales, but their website does nothing to foster this.

In a prime spot, where their UVP should stand, they show useless information that serves no purpose.

Branding

No branding and a rather outdated look. The website needs an overhaul.

Digital content

They have no other content on their site, but their many product descriptions work in their favor.

Product descriptions

The product description pages are busy, with different color fonts. Because they’ve used the manufacturer’s product descriptions, it would be considered duplicate content by search engines, and this is not good for SEO.

The ratings feature stands out more than does Student Deals, which is good, but it also seems as if nothing is done to encourage ratings.

The “4% price drop” box is a good idea, but does not make sense and is not backed up – i.e., “4% price drop from what?” When you compare it to Bestbuy’s direct “Save $300”, it is a bit silly.

The images are big, and there are three views which is important, so they get this right.

Keywords

Their top keywords, probably all due to ads (they spend on average of $130/R1560 pm on ads), are:

  • South africa computer
  • Computers in south africa
  • Computer in south africa
  • Computer south africa
  • Laptop south africa

Blog

They have no blog nor content of any other type but for their huge array of duplicated product descriptions which may currently be working for them to attract traffic via search engines, but once competition picks up, they’ll need to scramble to maintain their page rank.

Call to action

The website has a “specials” sign right at the top of the page, but it gets lost amidst the busy-ness of the site. It would do better given a more prominent position, or if the site was cleaned up, so that it would gain the attention it deserves.

This is important because online marketing depends on a “nurturing” period (people don’t buy on their first visit to your site, so you need a way to “hook” them for future), and this is normally accomplished with email marketing techniques.

Trust and credibility

The site includes social proof on the front page which is an excellent part of the SEO strategy, and more importantly, the online marketing strategy, in order to build trust and credibility.

Analysis of Student Deals Competitor #2: Wootware

Out of all the South African websites analysed, Wootware is the most SEO and online marketing savvy, although they still don’t compare to the worldwide benchmark (BestBuy) in their industry.

Social media

Although their website ranks better than any of the others we’ve analysed, their Facebook page only boasts 5453 Facebook followers. They run lots of specials and competitions on FB.

They message back within an hour, which is good, and respond to comments.

As with all four companies, Wootware would do better posting things that are not solely about specials or competitions, but which also add value, like blog posts.

Website

The domain is stable and the age is almost eight years old which shows search engines that this website is solid and credible.

Site traffic

Wootware boasts 400 000 visitors a month, but due to a lack of an SEO strategy, the majority arrive through paid advertising. I’m betting they spend quite a substantial amount to get visitors to their website.

Unique value proposition

The Wootware website does not include a UVP, and when someone lands on their site, they can’t see immediately how Wootware can help them, which is dangerous because it can drive visitors away. The only indications of what the site is about, are the insignificant, “PCS AND LAPTOPS” as a tab, so visitors could assume the site sells technology.

But Wootware would do well to add a UVP, so that they stand out from competitors.

Branding

Branding is consistent on their website. The site is clean and organised.

Digital content

But for the product descriptions, which are many, there is no other content on this site, just as it is with the other two local sites.

Wootware’s most socially shared page only has 39 shares and… it’s a product description.

Product descriptions

Wootware boasts the cleanest product descriptions out of all the South African sites analysed, and includes the details that influence purchases, like when to expect delivery and availability confirmation.

There are three different views of images, and they can be zoomed in for closer inspection. This is great because being online sales, it’s the only way customers can see the product.

However, the actual description is also – like the others – copied and pasted from the manufacturer’s specs, which is considered duplicate content by search engines.

Keywords

Wootware do not rank for any keywords; it is clear that they do not use keywords on their site, and when they rank for a phrase, it is “lucky”, not because of an SEO strategy of any kind:

If you do a search for “online computers store”, they do well by being the second result of the first page of Google’s search results, which is impressive. This is because they have listed the description of their website in the back-end, as “south african online computer store”, not because of an SEO strategy. 

Because their competitors do not have SEO strategies in place either, they can still get away with it, but once South Africa tech sites catch on to the power of SEO, Wootware will lose their “luck” and find the need to scrabble in order to maintain their good ranking.

Because they are listed on this first page, they will get the majority of traffic looking for an online computer store.

Blog

They do not have a blog. If they did, they would get more traffic via search engine referrals instead of needing to pay for online advertising when people use different search phrases.

Call to action

Their call to action is situated in the worst possible position: right at the bottom of the page in the footer area. This does not make sense, as the CTA is the most important element of a website because people don’t buy from websites the first time they visit them. Therefore, a website needs to have a way to “hold on” to potential customers, so that they can use email marketing techniques to sell to them in future.

Trust and credibility

The website includes Facebook reviews and most viewed products. They have actively sourced reviews, which gives them the edge over the other sites, as this is a proven purchasing influencer.

Key learning points

  • Give your brand personality on social media, so that you can stand out from your competitors.
  • Treat social media as a customer support channel and assign a specific and skilled person to handle queries and comments fast.
  • Your unique value proposition should be featured in a prime position on your website, as well as your call to action which is the second most important element on your site. This is because your website has on average, a mere eight seconds to grab attention. If it does not clearly show a benefit to your target audience, chances are your visitors will simply click away, to your competitor.
  • If you want to dominate online, adding value-add content that includes specific keywords and is written for your target audience, is vital. You will never get more traffic without adding more content, regularly. Bestbuy is proof of this.
  • Put yourself in your customer’s shoes and remove as many barriers as possible in your product description pages.
  • Make it easy for people to find you and do business with you.

Conclusion: is SEO for small business worth it?

The point of this white paper was to ascertain whether an SEO strategy for small business is viable. As a website owner, only you can answer that.

It will of course, depend on your budget and the scope of your business. If you rely on online traffic, for example, it is recommended you implement an SEO strategy and while waiting to reap the rewards, set up advertising that leads visitors to a dedicated landing page for a specific purpose, and for which you will see instant results while exercising patience with your SEO efforts.

In summary your online marketing choices are:

  1. Pay for advertising and ignore search engine marketing so that you don’t need to add regular content to your site, or
  2. Implement a search engine marketing strategy as a long-term investment, or
  3. Pay for advertising to get traffic instantly while you build up your search engine marketing efforts.

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Author: Claire
Claire is not just a writer. Her expertise is increasing website traffic and online sales through the use of smart, search engine optimised content that is targeted towards a certain audience. She specialises in compiling marketing case studies and blog posts using SEO techniques, and providing services to online marketing, CX, small business, recruitment and HR niches.