Small Business SEO Statistics 2021

By Emily Clark / 27 January 2021

Half of small businesses are unsure if SEO is worth the investment, preferring marketing strategies with more immediate results. The Manifest surveyed 500 small business employees about their company's SEO strategy and found that small businesses believe organic website traffic is the most significant indicator of SEO success. Still, small businesses may be ignoring other methods of increasing organic rankings, such as link building, on-site optimization, and website mobile-friendliness.

Small businesses weigh the pros and cons of investing in search engine optimization (SEO) as they search for long-term solutions to traffic growth and brand building. 

While SEO originated over two decades ago as a viable marketing strategy for businesses, many companies still debate the value of a developed SEO strategy. Small businesses in particular remain wary of putting too many resources in an SEO plan, which requires patience and hard work to achieve long-term results. 

SEO is a crucial part of gaining organic search traffic and brand visibility. Almost three-quarters of people do not scroll past the first page of Google results. With 93% of buying experiences occurring through search engines, small businesses will miss out out on essential revenue if they don’t improve their SEO presence. 

While small businesses understand the value of an in-house SEO team, teammates may not be identifying the best metrics to target, such as domain authority and backlinks. 

The Manifest surveyed 500 small business employees about their company's SEO investment and strategy. We found that only half of small businesses are investing in SEO and most prefer social media marketing to other forms of SEO. 

While small businesses focus on web traffic from organic search as an SEO metric, they also should analyze other metrics like keyword rankings, domain authority, and on-site optimization to fully understand the success of their SEO strategy. 

Small Business SEO Statistics

  • Only half of small businesses (49%) invest in SEO to improve their business’s visibility and 18% of small businesses do not plan to ever pursue targeted SEO efforts like link building, content creation, or keyword research.  
  • More than one quarter of small businesses (27%) believe that web traffic from organic search is the most important indicator of SEO success; another 24% believe keyword rankings is the best metric to measure SEO results. 
  • Almost three-quarters of small businesses (70%) invest in an internal team to build out their SEO strategy, which can boost online visibility. 
  • Half of small businesses (50%) use social media marketing to improve their efforts. Social media engages customers with their brand. Meanwhile, only 21% of small businesses build links back to their website.

Only Half of Small Businesses Invest in SEO for Their Websites 

When small businesses do not invest in SEO, they miss out on a long-term strategy for stable revenue growth and increased brand awareness.

Only half of small businesses (49%) invest in SEO, despite SEO being one of the most important ways to generate new leads and grow a business audience. 

Do Small Businesses Invest in SEO?

Still, one-quarter of small businesses (24%) plan to invest in SEO in 2021. Surprisingly, 18% of small businesses say they are unlikely to invest in SEO at all in the future.

Small businesses, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, don’t want to invest lots of time into a strategy that may take years to get a return. 

While organic SEO does not produce immediate results, it can save small businesses money and resources in the long term. Instead of paying for expensive paid ads, for example, small businesses can improve their website ranking by using keywords, content, and on-site optimization. 

Considering only half of small businesses are actively investing in improving their SEO, a large portion of small businesses are missing out on new customers and traffic to their website. 

Why are many small businesses not investing in SEO? 

Small businesses may be wary of investing in SEO because the results are not immediate. It can take years to build a suitable catalog of content, links, and keywords before placing on the first page of Google results. 

Instead, small businesses may turn to strategies with more obvious, short-term results, such as pay-per-click (PPC) advertising where they can see how people are actively engaging with their ads. Almost 80% of people, however, ignore paid advertising and instead skip to the organic results below.

Small businesses may spend time and resources on paid ads simply because they are easier to produce. While paid ads can bring a short term surge of traffic, investing in organic SEO will pay off in the long run with steady growth of traffic over months and years. 

Small Businesses Prefer Tracking Website Traffic to Evaluate SEO Success

Small businesses use a variety of metrics to measure the success of their SEO strategy including traffic, keyword rankings, conversion rates, and backlinks.

More than one-quarter of companies (27%) track SEO success by measuring website traffic from organic search. As well, one-quarter of small businesses (24%) track keyword rankings to evaluate their SEO strategy. 

How Do Small Businesses Measure SEO Success?

Only 9% of small businesses believe that the number and quality of backlinks are important to track SEO success. 

Website traffic is an important metric for small businesses because it shows who has shown interest in a small business’s services. If a business does not have a lot of organic traffic, it is not going to see a high number of sales. 

The best way to gain more organic traffic is to invest in SEO. By ensuring that a business is on the first page of search results for a specific keyword, the business has a much higher chance of being seen by the right type of visitors

Small businesses measure a variety of metrics for SEO success because these metrics depend on one another to succeed. For example, a business needs to target a relevant and achievable keyword on its site and in its content for Google to recognize its value. By adding the keyword into its content, the business should also grow backlinks back to that content to gain authority on that subject matter. 

When other websites link back to that piece of content, the business gains new traffic and more relevance in Google’s eyes. Moz, an SEO tool, calls this type of subject relevance “domain authority” or DA. A website’s DA is a search engine ranking score that predicts how likely a website will rank for a certain SERP. The business then increases its DA and thus rank in SERPs due to backlinks, keywords, and traffic. 

Half of small businesses seem to recognize that organic traffic and keywords are important elements of a healthy SEO strategy. Still, small businesses may not be focusing enough on growing backlinks to their site. 

Considering only 9% of small businesses track backlinks, they could be missing an opportunity to improve their SEO. Building backlinks to websites can be a challenge for businesses because it can be difficult to organically convince other websites to link back to a different site than their own. 

Still, there are a few simple ways small businesses can increase their number of backlinks

5 Tips To Increase Backlinks for Small Businesses 

  • Become a valuable source to other bloggers and news outlets
  • Exchange a new link for one in an outdated resource
  • Curate a variety of content forms like list articles, quizzes, and infographics
  • Post ultimate guides on relevant topics to your business 
  • Pitch content to authority resource guides 

Creating valuable content that can be referenced or used by lots of different sites is an easy way to grow backlinks. Small businesses that invest in content can see an increase in organic traffic and SERP rankings.  

While small businesses may prefer to track web traffic and keywords over other metrics, it is important to spend time improving all aspects of SEO to rank on Google SERPS. 

In-House Employees Manage Most Small Businesses' SEO Strategies

Most small businesses (70%) hire in-house employees to improve their SEO results, but some businesses also use an outside resource to help. SEO experts can help small businesses reach their traffic and revenue goals.

Two-fifths of small businesses (40%) use SEO software and tools as resources to help with their SEO strategy. 

What Resources Do Small Businesses Use to Execute Their SEO Strategy?

Of the 70% of small businesses hiring an internal SEO team, 39% of small businesses have in-house employees working on SEO and other responsibilities. One-third of small businesses (31%) have in-house employees solely responsible for improving SEO.

Overall, 70% of small businesses have an in-house team working on improving their SEO. In contrast, 53% of small businesses use external SEO resources like a consultant or agency to help with their strategy. 

Small businesses prefer to use in-house teams because they offer high value returns on their SEO investment. In-house teammates understand the business services and goals, which makes it easier for them to strategize about SEO long-term. An in-house team can also react faster to changes within the strategy and business while an outside agency may have to negotiate new rates and a longer timeline. 

Hiring an SEO agency provides a more extensive breadth of knowledge and experience. An agency may have more access to different tools and can share effective SEO campaigns that have worked in the past. 

While outside agencies can provide third-party expertise, in-house teammates adapt more quickly to change and have a deep understanding of the company brand. 

Depending on the scale of a business’s SEO strategy, small businesses choose whether to invest in a full-time team, an agency, or rely on tools alone. If a business may not be ready to commit fully to a long-term SEO strategy, it may be better to only purchase tools rather than hiring multiple people for the team. 

Social Media Marketing Is the Most Popular SEO Strategy for Small Businesses

Small businesses prefer to invest in social media marketing to better increase their SEO results over content creation and link building. While experts debate the validity of social media marketing as an SEO practice, small businesses believe a strong social media presence has a significant impact on Google rankings. 

Half of small businesses (50%) currently use social media marketing as part of their SEO strategy and almost half of small businesses (44%) use keyword research to enhance their SEO.  

What SEO Strategies Do Small Businesses Use?

Meanwhile, one-third of companies (33%) invest in content creation as part of their SEO and only 21% use active link-building to increase their SERP visibility. 

Small businesses invest in social media marketing because it is a cost-effective way to reach customers and build a brand presence online. Social media can offer a casual way to communicate with customers and announce important business updates. 

Still, social media alone does not always improve SEO results. While social media is essential to curating a brand voice online, social media marketing results can be difficult to measure and evaluate.  

Around 70% of online businesses do not measure the ROI of their social media marketing because it is too difficult to measure the monetary value of a tweet or like on social media. 

Most small businesses, instead, track traffic, clicks, and subscriptions for success on their website. The connection between a strong social media presence and an increase in subscriptions is not always obvious. 

Social media is essential to growing a business’s brand and curating a conversation with potential customers. While a new follower may not end in direct purchase, social media allows people to become familiar with a business and understand why they should be aware of its services. 

Social media can also be a great channel for customer feedback. If someone has a question about a business’s services, they can ask the company for advice or help through comments and direct messages. By responding to these questions online, other customers see how interactive and responsive that business is to new ideas and criticism. 

Over 75% of people who message a business contact the business for customer support. People like having a direct line of communication to the service they are using. As well, it can be a great way to build a distinct brand voice that connects with customers. 

For example, Zappos is well known for its quick and lively responses on Twitter to customer complaints. 

By ensuring speedy responses and adding a bit of personality to their tweets, Zappos connects with customers and maintains a strong reputation for customer satisfaction. 

Around two-thirds of people say there is a correlation between social shares and SERP rankings, which indicates people believe social media is an important part of getting their website seen on Google. While experts debate whether social media affects rankings directly, there is a strong correlation between social media and number of links back to a website. 

The easiest way to share information with customers is through social media where people can actively follow and comment on different posts. When followers share social content on their own websites or blogs, businesses increase their authority in search engines. 

Small businesses can make their services stand out by growing their social media and actively engaging with clients. Creating a strong social presence in turn helps with SEO as Google recognizes the brand as authoritative in the space. 

Small Business SEO Remains a Crucial Component of Long Term Growth 

Only half of small businesses recognize the importance of a long-term SEO strategy. Almost one-fifth of small businesses never plan to invest in SEO. 

Half of small businesses use social media marketing and keyword research to improve their SEO results, but may be missing out on more rewarding opportunities. While mobile-friendliness and link building can be costly to pursue, they also remain crucial elements of improving rank on Google SERPs

Over a quarter of small businesses believe website traffic is the most important SEO metric to track while another quarter think keyword rankings are the most significant indicator of success. 

Finally, 70% of small businesses invest in an internal SEO team, which is a huge resource for building visibility in search results. More than half of small businesses also use an outside SEO agency or consultant to help with their SEO efforts. 

Small businesses lose valuable customers and traffic when they do not pursue a developed SEO plan. By investing in long term SEO, small businesses will see a higher number of new customers and gain more brand recognition by people searching for their services. 

About the Survey

The Manifest surveyed 500 small business owners and managers at companies in the U.S. with fewer than 500 employees. We define small businesses as having limited revenue and between 1 and 500 employees, which corresponds to the Small Business Administration's definition of small business. The survey ran in December 2020.

Seven percent (7%) of respondents’ businesses have 1 employee; 36% have 2 to 10 employees; 25% have 11 to 50 employees; 18% have 51 to 250 employees; 15% have 251 to 500 employees.

Fifty-three percent (53%) of respondents are female; 47% are male.

Four percent (4%) of respondents are Generation Z (born after 1996); 23% are millennials (1981-1996); 50% are Generation X (1965-1980); and 23% are baby boomers or older (before 1965).

More than one-third (35%) of small businesses are located in the South; 23% are in the Northeast, 22% are in the West, and 20% are in the Midwest.

Respondents are from the South (35%), Northeast (23%), West (22%), and Midwest (20%).

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