Last Friday, Allison Mnookin, VP Small Business for Intuit, presented results of a small business survey at the Kelsey Group’s Interactive Local Media conference. The presentation was full of interesting stats but the one that really stood out was that about 20% of those surveyed claimed that SEO was by far their “most effective” online marketing tactic. Only about 5% said that online advertising was most effective.

While I am pretty sure that this extraordinary claim is the result of misunderstanding on some of the respondents’ parts – I am sure some think that “search engine optimization” means buying ads on search engines – I am also sure that the concept of SEO is getting more and more mainstream each day. At the conference I had discussions with several companies that are targeting small businesses to sell them online advertising and they all felt like SEO was becoming part of their customers’ vocabulary.

Of course 59% said business cards were the most effective form of marketing so we SEO junkies still have some work to do.

Here are some more stats that I jotted down from Allison’s presentation:

6MM small businesses start up every year in the U.S.

95% of all small businesses who don’t have a website say they want one. The top reasons to get a site are:
1. Allows customers to get info in off-hours: 46%

2. Awareness: 45%

3. Increase sales: 39%

4. Legitimize the business: 30%

Reasons why a business does not have a website:
1. “Our target is so small why do we need the world-wide-web to find them?”
2. “I don’t know what is involved and need to find someone to do it for me”
3. “I don’t want to be held hostage by a web developer”
4. “It’s like having a 2nd store in a language I don’t speak”

I’ll post my notes from Jason Calacanis’ interview with Peter Krazilovsky tomorrow.

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9 Response Comments

  • Jansie Blom  December 4, 2007 at 7:43 am

    I see the problem. What is SEO? a lot of people have no real idea. it’s like this wave of XHTML-is-better-than-HTML or web2.0 that hit us, and yet a lot of the followers have no clue what it really is. so SEO is the new xhtml…

  • Wayne Smallman  December 4, 2007 at 7:53 am

    Hi Andrew, it’s a shame I didn’t have these figures at hand a while ago, when I was arguing the case for SEO versus Social Media as the better of the two on-line marketing tactics.

    To me, these figures are exactly in line with the anecdotal evidence I have sloshing around inside my head…

  • Scott Clark  December 4, 2007 at 9:35 am

    Small business statistics are among the worst measured, interpreted and misunderstood of all business statistics. Presenters tend to tweak the numbers in whatever method suits them (Intuit = Quickbooks’ new built in “website builder”) I don’t know if Ms. Mnookin had good data or “parts of good data” if you get what I mean.

    I have found that SMBs *DO NOT* measure *ANY* form of marketing without some serious prodding. Even those say they do often cannot produce any data to prove it – rather going on hunches and intuition (widely proven inaccurate.) Therefore the answers they give about “effectiveness” are simply the other side of the “this is how many I give out” statistics stirred and wished into existence.

    I was not at the conference, but am a strong critic of many statistics thrown around by franchises and PR depts selling SMB services. If they were held accountable for it we’d all be better off.

  • Andrew Shotland  December 4, 2007 at 12:07 pm

    Jansie and Scott, good points. Scott I always like a skeptic but any survey data is inherently biased, no matter what the subject. For example I was all too willing to note that SEO came out on top in the Intuit survey because a) I thought it would make a good headline and b) it doesn’t hurt my business to propagate this idea. Who knows how accurate this really is? Who cares? The point is that SEO keeps getting more and more mainstream every day.

  • Andrew Shotland  December 4, 2007 at 12:08 pm

    Oh and Wayne, next time you need to argue a case for SEO give me a call and we can pull out the big guns.

  • peter caputa  December 22, 2007 at 5:20 am

    I’d agree with most of the commenters’ statements above. In my experience working intimately with about 50 small business on their online marketing initiatives, they know the term “Search Engine Optimization”. However, they have no clue how to do it right. I believe the reason they “know” about it is because MOST web design and development “freelancers” and small firms say they “do” SEO. When, in reality, all they are usually doing is stuffing the same meta tags into their pages and putting 10 keywords in the title tags. In some cases, they may use adwords or wordtracker to do one time “how many people are searching for that term” research. But, as most of your readers know, this isn’t SEO. These are mostly SEO hacks.

    The problem I run into when I talk to most small business owners, is they have to trust me enough so that when I tell them they’ve been duped by someone who “doesn’t know SEO” or just mislead by “someone who doesn’t know they don’t know SEO”… that they now need to invest in a solution or service to really do SEO. They still think they’ve got it taken care of until I show them that they don’t. It takes me 15 minutes of demonstrating what opportunities they’ve been missing before they realize they indeed need to invest in SEO for the long term; that it is an ongoing activity more akin to prospecting or networking than a yellow page listing.

  • Utah SEO  December 24, 2007 at 11:54 pm

    Held hostage by the Web Developer? Wow! That’s one I haven’t heard before.

  • SEOpr  April 7, 2008 at 3:25 pm

    So how to offer decent service for a cheap price? SMBs don’t have the cash to spend on internet marketing.

  • Andrew Shotland  April 7, 2008 at 3:42 pm

    SEOpr – There are plenty of things you can do to help a small site at a low cost. How about just put up a blog on their site, add content and promote it? Whether or not you can do this in a scalable way depends on your infrastructure strategy.