SEO Adoption Study: 57% of SMBs Currently Without a Strategy
As Google has adapted its algorithms to changing consumer behaviors throughout the past year during the COVID-19 pandemic, marketing experts have had to evolve and improve their own search engine optimization tactics and strategies to remain competitive. Of the three types of SEO tactics, technical and off-page SEO remain influential but on-page SEO tactics are emerging as powerful drivers for improving search engine performance.
At UpCity, we wanted to explore this trend in SEO more in-depth, in order to provide our community insight into how they should be approaching marketing in 2022. Through a Pollfish survey of 600 business owners and employee respondents across the United States and Canada, we’ve explored the SEO strategies employed by organizations across industries and geographic regions. Our questionnaire also explored how businesses are deploying assets and resources towards various SEO targets and strategies, both before and throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. We invited respondents who also leverage PPC marketing to share how they combine the marketing strategies. Our exploration also delved into in-house marketing strategies and tools versus taking the approach of outsourcing to third parties. We’ve broken our exploration of our respondents’ 2022 SEO goals and priorities into the following categories:
- SEO and PPC strategies and tools
- Geographic regions
- Industry results
- SEO help
We’ve bolstered our findings from the Pollfish survey and the subsequent discussion with insight from SEO experts from across multiple industries. Combined with the data from the 600 respondents to the Pollfish inquiry, the information gathered from these SEO experts provides a rounded view of how SEO and PPC tactics are evolving and will continue to evolve into 2022.
SEO and PPC Strategies and Tools
44% of Businesses Are Implementing an SEO Strategy for 2022
Generating qualified leads has become increasingly important as consumers have shifted their purchasing activity to online channels. Therefore, we wanted to know whether our respondents were prioritizing SEO in their inbound lead generation tactics, and found that a majority already have an SEO strategy in place for the coming year, with another 34% of the community planning to implement a strategy in 2022. Only 23% of the respondents to our inquiry neither have an existing SEO strategy nor plan to have one in place in the coming year.
44% – Yes I current have an SEO strategy in place
34% – No, but I plan to have an SEO strategy for 2022
23% – No, and I don’t plan to create or implement an SEO strategy for 2022
55% of Businesses Are Investing in Content Marketing as Part of Their SEO Strategy
While content marketing has been an important tool for brands to communicate their identity and create opportunities for improving customer engagement, the role of content in inbound marketing and SEO has increased over the last two years. With consumers seeking out more information about the brands they consume, content has become an important channel for informing and educating potential clients and building brand authority. This is the driving factor behind 80% of our respondents either already having a content marketing strategy in place or plans to implement content marketing in the coming year.
55% – Yes, content marketing is part of my SEO strategy
25% – No, but content marketing will become part of my SEO strategy
20% – No, content marketing isn’t/won’t become part of my SEO strategy
From the wider community, some of our SEO experts provided insight into content marketing in 2022.
“Content Marketing has always been one of the most effective marketing strategies available online. Apart from its effectiveness, it’s also more cost-efficient than other strategies or channels. Creating content that is focused solely on your audience niche grabs attention and hits interest, most especially if you tackle a topic in an engaging way. Content marketing is pivotal in terms of broadening a discussion and going more in-depth with a certain topic in that context. Through content marketing, wealth management firms are able to differentiate themselves in selling propositions, and avoid the ‘push’ to embrace culture, as the content will do the job for you.”
—Scott McKinney, Head of Marketing, Debt Bombshell
“Content marketing is one of our major focuses for this year as we work to improve our SEO. Our main task is to build high-quality backlinks in order to improve our rankings, and producing top-notch content is the most natural way to do that. With link building, there must always be a value exchange, and while our homepage provides value to our traffic, it is difficult to attract backlinks from other sites. However, informative articles published on our blog will be much more suited to promote to other site owners with the goal of having them link back to us.”
—Jordan Fulmer, Owner, Momentum Property Solutions
“Yes, in fact, content marketing is almost our whole strategy. We are a B2B product and technology company, coming to market in 2022 with the world’s first solution for fully autonomous buildings (self-learning, self-regulating — with AI-powered controls that reside in-building and require no connectivity). It’s a complicated story with implications for multiple industry segments, and it may not be obvious to all of those stakeholders that we are a central node where their interests align. Since we are the first company to even attempt true Building Automation, it’s a complicated story to tell to multiple audiences: commercial real estate, equipment manufacturers, architecture and construction, the building controls/management industries, academics, and government stakeholders. Targeted content marketing is the only mechanism to build progressive disclosure to these disparate segments of the industry.”
—Joseph Riddle, Head of Brand Communications, PassiveLogic
Content marketing serves a complex role in well-structured SEO strategies. Search engine optimization is bolstered by content across multiple channels, but it’s important to structure off-page content to lead readers back to on-page assets that are designed to be informative and educational, as this is the sort of content prioritized in recent updates to the Google algorithms determining search rankings. Google also prioritizes content that builds trust in your brand and supports customer engagement. Through this increased visibility, a strong content management strategy helps to generate stronger leads that are easier to convert into long-term customer relationships. As your brand improves its search ranking, it will over time gain increasing industry authority and continually outperform the competition in search engine results.
12% of Respondents Prioritize Google Analytics for SEO
Tracking and managing SEO performance requires access to data and tools to analyze that data in order to make informed marketing decisions on how to craft future strategy as well as adapt current marketing tactics. In our query, we asked the community what they were using for SEO analytics, and 22% of respondents are using Google’s Analytics or Search Console tools. Some of the top names in SEO analytics round out the rest of the list, with SEOquate, Screaming Frog, SEMrush, Ahrefs, and others making an appearance.
12% – Google Analytics
10% – Google Search Console
7% – Answer the Public
7% – SEOquake
7% – Screaming Frog
7% – Majestic
6% – SEMrush
6% – Moz
6% – KWFinder
6% – Ubersuggest
6% – SpyFU
5% – Siteliner
5% – Ahrefs
4% – Other
We wanted to know how close this list was to the tools SEO experts in the field are leveraging, so we sought out their insight.
“SpyFU is my favorite SEO tool. It has an amazing deep feature set and immaculate support for digital marketing. It exposes the search marketing formula by revealing your competitor’s most successful searches and domains in the last 15 years. We use SpyFU almost every day as marketing is the primary purpose of our startup.”
—Howard Birnbaum, Founder, Magik Flame
“I am a huge fan of Ahrefs, Google Search, and SEMrush as my go-to SEO tools. Ahrefs’ SEO Keyword Tool is a hugely popular website crawler. Ahrefs’ Site Audit function is the greatest SEO analysis tool available, and SEO specialists like me can’t get enough of it. The tool will show you which portions of your website need to be improved in order for it to rank higher in search engines. You’ll most likely utilize Ahrefs to discover your competition’s backlinks in order to use them as a starting point for your own brand in a competitor study.”
—Sofia Morales, Chief Marketing Officer, MediaPeanut
“My favorite tool for SEO is Surfer SEO. It’s an effective tool that helps you analyze your website and optimize your search engine rankings. It also provides you with a detailed report of your website’s SEO performance, so you can make the necessary changes to improve your ranking. We use it every time we create an article for our company and our clients.”
—Danny Veiga, Business Growth Strategist, DannyVeiga.com
50% of Businesses Are Also Investing in a PPC Strategy
We discovered in our inquiries that while many respondents are utilizing SEO strategies, many are also combining their SEO practices with PPC strategies in order to create synergy between the two marketing channels. Half of the respondents already had a PPC advertising strategy in place, while another 30% plan to invest in PPC in the coming year.
• 50% – Yes, I currently invest in PPC advertising
• 30% – No, but I plan to invest in PPC advertising for 2022
• 23% No, and I don’t plan to create or implement a PPC strategy for 2022
Because PPC and SEO are such complementary tactics, we gathered testimonials from marketing experts on how they intended to tackle these two advertising channels in the coming year.
“PPC and SEO strategy is the best tandem if you want an even more competitive marketing strategy. Apart from offering quick entry, and easy-to-measure results, the most compelling reason to invest in PPC is its ability to help you reach a wide array of business and marketing goals, one of which is gigantic brand exposure. PPC alleviates you from the trouble of meeting the funnel with advertising content downloads, seeking newsletter signups, contest entries, and pushing for app downloads. PPC contributes a lot in building up your business as it connects you by serving as the middle ground towards these key elements.”
—Dominic Harper, Founder, Debt Bombshell
“Occasionally, I run a PPC campaign in addition to doing SEO. PPC ads provide us with more actional info than our organic marketing efforts. The clicks and conversions tell us whether a particular PPC strategy is working. This provides us with direction for our SEO strategy, allowing us to fine-tune it effectively. I also rely on PPC when I want to get traffic for a certain keyword as soon as possible. This helps fill the gap while we work on SEO. So, PPC has always been a short-term solution for us.”
—Leslie Gilmour, CEO, Cube Digital
“I would actually advise you to do PPC ads first, then SEO. The reason is that it will take months for your site to start ranking for desired keywords. With PPC you can rank immediately, get those clicks and see if they convert. Most people don’t get that because they are either SEO or PPC specialized. What’s the point in investing months of work in SEO if the keywords don’t end up converting. On top of that PPC offers ways of advertising that are not possible with SEO, such as video ads, display ads, bidding on competitor’s searches and re-targeting site visitors.”
—Filip Silobod, SEO Specialist, Honest Marketing
PPC advertising works hand in hand with SEO strategies because both models are largely built around viewer behaviors relative to keywords. A well-designed PPC campaign targets specific keywords being searched by targeted ideal persona online. Tying your on-page content to these targeted keywords ensures your SEO efforts place customers in your inbound funnels on the content they are interested in that will drive conversions and increase sales. Performance of your PPC ads will help to tweak and modify SEO content away from keywords that aren’t generating traffic towards those that are.
26% of Respondents Prioritize Google Ads for PPC Advertising
There are a number of tools in play in the PPC advertising sphere that can be leveraged by experienced digital marketing teams. The combined Meta advertising landscape of Facebook and Instagram make up 31% of respondent PPC advertising efforts, with Google Ads prioritized by a full 28% of respondents. Rounding out the top platforms for PPC are Amazon and LinkedIn.
28% – Google Ads
17% – Facebook Ads
14% – Instagram Ads
9% – Amazon Ads
9% – LinkedIn Ads
8% – Microsoft Ads (Formerly known as Bing Ads)
6% – Twitter Ads
5% – Other
5% – Pinterest Ads
As with other marketing tools and channels, PPC advertising can be managed across a number of platforms. Let’s dig into PPC ad platforms a little more in-depth with feedback from SEO experts.
“Our favorite platform for PPC advertising is Instagram. We find that Instagram has higher engagement rates than any other social media platform. Instagram is ideal for companies with highly visual products like ourselves and has a younger demographic than Facebook. Most importantly we find that the average spend for Instagram users is 14.7% higher than Facebook users.”
—Leanna Serras, Chief Customer Officer, FragranceX.com
“We use Google Ads directly year-round. We found it to give us the best ROI without also having to go crazy with refreshing creatives and dealing with audiences on social media ads platforms. Looking for roommates is a very specific and somewhat narrow time window, so we want people to find us when they are actually looking for services like ours.”
—Rany Burstein, Founder & CEO, Diggz.co
“LinkedIn Ads is my favorite platform for PPC advertising. This is because the target settings here are very powerful as it includes features like industry, demographics, and job title. When these options are used wisely, it is easier to get your business to the target audience. I use this app at least once in 3 days to check for the stats and reach.”
—Steven Walker, CEO, Spylix
16% of Businesses Noted That Social Media Marketing is a Key Part of Their SEO Strategy
As consumer behaviors shift towards prioritizing the consumer relationship with brands they consume, social media marketing tactics become increasingly important to the inbound lead generation goals of SEO marketing. Content designed to maximize engagement, draw traffic, and build brand awareness serves to support filtering users back to the parent website to the proper on-page SEO content, thus increasing the number of qualified leads and subsequent conversions. It’s no reason then that Social Media Marketing was listed by 16% of respondents as a key factor in their SEO efforts.
16% – Social media marketing
14% – Creating/maintaining a mobile-friendly website
14% – Content marketing
14% – Keyword research
12% – Local SEO
11% – Link Building
10% – Copywriting
9% – Voice search optimization
Where will SEO experts be spending their efforts throughout 2022 in SEO?
“The key areas for our SEO strategy this year are content and social media marketing. These are areas that should be prioritized because they greatly involve the target audience. Plus, they need the most improvement and as social media continues to flourish, so should our strategies. Our content is included in that because it has to follow the trends.”
—Will Cannon, Founder & CEO, Uplead
“Keyword research is our main focus this year. As simple as it may appear, producing web pages and material that is sought by the audience is the cornerstone of any legitimate SEO campaign. A good keyword might help you get a better SEO ROI. With the use of comprehensive keyword research, you may cover themes without cannibalizing or diluting keywords, resulting in a greater response. To build and extend one’s business, one must proclaim their company’s presence among the public. Consistency will give your consumers consistent service, attracting new clients to work with you. The target audience is the top priority in every business, and one must constantly be ready to keep long-term delighted clients.”
—Jonathan Tian, Co-Founder, Mobitrix.com
“Our two-pronged approach to SEO this year is Content Development (compelling, unique and timely, especially FAQs) backed by schema markup for maximum impressions and traffic. Content has always been king, but schema (and position 0) offer new opportunities for awareness and clicks.”
—Kent Lewis, Founder & President, Anvil Media, Inc.
Through the responses from our survey, it should become clear that SEO strategies depend upon multiple marketing tactics used by digital marketers both on and off-page.
- Keyword research drives the kind of content being written and used to boost search engine result rankings. It can also play into PPC marketing campaigns and determine the quality and volume of traffic driven through PPC tactics back to the social content and on-page landing pages and calls-to-action.
- Content marketing consists of off- and on-page content crafted around specific keywords and topics identified via keyword research and other tactical data analysis. Properly optimized, content marketing materials will provide search engine results with more possible pathways back to your website.
- Link building remains a viable and powerful SEO tactic, as it helps to build your subject matter authority and position you as an informative industry voice. With the more quality sites that point back to your content, the more search engines will increase your rankings relative to the competition.
- Voice search optimization will become an increasingly important component to pay attention to in crafting content and formatting on-page SEO components, as reliance on voice search via mobile devices is anticipated to drive user experience in the coming years.
A Majority of Respondents Noted That Increasing Their Organic Traffic Is Their Top SEO Goal for 2022
This focus on on-page and off-page SEO strategies and content marketing show that while paid advertising channels are effective, it’s more important to the brand for digital marketers to focus on marketing tactics that will drive traffic more organically to their websites. Reducing costs of marketing by creating copy and website content that naturally attracts readers according to the keyword research being performed means that the brand can spend less on generating isolated leads. Focusing on organic website traffic increases shares and word-of-mouth referrals, increasing traffic from like-minded consumers in ways that paid advertising can pull off, but at a much higher price-point.
On a scale of 1-10 (1 being the most important)
Increase organic traffic
Convert more organic
Strengthen domain authority
Grab more snippets
Increase brand awareness
Strengthen your internal linking strategy
Improve page speed
Lower bounce rates and exit rates
Create a stronger backlink profile
Create a more diverse range of high traffic pages
Organic traffic increases can be the result of marketing efforts along with a number of SEO strategies targeted at diversifying and growing your traffic to your page.
- Improving your Moz Domain Authority necessitates prioritizing a number of linking strategies on your page and ensuring your local SEO is properly formatted and consistent across your online real estate.
- Focusing on your backlink profile will strengthen your SEO performance over time.
- Rather than a limited number of multipurpose landing pages, create more unique and targeted landing pages, which will improve your brand authority in the eyes of the search engines.
Knowing where our community experts have placed their sights, we wanted to know what their top SEO goals are going into 2022, and how well-positioned they feel to accomplish those goals.
“Most importantly my SEO goal would be to understand the needs of my business and act accordingly. Businesses have different requirements depending on their type, target audience, and a variety of other considerations. When deciding on the best SEO goals, it’s important to consider whether they’re the objectives or goals your company requires the most. When considering this component, it’ll be essential to look at your brand’s traffic and visibility.”
—Mark Valderrama, Owner & CEO, Aquarium Store Depot
“I would be focused the most on Customer Service for 2022. Customers are searching for answers on Google. Ensure that the responses are your own. Be present for your customers when they need you if you want to build long-term relationships with them. That entails anticipating their wants after the sale and responding to their questions at each stage of your product’s ownership cycle. Every connection is an opportunity to reinforce your brand in their minds, control negative perceptions, and establish a long-term relationship. Look through your customer service logs, online support inquiries, and other organizations in your field for content ideas. Respond to inquiries using a blog post, video, or instructive document, then link to it from relevant places on your website.”
—Jay Soni, Marketing Director, Yorkshire Fabric Shop
“My primary goal will be to focus on lead conversions. It doesn’t matter how much traffic you get to your site if those leads don’t convert. Optimizing your sales funnel and customer journey will organically lead them to take action by moving them from one page to the next. As you prepare for the new year, consider optimizing the layout of your website and strategizing which products, services, articles, and other content to display.”
—Gerrid Smith, Chief Marketing Officer, Joy Organics
43% of Respondents Say That Their Current SEO Strategy is Somewhat Effective in Reaching Their Goals
It’s a good sign that while many of our respondents are in the process of improving and expanding their SEO efforts, that only 25% felt that their SEO strategies were ineffective in helping them reach their goals. At least 43% felt their efforts were somewhat effective, with the remainder of respondents feeling extremely confident in the strategies they have or are putting into place this year versus the strategies they had in place last year.
On a scale of 1-3 (1 being the most effective)
32% – 1
43% – 2
25% – 3
What we’ve learned in this exploration of SEO and PPC strategies in play across multiple industries is that SEO marketing is complex and impactful, but cannot be the sole method of marketing employed by a brand in order to increase lead generation and build overall sales. It takes a multichannel approach in order to truly achieve your digital marketing goals in the modern economy.
46% of U.S. Businesses Are Focusing on On-Page SEO
Search engine optimization comes in three basic forms, each focused on optimizing traffic generation and lead conversions sourced from a different online real estate channel.
- Off-Page SEO is the measure of domain authority you achieve through content creation on social media and other sites combined with the earned back-links these efforts generate back to your site as other companies and content sources reference your brand.
- Technical SEO is concerned with how search engines crawl and index the data and content on your site; can be controlled through the use of sitemaps, efforts to optimize content for page-load speed, properly structuring URL, and matching it to strategic navigation of your content, and other technical components.
- On-Page SEO refers to everything that you can control on your own website, from the content you create to the use of headers and headlines to give shape and format to your content. It also refers to the code used in formatting your site itself and various meta-data.
As it’s one of the easiest SEO components to control and impact, it’s no surprise that on-page SEO is the primary focus of 46% of our respondent community, both before and after COVID-19. In every geographic region polled across the United States, on-page SEO topped the list of tactics for 40% or more, out-performing technical and off-page tactics across the survey.
“In 2022, there’s a changing emphasis on both on and offsite SEO and shifting dynamics. I don’t see it as entirely surprising to see more and more businesses and SEO’s drifting away from technical and offsite SEO. Google continues to emphasize good content and onsite optimizations, so it makes sense the industry would shift its focus to improving things on your own website.
For added context, technical onsite SEO is largely managed by a website’s CMS and/or hosting service. While offsite SEO has become increasingly difficult to not only do; but also gauge its effectiveness for a website’s SEO because of its unpredictability. Don’t get me wrong, technical and offsite SEO link building are still crucial aspects of SEO as a whole. But they are not necessarily the only core requirement for success in search. This context and reasoning are likely why most people are looking to push for more onsite changes in 2022. Simply put, onsite SEO is the easiest to produce, scale, and measure in relation to returns on investment in organic search.”
—Colton Miller, Director of SEO Product, Boostability
46% – On-page SEO (Content creation, optimizing title tags, etc.)
28% – Technical SEO (Site indexing, site speed, data markup, etc.)
20% – Off-page SEO (Link building, etc.)
44% – On-page SEO
40% – On-page SEO
47% – On-page SEO
44% – On-page SEO
53% – On-page SEO
53% – On-page SEO
52% – On-page SEO
52% – On-page SEO
When breaking down regional trends, we wanted to see what SEO experts were focused on and where they were operating throughout the country to see if their behaviors coincided with our survey respondents. Our findings showed that in the field, SEO experts have very differing opinions as to where they should be focusing their efforts.
“I run SupplyDrop, which is an e-commerce marketing agency. I focus most on off-page SEO because actively using digital PR to attract links has been my secret to sustainable content distribution. It’s also a moat to have a site with a very strong domain authority, which is something most other sites, even those that produce amazing content, will have an extremely hard time copying. My agency is based in Miami, FL.”
—Danavir Sarria, Founder, SupplyDrop
“Our company primarily directs its focus to on-page SEO. While off-page SEO and technical SEO are also important for generating traffic, we keep our approach down to the tried and tested method of on-page SEO. Why? The reason is simple: On-page SEO helps analyze the content published on our website to determine whether a searcher’s query is available within the given content of the site. Google updates its algorithm on a consistent basis and web pages ranking often comes from on-page elements. We are based out of Roseville, California.”
—Denis Leskovets, Product Specialist & CEO, Office Consumer
“At Enventys, we always focus on all aspects of a solid SEO strategy, but we’re currently really focused on technical SEO, simply because our website has a wide breadth of information and pages and we want to ensure that every search engine has exactly what it needs to index us correctly. You can offer every bit of quality content and design your website to the nines, but if your technical SEO hasn’t been optimized, you won’t rank or index properly. By giving our technical SEO some love, we’re ensuring that all of our hard work on our on-page and off-page SEO pays off to the fullest extent. We’re based out of Charlotte, NC.”
—Roy Morejon, Co-Founder & President, Enventys Partners
29% of Canadian Businesses Are Focusing on On-Page SEO
The focus on on-page SEO pre-COVID compared to post-COVID outbreaks in Canada tell a very different tale. Only 28% of the total respondent pool focused on on-page SEO overall. Regionally, technical SEO was the focus of the Atlantic and Central markets after COVID-19 decimated industries across Canadian borders. Off-page SEO tactics got a boost in the post-COVID outbreak marketing community in the Prairie and West Coast Provinces.
28% – On-page SEO
38% – Technical SEO
45% – On-page SEO
36% – Technical SEO
32% – On-page SEO
32% – Off-page SEO
39% – On-page SEO
39% – Off-page SEO
35% – Other
47% – Other
Similarly to our discussion of United States-based SEO trends, we reached out to SEO experts across Canada to find out their take on SEO focus in order to find out if there was overall alignment geographically. There was just as much variance and disparity in the Canadian responses as there was from the US-based businesses above.
“Our focus right now is on off-page SEO. There is only so much you can do about optimizing your own website. Being an eCommerce shop, we are a bit limited in our opportunities to create a lot of on-page content that can be optimized for SEO. Our goal right now is to generate as much visibility for our brand on high-authority websites that are relevant to our niche. Doing so will not only help us rank better in SERPs; it will also help us get recognized as a legitimate voice of authority in our industry.”
—Stacy Lewis, Interior Designer, Eternity Modern
“Although my focus in the past has been on link building, I’ve recently switched my focus to improving my on-page content. Nowadays a lot of the top-ranking landing pages are 2000-4000 words long or more, so I’m going through my site and updating older web pages that don’t make the cut. Additionally, I’m using an SEO tool that provides semantic keyword data to ensure I’m creating the most comprehensive articles possible for my target keywords. My business is based in Calgary, Alberta, and serves clients in Canada and the US.”
—Chloe Brittain, Owner, Opal Transcription Services
“We are committed to driving growth for our clients through the management, analysis, and optimization of their SEO campaigns. For this reason, we distribute our focus evenly among all three areas of SEO (on-page, off-page, and technical SEO). According to each case, we might spend more time on an area, but we always attach the same importance to all three. Why? Giving the right information to search engines without compromising content quality is just as important as backlink strategies, guest posting, and technical optimization. A great SEO agency should be proactive in all these aspects. Otherwise, the results will be partial or null. Our company is based in Quebec City, Canada.”
—Maxime Bergeron, Network Director, CrakRevenue
Marketing in the United States and Canada were revealed to be extremely different in their approach to SEO, according to the respondents of our survey. While the majority of United States companies have consistently been focused on on-page tactics, Canadian businesses have diversified their marketing strategies, which points to fairly different behaviors in the consumer community relative to online search activity.
We shift the discussion from the tools of the trade and the geographic distribution of SEO tactics to a deeper dive into the demographics of our respondent pool. In the following sections, we will cover:
- Respondent Job title or Role
- B2B versus B2C
- Years in operation
- Monthly SEO Budget, Pre- and Post-COVID
Following this generalized breakdown of the respondents, we’ll offer a more detailed look at:
- Industry Breakdown
- Business Profile
We’ll then end this discussion with a breakdown of in-house marketing teams versus outsourced services in how our respondents are executing SEO marketing strategies.
In this first graphical breakdown, we can see that marketing and technology managers make up the bulk of our respondents, followed by executive marketing leadership. The respondent pool also largely came from the business-to-business service channel and has largely been in business for more than ten years. According to their self-reported pre- and post-COVID budget spend on SEO, it’s clear that most of our respondents have more than a passing interest in well-established SEO marketing tactics.
24% – Marketing & Technology Managers
16% – Chief Marketing Officers
62% – B2B
38% – B2C
29% – Have been in business for 10+ years
25% – $500-$1,499 monthly SEO budget pre-COVID
25% – $500-$1,499 monthly SEO budget post-COVID
In the Pandemic economy, consumers are prioritizing improving operations and expanding the expertise of their teams, as well as the efficiencies in how they operate. It’s no wonder then that the conversation is largely dominated by education service providers and software services. Retail, marketing and sales, and healthcare came out strong for this survey as well, with several other service and support industries represented across the remainder of the respondent mix.
10% – Education
8% – Software
7% – Construction
6% – Healthcare
5% – Marketing/Sales
5% – Retail
4% – Finance and Insurance
4% – Information Services
4% – Real Estate
4% – Other
3% – Publishing
3% – Manufacturing
3% – Legal Services
25% of Businesses Had a $500-$1,499 SEO Budget Pre-COVID-19
Prioritizing SEO on a monthly basis prior to the COVID-19 pandemic showed that many businesses were already moving to embrace a more consumer-relationship focused approach to marketing and growing organic traffic supported by paid advertising tactics. While the data is a mixed bag across our 600 respondents from across both the United States and Canada, SEO budgeting seems to evolve and expand significantly as small businesses grow and evolve, as if the increased revenue stream becomes a method for stabilizing marketing efforts and reason to prioritize organic traffic generation methods over paid ad tactics.
|Business Size||Years in Business||Annual Revenue||Monthly SEO Budget Pre-COVID||Monthly SEO Budget Post-COVID|
10+ years in business
Less than $500 monthly budget pre-COVID
Less than $500 monthly budget post-COVID
10+ years in business
$1,500-$1,999 monthly SEO budget pre-COVID
$500-$1,499 monthly SEO budget post-COVID
3-5 years in business
$500-$1,499 monthly SEO budget pre-COVID
$500-$1,499 monthly SEO budget post-COVID
27% of Businesses Still Have a $500-$1,499 SEO Budget Post-COVID-19
In the post-COVID-19 economy, businesses will lose market share if they do not prioritize and create a stable SEO strategy for organic traffic growth that meets the evolving demands of consumers and the subsequently more complex search engine ranking requirements. Maintaining, and even increasing SEO marketing budgets in the wake of the Pandemic, will help brands to meet consumers where they are and better meet their increasing demand for insightful content and meaningful connections with their chosen brands.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on vast swaths of the economic landscape, leaving many businesses scrambling and trying to balance reduced income streams against the need to continue to budget for necessary advertising activities. We asked SEO professionals for some insight into how their businesses responded.
“The pandemic affected our monthly SEO budget by requiring us to hire additional content writers. I believe our budget will remain the same because we need to reallocate some of our resources in order to accommodate new hires and increasingly complex projects, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad thing.”
—Roger Huang, Growth Director, Springboard
“Covid has reshaped our SEO budget by reducing traditional marketing and increasing the amount of money we spend on content marketing. We’ve made this decision because of the fact that COVID-19 affected our mobile application from being indexed in mobile search results, which meant that the majority of our revenue was coming from mobile devices.”
—Beau Pent, Sales Manager, GoCo
“It has not changed at all since the pandemic. There are not a lot of specialized tools needed for SEO, just hard work and resilience. We have a lot of free resources and tricks that make our budget extremely cost effective.”
—Tim Connon, Founder, ParamountQuote Insurance Advisors
The data gathered about our respondents to this survey show that despite how they are leveraging SEO marketing tactics, whether on-page, off-page or technically, that a majority of the businesses successfully navigating the post-COVID-19 economy are those that have embraced the changing demands of consumers and dedicated resources to building stronger and more sustainable online relationships with prospective leads.
37% of Businesses Use an In-House Team to Handle Their SEO Needs
While it’s becoming increasingly popular to outsource marketing work tasks at a certain level, the respondents to our survey show that just over a third of businesses, in general, are still tackling marketing with in-house talent. This can largely be attributed to some of the costs associated with outsourcing versus the affordability offered by easy-to-leverage software solutions. Small businesses also tend to be focused on small teams at the beginning that often include a skilled sales and marketing team focused on building and sustaining leads and converting leads into sales.
Pros of In-House SEO
Keeping SEO assigned to the in-house staff ensures your organization’s culture and goals are maintained in executing your SEO strategy, and it’s much easier to collaborate across departments and teams when handled in-house. Workflows will be tracked across internal project management tools and it will be easier to track strategic implementation and track performance across internal channels.
Cons of In-House SEO
On the flip side, managing and maintaining an in-house SEO team can be extremely challenging. If your team doesn’t already have marketing expertise or potential that can be leveraged from existing staff, it’s extremely expensive to source and train qualified staff to execute complicated SEO campaigns. And for those teams with individuals with some skills in marketing, the small team size will necessitate each individual to wear multiple hats, making it difficult to focus purely on marketing tasks. This can cause overall delays in the workflow and inefficiencies to crop up as employees struggle to prioritize business-essential tasks over their tasks in other departments.
35% of In-House Teams Contain 1-5 SEO Employees
Due to the expensive process of onboarding, training, educating, and retaining employees specifically to handle in-house marketing tasks, these teams are often kept small and agile. This is held up in the responses to our survey showing that of those that maintain in-house marketing teams, 35% keep a team of 1-5 individuals, while another 31% keep a team on hand of 6-10 marketing specialists.
35% – 1-5
31% – 6-10
17% – 11-19
17% – 20+
19% of In-House SEO Teams Prioritize Social Media Marketing
It’s interesting that, for those organizations who maintain an in-house marketing team, they are primarily focusing their efforts between keeping up with social media marketing and creating high-quality content. This shows a trend towards business leadership understanding the importance of these two marketing channels, but preferring to keep their execution in-house with individuals with a voice and passion in line with the culture and values of the business rather than outsourced to professionals unconnected to either.
19% – Social media marketing
17% – Creating high-quality content
16% – Keyword research
16% – Data analytics
14% – Link building
12% – UX/UI
7% – Other
Marketing activities run a wide range of possible tasks your team could be tackling in-house. We asked SEO experts in the field how their teams were allocated and what they focused most on within their four walls.
“The most important task that our SEO team does is content creation and optimization. They’re responsible for creating several different kinds of content for our website and blog. From articles to infographics, they handle everything. They also optimize their own content and that from other teams for search engine rankings. These are important tasks because content is the foundation of our marketing strategy and thus we need a team of experienced SEO individuals to handle it. We have a full team of 10 employees for our in-house SEO.”
—Denis Leskovets, Product Specialist & CEO, Office Consumer
“Our in-house SEO team mostly focuses on keyword research, weekly/daily reporting, creating content, A/B testing, and technical SEO. Keyword research and creating content are pretty self-explanatory and spending time on these two aspects is important in creating high-quality content that matches the searcher’s intent. Daily/weekly reporting is important to have an idea of what is going on, and if your changes/strategies are working. We spend some time every quarter doing a technical SEO audit to ensure things are running smoothly on that end – after we did a major clean-up of this, we mostly find little things when doing our quarterly audits. A/B testing is the most interesting thing we do. We will run various SEO experiments to see what works, and what does not work. We will implement something on a page or two and if it works and does what we want, we will implement it site-wide. We have 2 full-time employees dedicated to our in-house SEO team. One focuses on the day-to-day aspect of SEO while the other focuses on the big picture and longer-term plans/projects.”
—Dave Evangelisti, Founder & CEO, Test-Guide
“One of the tasks our marketing team handles in-house is content for our blog as well as SEO optimization to enhance our visibility and ranking on search engines. They create interesting content specific for our audience, market our techniques and products, and perform SEO optimization such as essential keywords to use that are widely searched for, image optimization, adding internal and external links, and more. They also analyze the data to understand what content is more effective, brings more traffic, and boosts conversion rates. Our in-house marketing team that focuses on content building and SEO ranges from 5-10 employees and works closely with the marketing and sales team to gain insights on the best content for our blog.”
—Mike Nemeroff, Co-Founder & CEO, Rush Order Tees
Most Respondents Noted That Time Consuming Projects Are the Biggest Challenge of Handling SEO In-House
Smaller teams struggle with marketing tasks, as they are often tedious and repetitive, and take up massive portions of the day. What those who might lack in experience but make up for with a passion for the brand don’t see is how this can play to their advantage, as long as they are utilizing the right software automation tools.
There are endless tools that can walk a marketing team through the paces of repairing and structuring SEO on-page in a way that aligns with goals, not to mention the content scheduling and automatic posting tools that can take the tedium out of keeping up with a robust social media content log and customer engagement strategy. Email marketing tools can handle much of the follow-up and outreach tasks.
This all leaves your team agile and responsive to marketing requirements without overburdening them with tedium and tasks that leave them too occupied for anything else. And these tools are often much more affordable with minimal learning curves than the process of either outsourcing or hiring new staff to specifically handle the expanding workload, as they are oftentimes designed to help small teams operate as if they are larger, more experienced marketing departments or agencies.
(On a scale of 1-4, 1 being the most challenging)
Projects are too time-consuming
Lack of expertise to build a well-rounded SEO strategy
Limited in-house budget for tools and resources
“From our experience, the biggest challenge our clients face while trying to handle in-house SEO projects is the “Set it and forget it” mentality. They don’t realize that frequent updates to content make a difference over the course of time. They usher those efforts to the back of the priority pile for marketing initiatives that are shinier and more immediate.”
—Kurt Pfeifer, Marketing Director, BlueTone Media
Managing SEO in-house has any number of challenges. Here’s what the community of SEO experts we reached out to had to say about the challenges they face executing SEO strategies with employees on the payroll or that they’ve recently hired for that purpose.
“The most challenging part of handling SEO in-house is that training employees can be difficult in the beginning. It is not possible that many employees present within the company will specialize in a particular field.”
—Cale Loken, CEO, 301 Madison Consulting
“If you ask any SEO specialist what their biggest challenge is, they’ll most likely say resources. However, what they truly mean is obtaining the necessary technical resources to implement their SEO recommendations. Long-term organic performance can be achieved by properly adapting your team’s recommendations in a consistent and timely manner. The most effective strategy to ensure that your recommendations are implemented promptly is to work with the organization’s upper levels. I normally advise engaging and training the senior management team as frequently as possible. To illustrate progress over a certain period, you’ll want to check in with them at least monthly and quarterly.”
—Abe Breuer, Owner & CEO, VIP To Go
“Quality link building remains the most difficult aspect of SEO, mostly because there is a big aspect of the process that is completely out of our control. You can have the greatest content in the world, but getting people to link to it naturally can be very difficult and time-consuming. On-site audits can lead you to what can and should be fixed on your website, but that is low hanging fruit. Keeping up link building year after year is the exhausting and ever-present monster of any SEO team.”
—Nate Nead, CEO, SEO.co
26% of Businesses Hire a Third Party Agency and 22% Hire an SEO Consultant or Freelancer
While more than a third of respondents maintain a team of in-house marketing experts, it’s telling of just how complicated and involved marketing as a business task has become that just over a quarter of our respondents say that they instead outsource SEO to a third-party agency, while another 22% simply leave it in the hands of a consultant or freelancer. Combined, there are more respondents who have in fact passed the task of marketing and SEO management off onto an outside partner than are handling it within their four walls.
Most of the Respondents Ranked Number of Years of Experience As an Essential Criteria When Hiring Third-Party Help
In order to offset the fears of working with a service provider who isn’t invested specifically in your brand, it’s common for businesses like our respondents to focus their search on service providers and consultants with a significant number of years of experience under their belts before considering bringing them aboard. Reviews also play a significant role in the decision-making process, as does affordability.
(On a scale of 1-5, 1 being the most important)
Number of years of experience
Positive online reviews
A diverse range of experience
Outsourcing in SEO and marketing can be just as challenging as managing your team in-house, and requires your leadership to consider a number of factors before agreeing to work with a service provider. Here are some of the elements SEO experts felt were influential in the decision-making process to work with a consultant, freelancer, or outsourced agency.
“The most important consideration you should make before partnering with an SEO firm or freelancer is this: what sets them apart. This can apply to both a firm and an individual. It could be the abilities that a person brings to the table on a one-to-one basis. However, full disclosure: having just one person handle your SEO is a huge task on your traffic, it’s likely impossible. But let’s say you choose to work with a firm. What distinguishes them from other comparable businesses? Again, this may be a matter of personal preference. Years of experience, organizational fit, or just price may be the distinction you seek. However, whatever that differentiation is, it should be at the forefront of business discussions.”
—Jay Bats, Co-Founder & Developer, ContentBASE
“The thing to think about when hiring an SEO company or specialist is how they measure success. They must present measures that are both actionable and measurable, not just pie in the sky. This isn’t to assume that determining success would be the same for all campaigns or clientele. It most certainly can—and it is largely reliant on your personal goals. However, there must be more than simply ranking higher on Google. That’s not specific enough to measure, and it’s hard enough to get started on. You might even consider the phrase SEO success to be excessively ambiguous. What you’re trying to determine is what precise metrics inform how they, the SEO company, measure a successful campaign? Again, this answer may differ depending on the objectives you set for them, which is fantastic news for you if it does. It suggests they’re actively taking note of what you’re pursuing in terms of business and developing a strategy around it.”
—Mike Ziarko, Founder & CEO, No More Chores
“The most important thing we look for when outsourcing marketing tasks is integrity and brand ownership. Provided that we’re on the same level of the quality we look for, and being able to use our brand voice across all tasks is of the utmost importance. Of course, experience is important, but brand voice, for a leader in the food safety industry, is crucial.”
—Jete Nelke, Head of Marketing, FoodDocs.com
Most Respondents Use LinkedIn to Find Third-Party Help
The LinkedIn platform has become well-known for helping businesses connect with service providers, consultants, and freelancers, as it provides a direct gateway to the service provider rather than a buffered experience like you might see on Freelancer.com or Fiverr. Directory sites, such as UpCity’s Marketplace of B2B service providers, are another great resource for connecting directly with professionals capable of fulfilling your marketing needs.
17% – LinkedIn
16% – Freelancer.com
13% – Fiverr
12% – Online directory (Clutch, UpCity, etc.)
10% – Self-sourced freelancer
8% – Upwork
7% – Thumbtack
6% – Guru
6% – Other
5% – PeoplePerHour
We wanted to know if marketing leadership across the board were looking at the same platforms to source third-party SEO help from as our respondents.
“Another freelancing marketplace for experts, People Per Hour focuses on hourly pay rates. People Per Hour has developed over the years to currently house millions of marketing and SEO specialists searching for quick technical assignments. The site keeps faithful to the freelancing formula of getting paid by the hour, and many of the professionals on it enjoy it. The platform has made finding the correct SEOs quite simple. It enables you to contact freelancers directly and interview them before hiring them for the task, depending on the hourly fees specified in their profiles.”
—Sara Johansson, Customer Success Manager, Onsiter
“The newest freelancing network and employment marketplace is Facebook Careers. It has gained a lot of traction among Facebook users who are professionals. The UI is fairly straightforward to grasp and has well-defined sub-categories for digital marketing and SEO. Facebook Careers is backed by a robust infrastructure and includes a complete variety of professional sectors and job postings. Facebook Careers is mostly focused on tech-related and technical positions, with a broad range of digital marketing skills ranging from keyword research to full-suite search engine marketing.”
—David Wurst, Owner & CEO, Webcitz
“The most often platforms that I use for finding and hiring third-party SEO help are LinkedIn and Upwork. The main reason behind using these platforms is that they are professional platforms and have authority in the online world. There is a less chance of getting scammed on these platforms and most importantly you’ll find well-experienced candidates over here.”
—Dan Skaggs, Owner, One Thing Marketing
Keeping up with and properly executing in the SEO space is a daunting challenge, one frankly that requires a significant amount of time and resources in order to keep up with properly. Whether you’ve invested in the in-house staffing or decided to outsource to a service provider, it’s important that you understand the benefits and drawbacks of each approach and decide which works best for your business model, and then dedicate the proper time or resources towards the model you’ve chosen.
Take Control of Your SEO Strategy and Strive in 2022
Improving lead generation and conversions is a much more complicated process in this economic landscape that continues to be influenced by the COVID-19 Pandemic. With such challenges to growth and bottom-line profitability, search engine optimization is a vital component that must be integrated into your strategic marketing approach to 2022. Whether you’re integrating SEO with PPC strategies or supporting it through a more robust content marketing strategy, it’s clear that SEO has become an extremely complex marketing strategy to properly implement across multiple channels both on- and off-page, and without a team that has the experience and knowledge of modern technologies and systems that impact SEO efficacy, you’ll fall behind the curve.
Learn more about what it takes to win with SEO and decide whether you’re going to build an in-house team or contract out to a third-party solutions provider, and then take the plunge for the year. Only with a focused and dedicated approach will your SEO strategy help you keep earning the attention of increasingly discerning online consumers.
UpCity’s Survey Method
UpCity used Pollfish to survey 600 Business Owners and Marketing & Technology employees from the United States and Canada about their SEO and PPC tactics for 2022.
A majority of the small businesses have 51-100 employees (27%) followed by 101-250 employees (26%), 26-50 employees (19%), 11-25 employees (14%), 6-10 employees (8%), and 2-5 employees (7%).
Fifty-eight percent of the respondents are male and forty-three percent are female.