Making the Most Out of Small SEO Projects

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If you’ve worked in the SEO business for any length of time, chances are good you’ve found out how different SEO looks depending on the industry served, campaigns, and budgets.

Whether you are an SEO at an agency or an independent consultant, learning how to deliver awesome work for small business clients with small budgets is key. While pitching enterprise-level companies is tempting, remember, dozens of other agencies are going after the same business. Most likely, you’re going to invest a ton of time and money upfront to have even a shot at working with them. With big budgets comes big responsibility and big expectations – the mom & pop shops keep life simpler.

Small budget projects also allow you as an agency or consultant to offer advantages bigger agencies can’t, such as

Location. It’s easier to close and maintain SEO business with people nearby. Raven’s monthly reports look sexy no matter what, but nothing beats delivering them in person.

Personal relationships. Friends of friends or word of mouth referrals are plentiful near your location. If you do a stellar job with a couple of accounts in your locale, it’s easy to gain local momentum.

Longevity. Small, local accounts are much more likely to stick around for the long haul because you can leverage your location and personal relationships. A 3-man shop isn’t as likely to send out RFPs en masse or force somebody to submit a lowball offer to get their foot in the door.

These represent strong benefits; make the most of them.

Are you convinced that small budget projects are worthwhile? That’s a good first step, but you still have to execute. Competing for search engine visibility has become more difficult with time and delivering ROI to clients spending $300/month is much tougher in 2015 than it was even in 2010.

If you have no regard for your time, you can spend 30 hours a month to deliver a respectable return, but that time investment is unsustainable over the long haul with such a small budget. In other words, you’ll be losing money at that rate.

At this stage, employing a minimum viable SEO makes sense. Find a way to perform enough SEO to create positive ROI without spending countless hours on things that don’t have a big impact. Prioritizing optimization items for small budget projects is far from easy.

If you are anything like me, seeing duplicate meta descriptions or thin content pages will drive you nuts even if they aren’t likely to change anything. Most detail-oriented SEOs have a desire to fix everything and leave no stone unturned. Your clients would like that, but your bank account? Not so much.

SEO for mom & pop shops looks nothing like SEO for big box brands. It doesn’t mean that SEO is more or less important for one or the other, but the approach and purpose of SEO vary depending on their needs.

The Value of Taking a Rifle Approach

While every campaign is unique, here is how I typically approach key areas of SEO.

No. 1 – Keyword Research

Take a sniper rifle approach to choosing keywords instead of a shotgun approach.

Mom & Pop

Focus on low volume, low competition keywords that will realistically earn ROI in six months.

Big Box Brand

Target everything. You can likely rank for head keywords and develop a strategy for pulling in longtail traffic as well.

While I love the shotgun approach for keyword research when working on a big brand (rank for all the things!), you’ve got to be lean and mean on small projects. My keyword wishlist on a bigger project might contain 5,000 keywords. For a small project, I stick to no more than a couple dozen keywords to start.

Instead of building pages with a general keyword theme, I go old school and get hyper-focused on just a few keywords for pages I want to rank. Narrowing your focus will save time and help show keyword movement early in a campaign.

Keyword research tools, like Majestic and Google Adwords Keyword Planner, can get you started building out a list of relevant keywords/phrases. Now and then, hours of research can unearth a keyword gem, but your time is best spent focusing on common sense keywords (think %ServiceName in %Location or Best %ServiceName in %Location).

Some SEOs don’t focus on rankings anymore (yikes), but few things make clients’ eyes light up like upward keyword movement early in a campaign. You should be able to rank for longtail key terms (which typically have less competition) within the first few months and start earning client trust.

Pro Tip: Locations or Areas Served pages work great for ranking particular keywords. Most small businesses that have multiple locations list the addresses on their site only. Having unique pages about each location gives you a great platform to optimize for geotargeted keywords.

No. 2 – Content Development

Focus on “boring” updates and do more with less.

Mom & Pop

Work with a budget they can afford and add a couple quality pages each month.

Big Box Brand

Get a big budget for adding new copy. It’s a great way to leverage the domain’s existing authority and brand awareness.

Content development is not in the budget for most smaller companies. Modern SEO can be tough without the luxury of creating a content machine, but it doesn’t mean you can’t succeed without it.

Maximizing the impact of each piece of content (web copy, videos, infographics, etc.) is crucial. Instead of dreaming big and going for the “sink or swim” piece of content you hope will go viral, stick to topics that have a greater chance of driving relevant traffic.

Yes, that might mean sticking to the boring practice of building out product or service copy before rolling out an interactive infographic. But, it’s effective and represents the best way to ensure content marketing success on a small budget.

No. 3 – On-Page SEO

Focus on small changes with big returns.

Mom & Pop

Zero in on sitewide changes.

Big Box Brand

Work through everything, starting with quick wins.

Sitewide optimization changes are your best friends when working on small projects. One line of code could impact 30 pages in just a couple of minutes. Fixing common issues, like

  • Rewriting sitewide duplicate page titles
  • Adding internal links to a navigation element
  • Drawing more attention to a CTA in the header
  • Implementing a dynamic meta description or breadcrumb feature can improve search visibility measurably.

Many of your quick wins are going to be site wide changes, initially. Even if the website owner never had his site properly optimized, a good SEO can work wonders in the header file alone.

Typically, small budget SEO projects equate to smaller sites and less traffic. The entire domain might only receive 50 visitors per month from organic search. If you spend too much time on an inner page, for example, a 50% increase in traffic might only bring an extra five visitors per month. That’s not likely to be enough to prove ROI for your client.

Your efforts spent focusing on site wide changes impact the whole pie. When you do that, you can more easily boost traffic for a stronger ROI.

Don’t Forget Call Tracking

Knowing where your incoming calls originate is crucial for both big and small projects.

Mom & Pop

Track every lead to help prove ROI.

Big Box Brand

You are never going to reach 100% accuracy, but tracking should still be a high priority. Properly tracking leads is crucial when working on smaller projects. Mis-categorizing one phone call isn’t a huge deal for a company getting thousands of inbound calls a month, but it can make or break a smaller SEO campaign. Investing in a trackable phone number set up to accurately attribute phone leads will pay for itself quickly. Every phone call you drive is a chance to earn client trust and further prove ROI.

It’s easy to lose credibility with clients when you’re guestimating the number of incoming phone calls or providing unrealistic estimates of generated leads. Make sure your recommendations and internal processes are well-oiled machines so that you can prove a campaign’s value whenever you need.

I’ve always loved the challenge of small scale SEO projects because it reminds me of how so many of us got our start in SEO. Who remembers living in a dorm room or basement with no money but a lot of spare time trying to drive traffic to a new website? We practiced SEO in its purest form.

With that in mind, keep providing a positive return on investment and those budgets will start growing proportionally. And bigger budgets give you more wiggle room and provide the opportunity to implement a broader range of optimization techniques.

The best part about working with small clients is that the good ones don’t stay small.

  • Ted Begnoche

    Good article, Trevin. There’s definitely a sweet spot for local clients that makes it worth your time. For keyword research, I just let their competition do my research for me, then I know what I have to beat. But your right, laser focusing for smaller clients is the way to go.
    Thanks very much, I enjoyed reading this!

    • Trevin Shirey

      Hi Ted!

      Thanks for reading! The competition can make keyword research a breeze if you know what you’re doing 😀

  • Great article Trevin. Good job on making a distinction between SEO for Mom & Pop businesses vs. SEO for larger businesses.

    My favorite quote from the article: “Focus on small changes with big returns.”

    So true! I’m of the opinion that you need to know the potential ROI a specific change on your site can bring in terms of rankings/traffic. After all, if a change that takes 10 hours per month to maintain on your site brings you only $500 in extra revenue, if you value your time at anything greater than $50/hour, then you’re losing money.

    Focus on what matters! Great post.

    Cheers,
    Jonathan

  • yeah! its necessary steps are useful to start a small project ever.