Optimize for Search Engines and DirectoriesMany SEO techniques and tactics have changed over the past couple of years due to Google’s ever-changing algorithms. As a business owner, keeping up with your brick and mortar obligations plus your online presence can be a daunting task. Here’s a guide to help you get started and to help you maintain your online visibility.

Get the right commitment

Starting any new venture or campaign requires a level of commitment to the process. As you know, since you’ve already invested countless hours and energy into your business. SEO and digital marketing success do not happen overnight. It takes time and patience to let it organically grow. Gone are the days of “black hat” tactics and quick hits; true sustainable SEO takes commitment.

Get your NAP (Name, Address, Phone) consistent

NAP is your Name, Address, and Phone number. It is critical to your organic SEO success that you have it correct and consistent. Search engines like Google use that data to rank companies on geo-targeted results. If you have inconsistencies in what your business is named, and differences in addresses or phone numbers listed, search engines might list all of those as separate establishments. Not only will this hurt your overall SEO, it will also hurt your brand and cause consumer confusion.

Claim your online citations

Now that you have your NAP written in stone, it’s time to claim or create your citations online. What is an online citation? Citations are references to your business online. They are usually found in local directories online or social media “check-in” and review sites. According to getListed.com, the following directories are crucial to your online presence.

  • Google+ Local
  • Bing
  • ExpressUpdate
  • Neustar Localeze
  • Yelp
  • Foursquare
  • Yahoo!
  • Superpages
  • YP
  • CitySearch
  • HotFrog
  • Best of the Web
  • Here Prime Places

Once you have claimed your business on these directories and services, and standardized your NAP, you have accomplished more than half of your competitors, according to SinglePlatform’s recent survey.

Get the right tools for the job

There are thousands and thousands of tools out on the Internet that claim they will turn you into an SEO guru. You may want to try any and all of them as you see fit (most have trial periods). The following list would be what I would consider the “core” toolbox that everyone should have and use.

  • Research – You will need to know what the keywords and phrases in your customer targets are worth going for by volume and competition.
    • Google Adwords Keyword tool (free)
    • SEMRush
  • Ranking – You will need to know how your website is doing in the organic search results with your chosen keywords and phrases.
    • Rank Checker – SEOBook (free)
    • Advanced Web Reports
    • Rank Tracker
  • Analytics – You will need to know how many people are coming to your website and how they got there.
    • Google Analytics (free)
    • Bing Webmaster Tools (free)
  • Management – You will need to be able to manage and check on your website and its health.
    • Google Webmaster Tools (free)
    • Bing Webmaster Tools (free)
  • Link Tracking – You will need to know what other sites and sources are pointing back to your website.
    • OpenSiteExplorer

Get the right content

Now you are armed with all the intelligence you need to get your website ranking well. The first thing to do to your website is to get a blog. One of the most widely used blog engine is WordPress, and that would be my suggestion due to the robust support and wide variety of plugins. Make sure your blog is self-hosted on your server and not on a subdomain like “yourblog.wordpress.org”. It is best to keep everything on one central server to your website for the search engines.

Once your blog is set up, it is time to focus on content. You want to be the thought leader in your niche and location, so think of content that would be of value to your customers. Get ideas from your everyday business activities and the questions that your customers frequently ask you. All this content will tell your potential customers and the search engines that you know what you are trying to sell. If you haven’t already, create a Google Plus page so that you can also claim authorship of everything you write and post.

Do the right thing

The most important thing to remember is that digital marketing and SEO take time. If you are committed to the process, and keep doing the right thing, the results will come. Be aware that there will be people contacting you, claiming that they can get you number one page ranks within 2 weeks. There are tactics that can accomplish that, but these tactics do not produce sustainable results. The search engines will penalize you if you do them. The landscape of SEO has changed, and the search engines are a lot smarter than they used to be. You do not want to be the site that gets wiped from them. It would be equivalent to moving your store into a dark alley with no street signs – no one will find you.

If you have any questions, feel free to ask, as this is a high level guide to SEO for now and the future. There are of course many, many more elements, but this should get you started on the road to SEO success.