Q:       Internet-related technology and marketing seem to evolve on an almost hourly basis. Because entrepreneurs must stay focused on their business, what are some easy, time-efficient ways to stay in touch with what’s happening?

It’s far too easy to get distracted and pulled in multiple directions, but I do recommend trying to carve out thirty minutes to an hour a day to keep up with both your local market and internet/technology that may directly affect your business. One easy way to do this and remain flexible is to use a reader app on your tablet or smartphone such as Flipboard, Google Currents, or Pulse to quickly scan trusted content from a variety of news sources or customize with your preferred favorites. If you’re short on time, you can always mark something to read later.

Q:        What are three essentials for every small business website today?

  • Provide accurate information about your business, products, or services that will answer many of your customers’ most frequent questions.
  • Make your website find-able in search, and easy to use on both PCs and mobile devices.
  • Use website analytics to track website visitors, sales, and calls that come in via your site.

Q:       Is social media a must for every small business website?

Depending on the nature of your business, there’s probably at least one social media platform that makes sense for you to engage with regularly. For example, it’s easier to justify time and resources to Facebook if you look at it as a customer service or retention tool. But it all depends where your customers are. For example, Pinterest is no-brainer for a landscape or interior design company. For other types of companies, from local eateries to software, if you are looking to get attention from local media or tech journalists then Twitter could be a good place for you.

Q:       Do Internet search/habits still differ significantly by age group?

The usage gap is perhaps not as much as some would have you believe. According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project research group, approximately 77% of the 50-64 age group are online compared with 94% of 18-29 year olds; the age group in the middle sits at a compelling 89%. And for those over 65, there’s a 54% adoption rate. However, it’s clear that the younger generations have more readily embraced the mobile Internet and use smartphones more heavily, but that gap is beginning to close as well with the proliferation of mobile devices.

Q:       What are some other general demographic-based Internet use habits that small businesses should be aware of?

Among the top online activities for all age groups are search, email, maps/driving directions, weather lookup, product/service research (including recommendations and reviews), news consumption, product purchasing, video viewing, and social media posting. Social media usage in particular is growing significantly by those over the age of 45. Of the top activities, small businesses should be most aware of their presence in local searches and their overall reputation on ratings and reviews sites.

Q:        Speaking of local searches, how can locally-focused businesses improve their Internet visibility?

At a minimum, list your business information with Google+ Places and Bing.com/local for free visibility in local search results. In addition, there are several commercial services available (GetListed.org, Universal Business Listings, Yext) to ensure your business Name, Address,and Phone number (NAP) is correct across many directories and Yellow Pages sites.

Q:        Google is obviously the dominant search engine today, but are there special considerations for being found on Bing and other search engines?

Bing, like Google, has many ranking factors; but both are primarily interested in ranking trustworthy and authoritative sites. Both offer “webmaster tools” where you can verify ownership of your website and gain insight into how they see your site, and report on any technical errors they find on your website, which may make it difficult for users to find your website in search. Likewise, you should manually “claim” an official business page on the other big platforms (Facebook, Foursquare, Twitter, Yelp, and YouTube). You can utilize the aforementioned services to match up NAP details across the broader landscape.

Q:        How often should you review and update your website content to keep it fresh and relevant?

Not every small business can realistically update its website daily or weekly, nor does it necessarily need to. But depending on your business, you should add fresh content or update existing content monthly or quarterly. One simple way to do that is to include sales and special or seasonal offers if you can post easily through a blog format.

At the very least, you should review your website every six months to make sure all information is up-to-date. With respect to keyword targeting, this has become more challenging as Google has hidden some data (organic search keywords, not paid AdWords) from website owners in their analytics. But you can see which keywords your site appears under when you log into Google Webmaster Tools. That can be a good guide to help you focus on adding more content around a certain topic

Q:       What are some common myths about SEO/SEM, and what is the reality?

This is a difficult question to answer, but for many small business owners, SEO/SEM doesn’t have to be as complex as some may make it out to be. At its core, it’s about providing useful information about your products/services to both users and search engines. And, it’s just one component of your business’s overall marketing plan. Yes, there are technical components of online marketing and there are a lot of details that might bog you down. That is when you might need to consider additional help. But there certainly several things you can easily learn to do and maintain yourself if you’re so inclined.

Q:        Does every small business need an SEO/SEM consultant? Why or why not?

Because small business owners are often stretched for resources, learning the basics and best practices of SEO is one way to save money. While it can take time, it’s a smart investment of time. So when you need additional help for online marketing, you have a solid understanding of what your needs are and can make an educated decision when hiring help. You might find that you have a natural curiosity or passion for online marketing, or interacting one-on-one with your customers.

Q:        If you decide an SEO/SEM consultant may be helpful, what should you evaluate in selecting one to work with?

You should be most concerned with finding a consultant or agency who truly understands your business model, and is focused on bringing in qualified customers and increasing your revenue from search, not just inflating your number of website visits or social media followers.

Ask for references of current clients and follow up on them. Definitely be aware that you get what you pay for in SEO/SEM, and low hourly or monthly fees may translate into poor results. With all online marketing activities, consider that a one-size-fits-all or ‘monthly package’ might not be the best option. You may well need a trusted advisor to check in with on a regular basis — and you’ll want to budget accordingly.

Q:        It’s easy to forget that SEO/SEM is but one component of an overall small business marketing strategy. Why is consulting with an expert, such as a SCORE small business mentor, a good way to ensure a balanced approach?

Just as you might work with a SCORE mentor on topics such as manufacturing, accounting or human resources, you might want to seek out experienced help when it comes to formulating your overall strategy. With the rise of social media, your business’ reputation may depend on it. You will want to keep close to your online marketing efforts, and keep your most loyal customers satisfied and spreading the word to others.

Q:        What emerging technology trends should a small business be monitoring closely?

Mobile technology should be a strong consideration going forward, as consumers of all ages become more dependent and engaged with their tablets and smartphones.


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About the Author(s)

Elisabeth Osmeloski

Elisabeth has been in the search marketing industry since 1999, and currently works for two of the leading trade publications in the digital marketing space. She is also co-founder and President of SLCSEM.org – a local professional association for online marketers.

Director of Audience Development, Search Engine Land & Marketing Land