by Jason Hennessey

Want to bring in more leads for your small business? As you probably already know, getting online is the first step to doing so these days. That’s where digital marketing and SEO (search engine optimization) come in. 

This year brings both greater challenges and greater opportunities to businesses, digital marketers and SEOs.

When using search engine optimization, small businesses especially can better compete with their bigger rivals — a priceless capability not provided by very many other industries.  So what does 2012 mean to the definition of marketing your business well online? It means social media engagement (especially on Google +), local and mobile optimization and the use of high-quality content both on and off your Web site. Right now, with Google’s recent changes to the search engine results pages, we’ll focus mostly on social but also will touch on important actionable items in other areas that can all help you improve your SEO efforts to adapt to the changing tides brought on by the new year.

Social media – Get on, stay on

 Social media has gained a lot of traction in the last six months to a year for its ability to affect the success of small businesses. The ability to directly communicate with customers, potential customers and other interested parties as well as encourage brand advocates on social platforms is invaluable. So, what — as a small business — can you do differently from last year to bring in more leads via social media?

Your first step should be to create a Google Plus brand page for your business — and engage as many people as possible — expanding your “circles” as much as you can. Google has integrated Google Plus into the search results and the new social platform will play an ever-more important role in your site’s search engine rankings. Even further, engaging with customers and potential customers will contribute to an increase in traffic — and therefore leads — which is the end goal for all businesses using this type of marketing. 

Go local

Focus on local keywords when optimizing your Web site (words related to your business, with added modifiers denoting local cities). Also, if you haven’t already, create a Google Places listing.

Optimize for mobile

Look into creating a mobile version of your Web site. It may be beneficial to also invest in mobile advertising, as a growing portion of Web-surfers are doing searches on their cell phones.

High quality content — on and off page

First, let’s tackle the on page. Make sure your site’s content — both visible (your page content) and not visible (factors in your site’s code that show up in the search engine results pages, like title tags and meta-descriptions) — reads well and includes keywords (but not too obviously). Your content should also carry a distinct call-to-action.

Link-building: quality over quantity

What’s the point of high rankings if your traffic isn’t increasing? One way to improve the amount of traffic on your site is to take part in high-quality link-building, specifically guest blog posting.

Contributing well-written and informative guest blog posts to forums and other online hubs of information related to your industry could bring you more traffic, help you climb the rankings and prove your company’s authority in its industry.

Jason Hennessey is chief executive of Atlanta-based EverSpark Interactive and an internationally known search engine optimization expert.