In the current economic climate, many local businesses are seeking more-effective ways to market.

Since their potential customers are increasingly using the Web as a way (and sometimes the first and only way) to find products and services, local businesses realize that their marketing efforts should include at least some aspects of online marketing.

One of the first strategies that come to mind for many local businesses is search-engine optimization (SEO). And although SEO has proven to be a profitable marketing channel for many businesses, you should ask yourself a few questions before investing in a full-blown SEO campaign.

1. Are there enough people in your local area looking online for what you offer?

The first thing to consider when thinking about SEO for your local business is whether there are enough people searching online (and in your local area) for the products or services your business offers.

One way to find out is to use the free Google AdWords Keyword Tool, which gives a rough estimate on the number of searches done for particular keywords each month. However, some keywords only show up as "Not enough data" rather than an actual number, because those searches don't meet the threshold set by Google.

That doesn't mean you should abandon all hope. Another way to see how many searches are being done online for your type of business is to run a short Google AdWords campaign.

In this case, the campaign would be a way to see whether there are any impressions for the keywords you're trying to target. An impression means that your ad was shown for a particular keyword—i.e., someone actually searched for that keyword. That information can give you a rough estimate of how many searches are done for your target keywords, even if Google's Keyword Tool doesn't show any data.

So how much is "enough"? That depends on several factors, including the following.

2. Does your page do a good job of converting visitors to sales?

No matter how much traffic you get or what your website rankings are, you can't cover the bills unless people are actually buying. So you need to know how well your site converts your visitors into taking action. That action could be to call for a quote, request more information, make a purchase, sign up to be on an email list, etc. It's important to make sure each page on your website includes a call to action, an element that many small-business websites don't include.

What about the people who decide not to take action immediately? Offer your website visitors free information in exchange for their contact info (typically just their name and email address). That way, if your site converts 2% of visitors immediately, you still have a way to follow up with some portion of the other 98% of leads visiting your site.

For many small businesses, especially those with a high transaction value, being able to follow up with those potentially lost leads to generate more sales can have a huge impact on their bottom line.

3. What is the lifetime value of your customer?

You should also consider the lifetime value of each customer. Does the customer typically make a single purchase with you or multiple purchases over time? How long has this person been a customer, and how much has the customer spent over that period of time?

Having an estimate on those numbers can help you determine how much you can spend to attract a new customer and whether an SEO campaign will be a good investment.

4. How much will SEO cost, and what's your ROI?

Of course, one of the factors you'll be most concerned with is the cost of your SEO campaign. But even more important is the return on investment (ROI) you're likely to achieve.

In fact, the previous questions all help answer the ROI question. What you don't want to do is simply focus on rankings for the sake of rankings. After all, this is a business, not a popularity contest, and vanity rankings should never be the goal.

5. Are you willing to create additional content or have additional content created for your site?

Many small-business owners are surprised that part of their SEO or online-marketing efforts involves creating content. Many are too busy, too uninterested, or just not very motivated to create articles and other types of content for their websites. However, content rules the Web and is even an important element in offline marketing.

Well-written content can add credibility to your business, position you as an expert, and help presell your prospects so that they choose to do business with you rather than the competition.

Online, content also helps influence search-engine rankings. So it's almost a sure thing that any reputable SEO company is going to need to create additional content for your site or tweak the content you already have. But remember that once an article is written, a video is created, or another type of content is produced, it can provide additional value to your site indefinitely.

6. Does your site give other sites a good reason to link to you?

Having other sites link to your site matters—a lot. Links from other sites are arguably the most important factor affecting your website's search-engine rankings.

Ask yourself whether your site gives people a reason to link to you in the first place. If your site lists just your services, location, and contact info, there's not much there that's valuable information for other sites to link to. Elements such as a blog, forum, articles, videos, etc., can provide good reasons for people to link to your site.

7. Does your site give people a good reason to come back?

Ask yourself if your website gives your visitors a reason to come back. The harsh reality is that most people don't return to or bookmark most sites. Which is why providing good content, blogs, forums, and other community-building features is key to not only attracting visitors but also ensuring that they keep coming back.

As a local business owner, you must keep an eye out for new, profitable opportunities to attract new customers and grow your business, which is especially important in today's economy.

* * *

Having good answers to the above-noted questions will help you decide whether SEO is the right fit for your business, and it will help ensure that your SEO campaign has the best chance of success.

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Kenton Newby is CEO and founder of Mix Digital Media, a digital agency specializing in profitable digital marketing campaigns for small business customers.