SEO can be time-consuming. Why? Because if you're ranking well in searches, your competitors won't take it lying down; and if you're not ranking well, you shouldn't take it lying down...

Moreover, SEO is ever-changing, and keeping up takes constant maintenance.

So... SEO might seem a Herculean task for local businesses, but it doesn't have to be. Here are seven little secrets to effective local SEO.

1. Be prepared

You need to be ready to put time and effort into your SEO, because it's an ongoing process. You need to be organized and aware of what to check up on. Use handy guides, such as the Local SEO Checklist—an interactive checklist of the main things to keep in mind, along with useful annotations and links under each topic.

2. Get listed

There are lots and lots of directories and sites you can get citations on. The well-known ones are Google+, Yahoo Local, Bing, etc., but think beyond that: You might have access to local listings in your area, business category specific sites, and help forums for related topics.

You can see an exhaustive list of ideas at The Monster List of Citation Building Ideas compiled by Synup.

3. Don't be social just for the sake of being social

You have probably heard, from every possible direction, about how important social media is and how it could make or break your business. True, it is important, but the idea isn't to have pages on every social site; maintenance is the true key. Don't make a Pinterest board because it's the "in" thing to do; create a Pinterest board because you have something to contribute.

4. Blog

Blogging is a great way to keep your site current and useful for customers. Follow trends about your industry and use industry news, changes, and quirks as blog topic ideas. You'll become a good source of information or opinions, and you can use specific, trending keywords for new pages created by your blog posts.

But blogging, like social media, albeit for different reasons, should not be done (badly) just for the sake of doing it. Google has been ruthlessly cracking down on bad content, and it has been relatively unforgiving for practices such as keyword stuffing.

Basically, if you thought you could just make a bunch of pages for a bunch of keywords, think again; conversely, if you planned to write simple placeholder pieces, relevant but not well thought out, they will still have trouble ranking.

Don't worry if you're not the best content creator; that brings us to the next point.

5. Outsource

There's no shame in not being a master of all trades. Sometimes you need some professional help to create higher-quality stuff or even just to save time! Getting a freelance writer for a blog post, paying for listings, or bringing in professional Web designers can make a lot of difference and save a lot of headache.

6. Focus on user experience

Google says it considers user experience the priority. If you want to do well in Google's eyes, you have to get into the same shoes as users.

Pretend you're a potential customer/client and go through the steps that potential customers would take to find you, contact you, learn more, and finally pay you (become customers). How easy/hard is it? Can they get everything they need from your site? What might have blocked them on the way to becoming paying customers?

Analytics is also very useful for finding obstacles to the customer's path. Every time you change something, make sure to test it and observe how the stats change in Google Analytics.

One of the major things you can do to enhance user experience is to make sure your website is multi-platform compatible. Nowadays the chant is "mobile first": A site that works on mobile will usually be fine for desktop computer users, too, but the opposite is not usually true.

A lot of people now browse on mobiles, fablets, tablets, etc., and often while on the go, so if they do not get your information easily and quickly, they might just give up.

7. Encourage reviews

Continuing with the theme of user experience... it's time to hear what users have to say, too. If you are doing things right, people will have good experiences with your business. That doesn't just mean happy, possibly returning customers; it can also mean positive word-of-mouth through the grapevine.

Customer reviews can be a lot more powerful than social media shares, which usually reach a small group, and then possibly that group's own networks, etc. But a review in a public place will always be there, reaching large groups of those who are actually interested in and looking for what you're offering.

Make it easy and accessible for a customer to review you. Find out what the most popular sites for reviews for your industry/area are, and link to the reviews on that site. Place reviews on your own site where transactions take place. Any way you can, remind happy customers to recommend you.

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image of Arundhati Sriraman

Arundhati Sriraman is associate content designer at Zynga, a developer of popular social games. Formerly, she was community manager at local marketing software provider Synup.

LinkedIn: Arundhati Sriraman