Writing about search engine optimization, social media marketing, and reputation management is relatively easy. All I have to do is talk to experts, draw on their knowledge and wisdom, and leave the implementation dirty work to others.

Actually living the process and reporting on actual successes and failures, is a lot harder—and a lot more instructive. So I’ll try to improve probably the worst social media marketing—and, frankly, worst online marketing in general—I know.

Mine.

Background first. I’m a ghostwriter but I’m also a wedding photographer. (No one should be just one thing.) I purposely only photograph 15 to 20 weddings a year. Other than an outdated website I do no advertising and have no social media presence. Some of our bookings result from having photos published in bridal magazines and websites, but most come from referrals from previous clients.

In short, I have a business that does very good work but has fallen behind the times where online marketing is concerned.

If you have some familiarity with SEO but don’t know how to apply newer online marketing tools, follow along. I’ll talk to experts, implement their advice, and tell you how it goes.

My guess is I’ll screw up a lot, and that’s okay. Together we’ll try to find out what works—and, just as importantly, what doesn’t work.

Starting from (Nearly) Scratch

To get started I contacted Tim Fahndrich of Third River, a digital media agency in Salem, Oregon. (Why did I choose them? I put my process where my mouth is and did a quick Google search.)

I asked Tim for his initial thoughts on helping a local small business set up basic search, social media, and reputation management for marketing purposes.

His firm usually starts by asking two basic questions:

1. How are people finding your business?

2. What are people saying about you?

Seventy percent of Web searches start at Google, and 89 percent of all clicks come from page one. Eighty-four percent of people use the Web to look for local, main-street-type businesses; if that’s you, ranking on page one for your search keywords is still extremely important.

But a second component that goes beyond keyword search is a business’s online reputation. Many local businesses work hard to get referrals, but typically the first thing a person will do after getting a referral is Google the business name. Even when a client gets referred to you, if she doesn't like what other people say about you online she’ll tend to keep looking, so it’s critical for a local business to manage and proactively build its online reputation. 

That’s why proactively gathering and sharing online reviews is key where building what Tim calls the "Know, Like, and Trust " factor is concerned.  Over half of consumers say online reviews are the most influential factor deciding whether to make a purchase, so local service businesses already working to build their online reputations are ahead of the curve.

Unfortunately I’m behind the curve where reputation management is concerned, so that’s where I’ll start.

Tim’s firm has developed whirLocal, a reputation management system that gathers, optimizes, and shares customer reviews. I may eventually try it, but for now I’ll take a very basic approach. My first goal is to survey the online review landscape, both in general and specific to wedding photography, establish a presence—and start finding ways to get reviews.

Note: If you have social media marketing or SEO ideas that can benefit readers, leave them in the comments below or feel free to contact me. If we think an approach has merit we’ll give you credit, give it a try, and share the results.