Whether you like it or not, people still search online for what they want--and increasingly, they do it from their phones. Do you want them to find your business, or your competitors, when they do those searches?

To help provide better understanding of the search landscape for SMBs, I reached out to Timothy Miller, CEO of Local Search Essentials. Timothy is an expert in creating engaging social presence for brands and a member of Likeable Local’s Likeable Partner Program. Here’s our interview:

1. What are some major ways search engines have evolved in recent years?

The goal of all search engines is to provide users with the most relevant results that match whatever they are searching for. With local businesses, consumers are searching for driving directions, hours of operation, phone numbers, photos, etc. They are also looking to learn as much as possible about a company, so they interact with social media profiles and read customer reviews.

As such, search engines have evolved to make it easy for consumers to find the information they are looking for. All of the elements listed are visible in the search results. Search engines have also worked hard to make sure the information is easily accessible across all types of devices--desktop computers, laptops, tablets, mobile phones, etc.

2. How significantly has technology impacted the kinds of devices these searches are occurring on?

Google recently announced that mobile devices were the main source of its search traffic. This has happened much more quickly than anyone ever predicted, and it has had a significant impact on local businesses. Since 89% of all smartphone users conduct Google searches on their devices, Google is taking steps to make sure they’re getting the best results possible. In fact, local businesses are penalized now if they don’t have a mobile-friendly version of their website available.

The amazing thing is that the great majority of local businesses still do not have mobile-friendly versions of their websites.

3. How important is establishing a good social presence for a company's SEO?

Today the average consumer uses more than 10 sources of information to make a purchase decision! They use search engines to find potential companies, then they search for the specific name of a company to learn more about them. This is where social media is so important.

To evaluate a company, consumers use local business directories, blogs, video sites, and photo sharing sites. They read reviews and interact with content published on social media sites.

Claiming and publishing content across all of these platforms as part of a company’s web presence is vital to search engine optimization.There are a number of cost-effective advertising platforms that company’s can leverage to ensure the most comprehensive strategy possible.

4. What are the biggest challenges SMBs should expect when trying to attract customers online?

The biggest challenge SMBs have is finding a partner that understands how consumers are using the Internet today and drafting a comprehensive strategy that takes advantage of all the available opportunities. SMBs need to have websites, blogs, accurate local business listings, and a content marketing strategy that includes photos, videos and articles. They need to build, market and monitor their online reputation. They need to build the number of fans and followers on their social media networks. And in all of this, the design across all of these platforms needs to be consistent, professional, and conversion friendly--focused on generating leads. Furthermore, it needs to be “responsive”, meaning mobile, tablet & desktop friendly.

SMBs are overwhelmed with what needs to be done, and many have had previous bad experiences. They need to find a trusted partner who can help them understand the consumer's buying journey and help them draft a comprehensive strategy to build and optimize their web presence in a professional and mobile-friendly manner.

5. Do you have any tips for SMBs seeking customers & online brand advocates?
It takes a comprehensive system to turn strangers into customers & promoters of a business. The best thing a SMB can do is to have a professional evaluate the buying journey of their target market and then audit their web presence to identify the opportunities for improvement that exist. Typically this evaluation will also include a competitive analysis and recommended advertising budgets for consideration.

The importance of having a comprehensive plan & strategy can not be overemphasized. Marketing is merely an extension of and tool to achieve the company's strategic business goals.

6. Any predictions on SEO trends to expect in 2016?
There are a number of big trends that are changing the competitive landscape in 2016 including:

  • Consumers are using mobile devices: smartphones are expected to achieve 90 percent U.S. market penetration by 2016
  • Tablet sales are growing faster than smartphones did: SMBs need to adapt their local marketing tools and strategies to be suited to tablets
  • Mobile searches are converting to sales: nearly 80% of local searches on mobile devices turn into a purchase
  • Social media influences purchase decisions: consumers are looking to social media for information and inspiration about which companies to choose
  • Direct mail is not dead, but it must be used in combination with a comprehensive Internet Marketing strategy to get the best results possible

Now it’s your turn. What are you doing to ensure that your business gets seen in searches? Tell me in the comments section below.