I often find it challenging to help business owners know where to start with SEO. Friends and acquaintances managing start-ups are constantly bombarding me with questions about how to break into digital marketing. Many of them are working with very basic brochure-like websites or have no web presence at all. Broken links and incomplete web pages are often the norm with this group.

So, why is it challenging to advise them? I’m supposed to be the SEO guru, right? Well, that’s exactly it. Think of yourself as a hedge fund manager on Wall Street. You manage a billion-dollar hedge fund. You’re in deep…using complex algorithms to trade, in the zone, crafting your next investment strategy when you get a call from your grandmother. She asks if you can give her friend’s nephew advice on how to start investing the $20,000 he has managed to save. You start to think, “How do I rewind 15 years of investment experience so that I can empathize with this young investor? How do I scale back from the fast zone to teach him the fundamentals?

I’m a bit spoiled at Slingshot SEO. We have the privilege of working with enterprise organizations, including Fortune 500 and Inc. 500 companies. Generally these businesses have powerful, relevant brands, vast budgets and sophisticated marketers on staff. On a day-to-day basis, I’m focused on the challenges these enterprises often face, not those typical of fledgling start-ups or small businesses.

When faced with basic questions about digital marketing, I have to go back to the days when I had a limited budget and little knowledge of the Google-era search environment–about 10 years…or 315,569,520 seconds…ago. At that time, I worked for the family business—a niche industry B2B distribution business with approximately $4 million in annual revenue.

The business was on its heels because of the post-9/11 recession. It definitely was time to “save the farm” (What can I say? I’m a huge fan of The Dukes of Hazzard). So, I hedged my bets on search, my personal passion. With dedication and hard work, we brought the company’s search traffic from 40 visitors per month to over 17,000 in fewer than 12 months. Our recession-hit small business became a niche industry juggernaut.

In my opinion, search success for small business depends on an owner’s personal passion to understand search. If it’s not your passion, make a budget commitment to hire a “best in class” SEO services firm that can execute a strategy for your business.

There are a few core questions you should ask yourself before jumping into SEO:

  • Are you ready and willing to produce amazing web content relevant to your industry?
  • Do you have a reliable web development resource that can make technical architectural changes to your website?
  • Are you active in social media networks, such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+ or industry forums?
  • Do you have industry partners or contacts who are willing to link to your web content?
  • Do you have branding and public relations strategies?
  • Do you have a team that can execute?

If you’re honest with yourself and can answer YES to most of these questions then I recommend getting started by thoroughly reading SEOmoz’s Beginner’s Guide to SEO. I encourage anyone desiring SEO glory to camp out on SEOmoz.org as I have for years, and you’ll soon be on your way to SEO hero status.