SMBs don't have to worry about domain downtime hurting their SEO value.

If you’re a small business owner and you want to exponentially improve your web presence, content marketing should absolutely be a part of your marketing plan and budget. With the cost of PPC campaigns on the rise, there’s no better time to become involved in strategic activities to improve your organic search status than this upcoming year. If you’re ready to become an online leader in your industry, be sure to avoid these common mistakes (mined from some of the foremost SEO professionals) that could cripple your new initiative from the start.

Ignoring your competitors

You despise their website, you’re irked by the inferior product they sell and you loathe seeing them at conferences. They are your enemy and the bane of your existence. They are also an important SEO resource for someone just starting out.

Before you plot your own strategy, take the time to look into how your main competitors are building their web presence. What keywords are they using? Should you target those keywords as well?

Before you plot your own strategy, take the time to look into how your main competitors are building their web presence. What keywords are they using? Should you target those keywords as well? How successful are their current blog and landing pages? What makes their website a great resource for potential customers? What is their website missing that you can capitalize on?

Ask yourself these questions when analyzing the websites of competitors, and see what you can glean from their best practices – or worst blunders. Take solace in that fact that you can do it better than them by developing an effective organic search strategy.

“Give me back links or give me death!”Quality links are more valuable for brands than a series of low-quality links.

Any time a client tells me that they are working with a “link building company,” I put my skeptical glasses on immediately. If you are thinking of buying into the link-building game, put that checkbook away. Buying links from a cheap service is the worst thing you can do. The power of (low quality) back links is long gone, and these days you may receive a harsh penalty due to Google’s Penguin update. Many sites that built their back link profile using this tactic were hammered by the Penguin update in April of 2011 and beyond. Don’t let this happen to you!

Quantity of back links is an important figure, but quality is much more impactful. And the way you attract quality back links is – say it with me – high-quality content. Engage your community on social media to spread the reach of your content and awareness of your brand. Offer to guest blog on other sites relevant to your product, service or audience. Take a holistic approach and the links will come.

Not thinking about the end user

Some SMB owners get so involved with their back-end SEO structure, that they forget the best SEO is content that people enjoy. The days of “beat the Google algorithm” are over, and anyone who tells you otherwise is probably engaging in some shady SEO tactics. Stop trying to fight Google or trick the search engines. Instead work with them and give the algorithm what it wants: high quality content.

Think broadly – what does my target audience want to read about? What interests them? Spend time building out a customer profile and designing your site and your content to be tailored to that crowd.

No matter who your target audience is – they won’t enjoy reading a keyword-stuffed piece that’s clearly been written for search engines instead of your users’ benefit.

Ignoring local search visibility

This tip is especially important for the brick-and-mortar storefronts that need in-store customers to create conversions. Performance in local SERPs is crucial for an SMB owner, and there are a number of ways to take advantage of local search optimization so potential spenders nearby can find your business.

Local SEO, paired with a strong social presence can help SMBs succeed.To start, claim your business page on Google; It’s free of charge and you can customize the page with phone numbers, photographs, your address, videos and more. Make sure your phone number and address are placed on every page of your website in clear HTML text since search engines can’t “read” photos. Finally, submit your site to all the most popular review sites (Yelp, Angie’s List, CitySearch, etc.), and encourage your customers to leave a review.

Be sure to read David Mihm’s Local Search Ranking Factors as an advanced guide for helping SMB owners achieve better local search results.

Avoiding social media

Having a social media strategy coupled with your SEO and content marketing initiatives is crucial. Connecting on social platforms with your consumers and target audiences on social platforms will increase the reach of your content and SEO strategy.

Create a customized strategy for each of the social platforms that fits your brand and audience – the “big four” would be a great place to start: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest.

Go where your consumers are spending their time online, share your content with them, discuss their wants and needs and make sure everything you do is seen as insightful or engaging. Slowly build an audience on each of these platforms, and see your site referral traffic grow alongside it.

Go where your consumers are spending their time online, share your content with them, discuss their wants and needs and make sure everything you do is seen as insightful or engaging.

Not using your intuition when an SEO partner’s tactic “smells fishy”

Sometimes “too good to be true” really is. Use your gut to tell you when an SEO partner you’ve hired is promising things that make you say, “Is that even possible?” Guaranteeing the No. 1 position on highly competitive keywords or claiming to expand your back link profile exponentially should be immediate red flags. Since SEO can become too technical for most general business practitioners to notice anything off kilter, learn the very basics of SEO so you can protect your site from harm.

As a last resort, ask for a second opinion from another source that may be approaching the strategy with a clear head and unbiased view.

Not having analytics or any tracking set up

Having a tracking system set up for any SEO campaign is crucial to determining the relative success or failure of keywords, traffic, referrals and more. Engaging in SEO and not having any tracking set up is the same as considering yourself an aggressive stock trader, but never reviewing the status of your portfolio.Analytics data helps SMBs understand how their content marketing strategies help sales and traffic.

Sure, simple metrics like tracking keyword rankings is a good start to determining campaign performance, but it’s far from analyzing the entire picture. Beyond keywords, having Google Analytics or another platform set up can give you the data you need to properly measure success.

Come back often to measure your stats and compare data over time to measure your site’s performance with and without an SEO strategy.

Giving up too soon

A strong SEO strategy takes time to develop and blossom, especially for a SMB just getting into the game. It can be frustrating, and even downright maddening to see rankings or traffic go into the red before things pick up.

One month of work will not be enough to see significant results – you should start seeing linear progression with your SEO and content strategy sometime after six months of work. A strong SEO strategy is like filling a bucket one drip at a time. You won’t be able to fill the bucket up all at once, but over time, the bucket (or in this case, the quality of your website) will most certainly be high.

If you’re a small business owner looking to get involved with content marketing in the new year, please heed these instructions and continue reading and researching the best practices for SEO. Partnering with a content marketing agency is also a smart alternative, where you can ensure the right content strategy for your business is in place, but outsource the work to trained professionals who understand the ins and outs of the space.