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What These SEO Experts Want You to Know About Being Seen As the 'Top Choice' For Your Service First step from an SEO expert: Target the suburbs or surrounding areas -- not just the cities -- where people are living and searching from.

By Aimee Tariq Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Stuart Kinlough | Getty Images

Not long ago, your customers probably didn't feel as though they were drowning in a sea of options. They relied on a handful of local companies to serve their everyday needs, and they easily remained loyal to their favorite brands.

Related: 7 Best SEO Tools to Help You Rank Higher in Google

But times have changed: Today, customers -- yours and everybody else's -- are being bombarded with an overwhelming amount of choices on everything from where to grab a slice of pizza to where to hire a trustworthy lawyer; and that leaves them more indecisive than ever. Not to mention that the modern-day consumer doesn't want to be heavily marketed to, but rather wants to feel in full control of the buying process.

To do that, and simplify the decision-making process overall, consumers are turning to the one place so many of us deem the most credible, trustworthy source in the world: Google.

That statement is supported by the data: According to Internet Live Stats, Google receives over 72,000 searches per second on any given day. So a lot of people are likely searching online for what you have to offer. Your job is simply to rank well in Google and other search engines, to demonstrate to potential customers that you're the top choice in your city for your product or service.

If you are a local business owner who relies heavily on local inbound traffic, ranking high in search engines is more critical than ever today. According to Google's Consumer Insights, there's been a 900 percent increase in Google "near me" searches. This goes to show just how important local SEO is for the success of brick and mortar businesses.

Go for the less competitive markets.

Though most entrepreneurs understand the impact good or bad SEO can have on their sales, SEO is still often highly misunderstood. As Cyle Patnode, founder and CEO of Your Online Advisors, told me by phone, "Most of the time, SEO companies want to focus on the biggest city instead of targeting the suburbs or surrounding areas where people are living and searching from.

"The smartest practice," Patnode continued, "is to grab the less competitive markets, which helps sculpt your authority to Google and position you as the top option, creating the future path to showing up in major metropolitan cities."

That said, most local businesses are experiencing the negative side effects of not being on page 1 of Google nowadays, and it's not rare to see a company that's been at the top of search engines in the past suddenly drop off that position. If that has happened to your business, chances are you've started shopping around for a reputable SEO agency to hire.

Related: These 9 SEO Tips Are All You'll Ever Need to Rank in Google

Whether you want to grow your business by showing up on Google in every area for your services, or you want to be seen as the "top choice" in your city, here are five things to know before you hire an SEO agency:

1. Have a basic understanding of what SEO firms do before you hire one.

Unfortunately, since SEO is an evolving set of practices and one of the most difficult skills to master, it leaves most entrepreneurs confused as to what they are paying for when they hire an SEO agency. Signing up for this type of service simply means you are offering someone compensation to increase your website's visibility and drive more organic traffic to it.

An SEO agency should be considered a long-term b usiness investment and a relationship, since an SEO agency's job is to make sure your website continues to rank high in the search engines for years to come.

2. Recognize that the speed of your website is a critical factor in SEO.

Ideally, your company's website should already be optimized for the fastest loading time possible before you hire an SEO agency, if you want to see the best results and increase your rankings as quickly as possible. As Neil Patel, co-founder of Crazy Egg, Hello Bar and KISSmetrics explained on his blog, website speed "is the kiss of death in today's marketplace.

"A slow page can frustrate the user experience and ultimately discourage people from buying your product. If your pages are slow, you're fighting a losing battle for top organic listings, regardless of the quality of your content or your professional website design."

According to Google's internal studies, when a page loads slowly, visitors spend less time there. If you want to get more out of SEO, consider spending a generous amount of time to improve your page speed.

3. Choose an SEO firm with clear case studies and client results.

Chances are you've been burned before and are skeptical about hiring another SEO expert or digital marketing firm, but rest assured: There are reputable agencies that get their clients real results, fast. Since SEO is a long-term investment, you naturally want to see progress being made and your rankings rising each month; so be sure to choose an agency with clear values, client results and case studies that help you rest assured knowing that an ROI is likely.

4. If you're skeptical whether an SEO agency outsources its client work overseas, ask.

It's true that many SEO agencies outsource their work overseas, but many do not. With sites like Freelancer, Fiverr and other low-cost options for businesses to outsource client work nowadays, it's understandable why you'd be skeptical. Make sure you do your due diligence: Ask before you hire an agency. Knowledge is power.

5. Find out whether the SEO firm you're considering offers a "done-with-you" or a "done-for-you SEO" content strategy.

Building and publishing consistent content that is useful to your customer base will help you generate more traffic and leads, especially if you've already produced a generous amount of content before you hired an SEO firm.

As Ryan Deiss, CEO of Digital Marketer, wrote on Digital Marketer, "When you find a keyword you want to rank for and you've done the research around your ideal audience -- the next step is to build SEO-friendly content." That will help you understand what you need to do to rank better than your competition in search results.

Related: 10 Fundamentals to Understanding SEO

SEO can be confusing, but these five tips will help you understand how it can work for your business so it shows up on the first page of Google and is seen as the top choice in your city. So, make sure you follow these steps and also look for a reputable SEO agency willing to build a long-term relationship with you and your business.

Aimee Tariq

Founder and CEO of A Life With Health

Aimee Tariq is most passionate about empowering professionals to live their best lives by removing toxic triggers and maximizing energy, focus and productivity. At the age of 23 she became a no. 1 bestselling author for health optimization.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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