So you have a website, Twitter and a Facebook page. But these aren’t going to make your phone ring. Not off the hook. I’m a huge proponent of social media marketing and yes, you can achieve results through a thoughtful social campaign and ROI analysis often proves it. But there is a big difference between passive prospects and those who are actually looking for your products or services.

Certainly, targeted social media efforts can capture the fleeting attention of a passerby, but when your business is effectively using search engine optimization (SEO) you garner the attention of consumers who are actively seeking what you have to offer.

If I need a local photographer or yoga studio, I’m not going to Facebook. I’m going to the same place you’re going: Google.

Do you have an SEO blind spot?

It seems pretty basic, I know. But I’m still mystified why many startups neglect the power of ranking in search engines and would rather pour most of their time, money, effort, and energy into passive audiences targeted through direct mail and paid social media campaigns.

Maybe it’s because SEO seems like an elusive art – a quest that involves lots of nerdy knowledge and arduous work over a large amount of time. Thomas Edison was right: “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

Compete and Grow, Locally

Let there be no question about it: SEO is work; it takes time and it does require a good bit of specialized knowledge. Business people are often just too busy running a business to get into all of that – I understand. Yet, if you want to make your phone ring, if you want your business to grow, you need SEO. Here are 3 things you can do.

1. Don’t bag social media.

It’s true that social media is a must in today’s marketplace. “Globally, 46% of consumers with a digital device used social media to help make purchase decisions” and “71% of Internet users are more likely to purchase from a brand that they are following on a social networking site such as Twitter or Facebook” (Top Rank Online Marketing). At the very least it’s another hook in the water. It’s simple and it’s a worthwhile use of your time and marketing resources.

2. Learn SEO basics.

There are many accessible aspects to SEO. Even Google, with the release of Google My Business, is on a mission to make it “easier than ever to update business information across Google Search, Maps and Google+” by offering a rudimentary CRM platform for small businesses (SMBs).

Even if you’d never have the time to devote yourself to it, it’s good to know SEO basics if you hire someone to take it on. This way you’ll have a good idea of what they’re doing and what you’re paying for. It will also help you better understand your role in the process, such as making sure your website content is authoritative and contains keywords that flow in appropriate context.

3. Budget for SEO.

It takes some marketing spend to make your phone ring. But it’s going to be well worth the investment. Just as you would allocate marketing spend to any other effort, create a budget line item for SEO. Remember, SEO is a long-haul process. It takes a firm commitment. You can’t simply “set it and forget it.” Getting to the top of search engine results pages (SERPs) isn’t the same as staying on top.

SEO is a long view marketing strategy and it’s worth every penny—especially local SEO for niche markets. Find an SEO professional who speaks in layman’s terms—geeky, but accessible. They don’t just spout off industry jargon like SERP. Instead they say “search engine results page” and communicate in a way that is helpful.

Search engine optimization takes work, but so does any other worthwhile effort in business. Marketing to a passive audience may render decent results, but when you connect with people who are actively looking for your products and services it will take your business to the next level.