A good SEO strategy has many facets and, depending upon your business, you need to define your priorities and plan your SEO accordingly. A B2B company that sells a product to a certain industry will most likely want to concentrate on organic ranking. A local business that depends upon walk in traffic will probably want to also focus on the local map ranking. Understanding the components that influence these rankings is important. Businesses should also be aware of good practices and bad practices to achieve their goals. The article Backlinks VS Citations – Mastering Organic And Local Rankings by Nevyana Karakasheva does a fantastic job of laying out the details.
Google My Business has added some helpful guidelines for businesses working with third parties on SEO. This article from Joy Hawkins is helpful in understanding some of the potential pitfalls and hazards. Google admits there can be value in working with an SEO company, but businesses should use some caution.
Citations are mentions of your business on the internet, with or without a link. They can be any combination of your company name, phone, address, zip code. Structured citations are the most common and are usually found on business listing sites. Unstructured citations are mentions of your business on blogs, event listings, newspapers sites, job databases, etc.
Citations are a major component to improving your local search visibility and not all citations are created equally. A mention of your business on a random spammy site can actually hurt your ranking, while having your business name, address and phone listed on whitehouse.gov gives you an incredibly high level of credibility.
It is important to check the quality of the citation source, before seeking it. A good resource for determining if you want to seek a citation is Whitespark, which has an excellent blog post on identifying quality citation sources.
Most people think when they go to Google they are searching the web. But they aren't. The web is a great big place and it's all interconnected, but it isn't organized. What you are actually searching is Google's index of the web. Do you remember the days when libraries had a card catalogue? That catalogue is the equivalent of the Google index. The catalogue is organized and once you find the entry for the content you are looking for, the card tells you where to go find it.
So, what does that actually mean? It basically means that Google "spiders" are crawling the web, clicking on links to see where they go and keeping track of what they find. They try to determine what each website is about by looking at keywords on the site and they store the information. They repeat the process until they presumably hit every website that is connected to another. This is going on constantly, building an index so that when a user searches for a term, Google knows the best results to send back. So, in order to have your website rank within Google, you need to get into the index and you need to make sure that the right keywords get stored.
The only way Google can find a website is if it is somehow connected to another. Or if the site advertises itself to Google by submitting a site map. A site map is really the best way to accomplish this because as your site changes and grows, the site map will make Google aware.