By Robert Weatherhead, Operation's Director for Latitude Express and BT SearchSmart

When most people think about Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) they focus on their website. But in reality, true optimisation for the search engines should cover far more than your website and should take into account anywhere online your company, brand or service is represented. In some industries how you are represented or found on 3rd party sites can be far more important than your website itself. Here are just 5 of the areas to consider when looking at your overall search engine presence.

Review sites: a major influencer when making purchase decisions for items ranging from holidays to restaurants to plumbers. There are review sites and services for most sectors and the search engines tend to rank these sites highly as they have fresh unique content and are useful to the search engine user. These types of sites are likely to rank highly for brand/company name searches and so should be part of your SEO strategy.

Local Listings: Google Places and the equivalent offerings from Yahoo and Bing are becoming increasingly prominent and important for an SME business. Google is now displaying local search results for a much broader set of keywords and is also dedicating a much larger slice of the search engine results page (SERP) to them. A Google Places listing is a key piece of the SEO armoury for any business with a physical location.

Discussion Forums: Discussion forums are everywhere and there is a strong possibility that your company or at least your sector is being discussed and these threads are likely to appear in the SERPs. You should be aware of you company or brand being mentioned and engage in the discussion to ensure that if a searcher comes across the thread, you will be represented in a positive light.

Social Channels: Tweets, Facebook pages and Linkedin profiles regularly appear in the search results for a whole host of different keywords, most notably your brand terms. Make sure you have a presence on the main social channels and keep them up to date with relevant content to optimise your presence when they appear.

Directories/Trade Bodies: If you have a listing on any of the major business or service directories or on a trade body website there is a strong chance it is appearing in the search engine results when people are looking for information about your company. Make sure you keep your listings up to date and include keyword relevant content as these are sources of traffic and business as much as your own website.

More and more 3rd party sites referencing your company or service are having an influence on a users purchasing decision. Before they even find their way to you website they are likely to come across reviews or comments which alter their searcher behaviour. It is important that you get your company in front of potential customers as early as possible in the process and their overall experience is positive. So next time you sit down to look at your SEO, it is worth considering how your presence away from your own website could be improved.

Rob is Operation's Director for leading SME search marketing specialist Latitude Express and BT SearchSmart, a partnership between Latitude and BT which provides search marketing for small businesses across the UK.