What is SEO?SEO, or search engine optimization, is the term used to describe the process of driving a website to be more popular on search engines such as Google, Yahoo, etc. When people search phrases or words in a search engine (also known as keywords), the results and the order that they appear in is the direct effect of SEO.Do you need SEO?Generally most businesses would answer this question with a resounding yes, however how much you choose to invest into SEO is dependent upon how you want to do business. A lot of business that you generate most likely derives from word of mouth referrals, however, studies from Forrester Research shows that 93% of consumers worldwide use search engines to find and access websites.Consumers are significantly more likely to initiate contact and purchase a product or service from a business that they can find online. If your site can't be easily located online, then your business is missing out on substantial prospective business.How does SEO work?There are a lot of factors concerning SEO. The keywords you choose and the popularity of the search for them and the competition that you have with those keywords are just the beginning. The titles, descriptions, url names, html framework/validity, tags and how they are used are also crucial factors. Backlinks to your site and popularity are also factors. There are hundreds factors and penalties that search engines use in order to deploy SEO. SEO could easily be likened to chemistry. Which brings me to my next point:Should you hire someone for SEO?Absolutely. It is possible for anyone to learn, but let's be honest, you have a business to run. SEO takes a lot of time to learn, employ, and maintain. For most business owners to become expert SEO analysts is unreasonable, but you should be armed with the knowledge of what you need to be more successful from SEO, and what to expect from anyone you employ to do it.In order to have an effective SEO campaign, I would strongly urge anyone to employ an SEO professional. Fortunately, a lot of web design firms specialize in SEO, has someone on staff that does, or can refer you to someone. If your designer does not - there are plenty on the market.What should you watch for when shopping for an SEO specialist?Be extremely cautious of anyone who promises you the top spot on Google or immediate results. As good as that sounds, it really is too good to be true.Effective SEO is slow and steady which equates to months and months of work. It is important to note that the months and months of work are in bits and pieces and not 40-hour work weeks. There are no fast tracks to SEO success and make no mistake about it, search engines are not easily fooled. There are penalties for what has been coined as "Black Hat" SEO techniques. Here are just a few Black Hat SEO techniques:
Keyword stuffing (packing long lists of keywords on your site)
Invisible text (this is done by placing text in your html that does not show up on your website when viewed)
Doorway pages (pages that are added to your website, but never seen)
Tiny text or alt text (placing very small text on your page for spamming keywords)
Mirror sites (sites that is a duplicate of your site)
Submitting your site repeatedly to search engines (which is seen as spamming)Using any of the above tactics will not only get your site penalized in search rankings, it will more than likely get your site banned from search engines altogether.Back links (links on other websites that link to yours) are important to SEO, and getting bad ones or spam links, are not good for SEO. Beware of companies/individuals who use this technique as well. When consulting with an SEO professional, ask them to provide you with a "plan of action" or how they intend to help your SEO. If you see any of the above Black Hat techniques, keep shopping.Those techniques will work, for about 5 minutes until the search engines figure it out, and they usually do, and then it's ban city. You'll have to undo the Black Hat techniques, reformat, resubmit your site, and hopefully they will accept your site again. You are back to square one and have to now employ a legitimate SEO specialist.How long does SEO take?A long time. I like instant gratification as much as the next person, but SEO is where patience really pays off. Once your site is submitted to a search engine it usually can take 1-3 weeks to get indexed, but that's not a promise. After that, it's time to start tweaking the SEO process. Search engines do not update as much as we would like them to, popular keywords today may not be popular next week, if you rank high today - that spot isn't guaranteed forever, or even for tomorrow for that matter, ranks fluctuate, and trends change.With that said, SEO is not a one time event, it is an ongoing process. There are likely thousands of websites who want your spot and if you give up on maintaining SEO efforts, you will lose it, usually pretty fast. A lot of SEO and/or web design companies have packages or hourly rates for SEO and you can choose how much you want to invest in any given month or timeframe.Now that you have a better understanding of what SEO is, how it works, and it's importance to your business, you are well on your way to making smart business decisions concerning your website and it's marketing.