Most small businesses that run a website today don't have the insider knowledge to optimize their content and overall visibility online. I personally handle internet marketing issues--SEO, PPC, e-mail marketing, copywriting--every day, and I'm always surprised to see how many businesses have no understanding of what SEO means, let alone know how to approach it.
In the vast sea of websites--from e-commerce, media and informational websites to blogs and wikis--most site owners use a basic approach to search engine optimization. They submit their site to more than 200 search engines and blast these with some domains and keywords that may be related to the site. Some go to blogs and forums--related or not--and start "fishing" for links (making random, non-intelligent forum comments and submitting links back to their site). Even worse, they'll pay companies to undertake this useless exercise.
Next, if that doesn't work, they will purchase a marketing book, apply all the techniques and sit back, hoping that something will take. Often this will be done by an IT person who has been told to optimize the company website, which isn't part of their daily routine or knowledge space.
Rather than these slapdash attempts, you need a strong, long-term commitment to SEO and must always stay on top of the search engines and their ever-changing, underlying landscape.
Google, the top search engine--and the one to optimize for--handles more than 50 percent of search traffic and utilizes more than 100 algorithms to track and manage HTML content ("on-page factors"), external profiles ("off-page factors"), link architectures, popularity and reputation, as well as PageRank calculation (a complex site voting system) and web bots. The content gathered from spidering search-friendly sites gets stored into huge databases (called the "index") on a powerful grid of network computers.
Google weighs all of these elements into an overall score, and if you have optimized well in all areas and have reviewed your competition and their strategy (I'll talk about how to do this in an upcoming article), you can and will rank well for fairly competitive key terms. You must realize, though, that the more competitive your term is, the longer it will take--but you can get there.
Jon Rognerud founded chaosmap.com -- a search marketing firm focusing on SEO, SMM, PPC, client strategy, and implementation.