Search engines are huge databases of web documents, sites or pages. Each item in the database is categorized - like a book in a library. The search engines - Google, Yahoo, AltaVista, Bing and many others - rely on certain information in order to correctly categorize a site.
The required information ranges from meta tag requirements to keyword selection and density. The process of ensuring that a web site provides correct information for the search engines is known as natural or organic search engine optimization or SEO.
Optimizing a site takes more than just choosing every keyword you can think of and stuffing them into a meta tag. It involves mathematical models used by the search engines to organize the "search space".
Good SEO begins with research. In order to compete on the internet you need to know what your competitors are doing, what your customers are searching for and what unique VALUE you offer.
Competitive research is pretty straight forward - marketers have been doing this since the beginning of commerce. It involves finding out who your competition is, what they offer and identifying how you differ from them. This should take an experienced optimizes anywhere from a few hours to a few days - depending on your market.
Finding what customers are searching for online is a little more tricky. With literally millions (billions?) of possible keyword/key phrase combinations the process of finding successful terms takes sophisticated tools, a little trial and error and good old common sense. Once keywords/ key phrases are identified they need to be incorporated into your web site. Both in your "meta tags" and in your copy. These terms are periodically refined to include new products/services, promotions and to adapt to changes in search trends.
Let's talk about copy. The whole reason for your site is to introduce yourself and your products to potential customers. Well written copy is golden - it will be seen as valuable by search engines and will help to propel your site closer to the top of targeted search term listings. If you are not much of a writer then consider paying for a professional copywriter. It will be worth every penny. Do not just skip the text in favor of pictures.
Once your site is keyword ready it is time to move on to off page optimization. This involves link building, social media development, article writing, PR releases, email marketing and any othe3r activity designed to draw traffic to your site from another location. Off page optimization needs to be done on a regular basis for the life of the site. Think of it as building new roads to your business - each new road or shortcut increases the likelihood that your customers will find your business.
Everyone wants their web site to be #1 when a potential customer searches for "key" words describing their business. The number one spot will receive a much higher click through rate and usually a much higher conversion rate. With hard work, a reasonable budget and a little ingenuity your site can be #1 for your most valuable keyword. It is unlikely it will be number one for all your favored terms - choose wisely.
A client should give any site optimization at least three to six months before evaluating it's success.