What is SEO?
Search Engine Optimization is the process of improving the natural search visibility of a website without involving paid advertising. In the beginning early stages of the Internet, there were hundreds of different web search engines such as Alta vista, Webcrawler, Lycos, and Excite just to name a few. Today, most of the search optimization efforts revolves around Google, Bing and Yahoo. You can get the most impact for your website's visibility just from these three main players. If you really want to get your bang for buck, most SEO will go with Google alone. As at October 2011, Google commands a 82.4% market share of the desktop search. You can expect pretty much most of your search traffic to come from Google.
Why do does my business website need SEO?
As illustrated above, most of the traffic to websites are driven through search results. If your website and its content are not visible to the search engine crawler, you are missing a tremendous opportunity to bring visitors and mostly importantly, potential customers / clients to your website.
Aren't search engines smart enough to see my website without SEO?
While search engines are constantly improving to better understand your website's content, they are still currently limited by machine's intelligence. For example, you may have a great sale poster on your website but because it is in an image form, no current search engine will do Optical Character Recognition on the image to see what it is about. There are many other aspects of a website that can affect how well a search engine crawler is able to read your content.
SEO versus Paid / Sponsored Links
When considering between paying Google to display sponsored listings on their search results and paying a SEO company to improve the natural search visibility of your website, you have to look at what you are trying to achieve with your website and within what time frame.
SEO is a time consuming process that will not produce immediate results because beyond doing what is required on the SEO consultant's end, a lot of the process depends on how long Google takes to crawl your website as well as the websites carrying backlinks to your website. The topics of backlinks will be discussed in a separate post, it will suffice to say it is what Google takes to represent the popularity and legitimacy of your website.
Despite not being able to see immediate results, SEO is still preferable for a business website because in the long run, minus the initial cost, having your website listed naturally in search results will cost you nothing. As an internet user myself, I also tend to trust that an organic search result is more likely to bring me to a site with something I am looking for.
On the other hand, sponsored link marketing providers such as Google's AdWords is extremely helpful for new businesses or websites that need to gain immediate visibility. The sponsored link philosophy behind AdWords is a Pay-Per-Click system where you can specify how much you are willing to pay whenever your website appears on a particular keyword search and a user clicks on your Ad. You can read more about Google's sponsored link advertising service on this blog.
While AdWords makes search visibility accessible to small or new businesses with limited budget. You may find that maintaining a sustainable stream of visitors to your website can get costly very quickly.
Which route should I take?
Therefore, a common strategy businesses employ would be to start with sponsored listing at the beginning to get some traffic flowing. At the same time, they start working on Search Engine Optimization in parallel. When the SEO starts to show results in the form of organic traffic, they can then scale back on the sponsored listing budget or stop completely. There is no fixed strategy for every company as it depends heavily on the nature of your business or website. A capable SEO consultant will be able to advise you on which course to take after evaluating your business needs.