SEO is not "free." Doing it yourself may not cost as much out of pocket
as paid advertising, but it will cost you great deal of time -- both your time in terms of learning how to do proper SEO and then implement what needs to be done, and the time it will take for your efforts to generate an effect.
You can pay someone else to work on SEO for you, which will decrease (but not eliminate) the amount of time you have to invest in the project... but if you want someone who actually knows what they're doing and will produce real, long-lasting results for you, they're not going to be cheap.
As I am fond of saying: there's fast, there's cheap, and there's good. You get to choose two
. If you want good SEO, you'll have to choose between cheap and fast. You can't have all three. (Sorry.)
The two biggest differences between an SEM campaign and an SEO campaign: SEM will have an immediate effect, while SEO can take months to "kick in." Even if you've hired a pro. On the other hand, the benefits from a good SEO campaign can continue for years, while the benefits of SEM stop the instant you pause the campaign.
The main problem with SEO is that you will find a great deal of outdated information and outright wrongheaded ideas online. You will run into a lot of so-called "SEO experts" who will be happy to take your money, but who will not deliver the best results.
There are a lot of so-called "SEOs" who speak with what seems to be a great deal of authority but who have very little to no idea what they're talking about. Very few of them actually test their ideas; most simply repeat something they read somewhere else. Most of the few who actually try testing have no training in how to set up or evaluate a statistically valid experiment, so their tests are essentially worthless.
If you wind up hiring or following the advice of these "guru-wannabees" you'll end up wasting a lot of time on tactics that will have little to no effect.
There are three things you need for good SEO:
- A highly user-friendly website -- easy to navigate without excessive clicking, easy for visitors to find information, logical menu structure, informative link anchor text, etc. It is not necessary for your code to pass W3C validation, and passing that validation will not improve your rankings. In fact, it's quite possible to produce a site that passes validation with flying colors but is still completely unusable. Usability trumps validation every time.
- Excellent content -- engaging, interesting and useful. For more information on how to create high-converting content, check with sites like The Conversion Scientist, Marketing Experiments or Psychotactics. Articles written by overseas writers who do not fluently speak and write your language and/or articles pulled from article directories and/or automated product feeds do not count as "excellent content."
- Solid editorial links -- that is, links that other website owners create pointing to your pages because you have such excellent content or because you did something noteworthy and they want to share it with their own site visitors. These are not links that you created yourself. They are NOT blog comments, or forum signatures, or directory submissions or any of the other easy link sources you'll read about from many so-called "SEOs". For excellent information about link acquisition, try checking our moderator Debra Mastaler at Alliance-Link or Eric Ward (author of the "Link Moses" newsletter).
I don't mean to scare you away. I think every business owner needs to plan for and implement site optimization if they want to maximize the positive ROI from their website. (I use the term "site optimization" deliberatel. It's more useful for you if you think about what you need to do in terms of site
optimization and not just search engine
I just don't want you to go into this thinking that it's going to be something you can knock out quickly and with little effort.