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What Search Engines Do
The basic understanding of what a search engine does and how it does it is crucial to understanding what optimization can offer your website.  The goal of any good search engine is to display the websites that you want to see.  If you are looking for a carpet cleaner in southwest Georgia, they don’t want you to find a dog catcher in New Egypt.  A search engine is basically an electronic version of that friend you have who knows everyone… Like my buddy TJ.  When you say, “TJ, I need some new tires.”  He says, “Here’s my guy on Broad.”  When you say, “TJ, I need a penguin.”  He says, “I know a guy in Maui, but it’s ’gunna cost you.”

Search engines don’t have the luxury of knowing every website on a personal level.  To compensate for this they have developed several algorithms to determine the category, location, validity and vitality of a website.  The variables that are plugged into these algorithms cover an overwhelming number of areas associated with your website.  They look at everything from structure to performance, from traffic to syndication.  They look at everything.

These variables are plugged into their algorithms, and their algorithms determine how high on what search your website appears.  At this point you must think like a potential client.  If someone knows the name of your company but doesn’t know your web address, it should be pretty easy to find you.  If, however, potential clients need a service done in their area but don’t know where to turn it is unlikely they will by happen stance type in the name of your company.  More times then not they will type in the field + location (depending on field).

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There are billions of websites out there.  Optimizing (or developing) your site for search engines helps you stand out (to a search engine anyway).  Optimizing your site is like being introduced to TJ, and that can make the difference between being on page 1 or page 343,000,000.  But you should know what SEO can and cannot do for you.

SEO cannot make worthwhile guarantees.
I am very wary of any company that guarantees what another company will do.  If you are given a guarantee that your site will be listed on the first page of a search engine you’d better hope you are not the 11th company to take that guarantee.  If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

SEO can enhance your algorithmic performance.
The wisest way to gage optimization is with a third party ranking system.  These ranking systems do not determine where you will place, but they do a pretty good job of predicting it.

SEO cannot make an immediate difference.
There is no specific time frame in which search engines crawl (or examine) your site.  You might begin to see results over night.  It might take several weeks.

SEO can make difference when your site is crawled.
There are a myriad of ways that search engine optimization can help your website to be noticed by search engines of every kind.  I don’t want to give away too much but meta data, page summaries and alternate text for pictures all help search engines understand your website.  RSS feed options, social media affiliations and retweets all help search engines know you are active.

SEO cannot make you the only result.
Odds are you have competition.  It is entirely possible that your competitors are optimizing their sites as well.  Even if you have a perfectly optimized site if your competition’s site is comparable, you may not receive a better ranking.

SEO can make you electronically competitive.
It would be great to be the number one spot in the search field of your choice, but even if you are a spot or two behind your competition that is ok.  You probably weren’t the first number in the phonebook either (back when they still printed phonebooks).  You don’t have to be number one to be competitive.  One of the reasons that people shop online is the ease of comparison.  This is where the other website elements can help you succeed.

SEO cannot give you success.
Let’s imagine for a moment that you had a dishonest business with terrible customer service and an amateur website that was FULLY optimized.  Even if you were the top result and got thousands of hits a day, it would be unlikely that your product or your company would succeed in the long run.

SEO can be a tool to success.
Let’s imagine the opposite scenario.  Let’s imagine that you had an honest business with supreme customer care and an informative, dynamic website that was impossible to find.  I have no doubt that you would eventually find success if you were able to ride out that wave, but with the right tools, you could accomplish more in less time.  Search engine optimization is a tool like any other: useful in the right hands.

Search engine optimization can set you apart.  Let’s talk about how proper SEO can help you succeed.
Daniel Titus