Unfortunately, not many Search Engine Optimization companies know what this involves. You may see a "one size fits all" package, link popularity development in the form of submitting to link farms, or even the dreaded "Submit Your Site to 1000's of Search Engines" scam. While the basic premise of each of these ideas is true, the execution of them is extremely important.
First of all, your web site needs human attention. A real person should thoroughly analyze your site before any work is done. Get them on the phone and ask them questions. There should be a clear process that the Search Engine Optimization company uses and tailors to each client. The SEO company should also have a clear idea of what your goals are for your web site.
The first step in any work that is done should be keyword research. Like any kind of advertising, you need to know where your target market goes and how they find businesses like yours. The keywords chosen should apply to the theme of the web site. High rankings for these keywords should also be obtainable given your budget. If you are a computer repair shop with one or two locations in a city and can not service computers outside your area, then targeting a term such as "computer repair" is overkill. The cost for obtaining high rankings for a term such as that will be far greater than what you will make from the exposure, as much of your web site traffic will not be targeted enough.
Once keywords have been chosen for the web site, the content should be updated to reflect them. This may include subtle changes to the meta tags, page titles and text headings; or it could involve adding additional sections to the site, rewriting content and reorganizing the web site's structure. It all depends on the specific requirements of the site and market.
Once the on-page content optimization is complete, link popularity development needs to be done. A link development campaign should be done to acquire quality incoming links to the web site. This phase of search engine optimization should take place as soon as possible and can be continued as needed. Reciprocal linking is fine as long as some caution is used. There are many sketchy services out there that use huge networks of gambling and pharmacy sites with no unique content. Always make sure that each incoming link can be interpreted by the search engines as a 'vote' by that site for yours. It is worthless and possibly dangerous if the site links out to link farms and Free-For-All sites (FFA's). Writing articles with a link to your web site, getting people to post on forums and message boards, and advertising or getting links to drive targeted traffic to your site are great methods to use in improving your link popularity.
For the most part, you get what you pay for with Search Engine Optimization. A quick fix will rarely works, and if it seems too good to be true it probably is. Talk to the search engine optimization company about your concerns and make sure they understand your goals. Read their site and make sure they seem legitimate. Ask for results they've obtained for previous clients. Methods that not effective and have a chance to get a site banned include hiding text or links, participating in link farms, keyword stuffing, repeat search engine submissions, and copying web sites to multiple domains.
Proper SEO does not involve tricks. Web sites that have well written and well focused content, have been advertised in one way or another (including link popularity development), and overall are a good informational resource will get traffic from the search engines. Search engines are constantly updating ways to weed out the spamming and illegal SEO methods, so think long term with any search engine optimization campaign.
John Metzler is the co-creator of Abalone Designs, Inc. www.abalone.ca, a Search Engine Optimization company in Vancouver, Canada. He has been involved in web design and web marketing since 1999 and has helped turn Abalone Designs into one of the top SEO companies in the world.