Garry Grant, CEO, SEO, Inc.

1. What does search engine optimization do?
The purpose of search engine optimization is to code a Web site so that it has enhanced visibility (high rankings) on search engines. There are numerous tactics used to accomplish this, including: keyword research and selection; directory listing; the correct use of meta tags, alt tags, and image tags, site content; and so on.
Companies conduct search engine optimization campaigns in order to drive qualified prospects to online properties - something that builds brand awareness, increases traffic, and most important, boosts sales.

2. What makes SEO the most important form of Web site promotion?

A quote from BrandWeek Online sums it up succinctly: "Search engine optimization may be just one part of an online marketing strategy, but it is the fundamental part. If you are doing nothing else, search engine optimization and keyword-related advertising can make up 80 to 90 percent of your traffic, which translates into increased sales."

Our research, as well as the research of other SEO firms, validates this statement. Consider these few facts:

• Seventy-seven percent of Internet users employ search engines to find Web sites (so search engines are the vehicle the vast majority of individuals use to get around the Internet)

• More than 55 percent of all Internet purchases begin with a search engine, but 93 percent of these consumers do not look past the first two pages of search engine results

• Seventy-eight percent of users will abandon their query if the first three pages of results do not yield an answer to their question

Top search engine rankings also translate into brand equity. Thirty-three percent of users think that if a company has a top ranking on a search engine, it is a leader in its field.

All of these statistics lead to one conclusion: search engine optimization is the most important strategy a company can employ if it plans to be successful doing business on the Web.

3. What is most challenging for SEO on a grass roots level?

The Web is infamous for being fast moving, for constantly evolving, and for being mercilessly competitive. These characteristics are even more pronounced with search engine optimization because it is so important and so much money is at stake.

In the end, though, search engine optimization boils down to keeping up with ever-changing, extremely sophisticated technology. The algorithms (formulas) that drive search engines are unique to each one and are constantly being modified. Search engine optimization firms have to understand the intricacies of these algorithms in order to get their clients ranked in the top five or so positions during a relevant query.

4. What advice would you give to a small business that is putting up its first site?

Architect your site with search engines in mind. In other words, optimize your site for search engines when you build it, and keep optimizing it for as long as you are in business. There is no other way to succeed on the Web.

5. What are common pitfalls that you frequently see on Web sites?

Common pitfalls that we come across include the use of frames, the improper use of dynamic content, and the improper use of Flash. These are just a few, though. If a company doesn't understand successful search engine optimization, there are hundreds of mistakes that can be coded into the site. These common mistakes are viewed everyday by countless clients inquiring about our search engine optimization services. In fact, 97 percent of the fortune 500 companies have some kind of architectural problem preventing successful indexing by the search engine crawlers.

6. What is spamming in the search engine world?

Spamming means using deceptive techniques in order to make a Web site appear more relevant to a search engine than it actually is. The purpose of spamming is to artificially boast rankings.

Examples of popular spamming techniques include adding fake pages to a site, using hidden text, cloaking, or redirecting links. Search engines, though, are very good at catching unethical optimization techniques, making them a waste of effort and time.

7. What is your opinion of pay-per-click as a Web promotion technique?

Pay-per-click as a promotion technique can be a valuable facet in an overall marketing strategy. It is a good short-term fix while you are waiting for your search engine optimization efforts to kick in.

8. How do you think Yahoo's switching from Google to Inktomi for its search results will affect Web searching? How do you see it affecting SEO, Inc.?

Yahoo's switching to Inktomi is great. Individuals will now have multiple sources to conduct effective search queries. For Search Engine Optimization, Inc., it does not present a problem, as we are already quite knowledgeable about Inktomi's algorithms. Search Engine Optimization, Inc. is the first SEO company listed on Inktomi's search property.

9. What advice would you give to a business owner who is putting up his or her first Web site and has little knowledge of Web promotion?

Optimize your Web site as you build it. Ways that you can do this include creating title tags, meta tags, alt tags, comments tags; utilizing keywords throughout; and taking advantage of cross-linking opportunities.

10. Where do you see search engines in 12 months?

It's an exciting industry - one that has gotten considerably more press since Google filed for its IPO.

The next 12 months will be a time of great change. I think that we'll see increased differentiation between popular search engines and new features that make them more useful and valuable.

11. How would you advise a company to spend a limited budget for Web promotion?

Search engine optimization is the most cost-effective way to ensure that your Web site is visible to prospects and customers over the long-term. The statistics that I cited earlier prove that top rankings create sales and brand awareness.

Simply put, search engine optimization delivers a quick return on investment and tangible and significant benefits.

12. Open comment.

Search engines process more than 400 million queries every day. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Commerce has predicted that online sales will triple from $80 billion to $240 billion by the end of 2004.

We are seeing the next wave of the e-commerce revolution - the real fulfillment of the Web's promise. Savvy companies recognize that search engine optimization is the way to capitalize on this boom.

But most companies are part of the "Invisible Web" - the billions of Web pages that search engines can't find. These Web pages exist in cyberspace, but because they are improperly coded, they are lost in space.

Here's the proof: Only 16 percent of all Web pages registered to search engines are actually indexed. This means that search engines can't find 84 percent of all Web pages.

It all comes down to this: If your Web site isn't indexed and optimized for search engines, then your online initiatives will likely flounder. But if your Web site is properly indexed, then your online initiative will flourish.