I love those emails I receive multiple times a day. "We can get you on the top position of Google with our proven SEO strategies." That's an ambiguous statement and also one to be skeptical of. There's a reason the search engine optimization business is full of scams. For one, the average website owner has no clue about what it means to optimize a site or that optimizing is an option.

Even having a grasp on simple SEO is a process that most people find elusive, so it's relatively easy for a shady marketing company to send out these emails and lure in the gullible. That's not to say every company pushing search engine optimization services is out to extort you; it's the nature of the beast in any business to prey on the uniformed.

The thing is SEO is necessary. It's also time consuming and a never ending process that requires a level of proficiency and a technical understanding of marketing on the web. And unfortunately it can be an expensive endeavor. What makes it even more daunting is it's just one element in a Search Engine Marketing (SEM) campaign. But it's the one element that can drastically improve your exposure on the web and help drive conversions.

And that's really the end goal: to increase your conversion rate.

So what about these claims from marketers guaranteeing you top positions in the search engines? Is it a scam? The scam is in the wording. It's fairly easy to rank on page one of Google, Bing or Yahoo. It doesn't necessarily mean you'll see conversions. I can crank out number one rankings for your site all day long. It will be for completely non-competitive keywords that drive absolutely no traffic and my job is done. Thank you for the thousand dollars. See ya.

So in that regard, a company wouldn't be lying about ranking your site. Is it a ranking you're willing to pay a thousand dollars for? Certainly not. Rankings have zero value if there's no traffic. An honest SEO company will only promise to improve your rankings to give you an increase in traffic and hopefully qualified traffic that converts.

What are the steps SEOs take to accomplish optimization? Basically, there are three categories.

  • On Page SEO: This is making sure all of the html body and header tags are in the right place and that they are highlighting the right keywords so that the search engines will know what your site is about and can rank you accordingly. Content (having easily definable and relative keywords in articles) and architecture (how easy it is for spiders to crawl your site and identify your keywords) are other critical factors. Architecture is basically your internal linking structure, optimizing anchor text links in your content to other content on your site. Internal linking is a highly underestimated practice but it is one of the proven search engine marketing methods to strengthen rankings significantly.

  • Technical SEO: This kind of optimization is focused toward managing redirects, fixing broken links, URL canonicalization issues and the like. The importance of URL canonicalization is to preserve link juice, or the ranking authority of your site. For instance, if you have links pointing to http://www.yourwebsite.com, http://yourwebsite.com and http://yourwebsite.com/index.html, even though they all take you to the same place, you are losing out on the benefit of optimizing one URL and are spreading your rank authority over several.

  • Off-page SEO: This is the end-all, be-all of your link building campaign. Having properly anchored text links from other websites pointing to your website is how search engines measure your site's popularity and thus how you are ranked for a keyword. Getting the kind of quality links that matter pointing to your website is worth the cost of paying a professional.

So how do you know who's reliable and trustworthy? Well, here's a great list to start with: http://www.seomoz.org/marketplace/companies/recommended.

In any event, it’s always best practice to ask for references and stay away from guarantees. People like guarantees in SEO because it makes them feel warm and fuzzy about their decision to invest hundreds of dollars into something intangible. My opinion is to look for something performance based. Performance based SEO is a pay-as-you-go system. Pay for results, not promises and there will be less of a chance of you getting conned.

Connect with to learn the ONE secret SEO handshake for ALL optimization hangouts!