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Determining if there are opportunities to increase organic search traffic before spending more on paid search and media.

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While search engine optimization (SEO) has been around for years, there is still a tremendous opportunity to improve organic search traffic. Even sophisticated, optimized sites can often improve their results significantly.

Determining whether to invest additional resources in organic SEO rather than paid traffic alternatives requires you to do the following:

1) Define the role organic search should play in your overall site traffic strategy.

Identify the level of search demand for your business and what your target customers are searching for. Then assess the search volume you expect from focused optimization efforts. Map out your strategy to balance paid search in your SEO program. For maximum impact, paid and organic search programs should work in concert.

2) Understand the acquisition costs of your Web traffic sources. Review the financial metrics across your online traffic programs. This may require setting up a Web analytics tracking program (e.g., Google Analytics or HBX Analytics) or enhancing your current analytics tracking program. Then a financial "hurdle rate" can be established to inform decisions on the appropriate investment levels for additional SEO efforts.

3) Understand what is possible and proceed with caution. Interview companies for their recommendations, and educate yourself in the process. Be wary of "black hat" SEO tactics, such as link farms, doorway pages, improper use of redirects, content and link spamming, cloaking, inappropriate keyword stuffing and invisible text, which can result in being removed altogether from Google and Yahoo indices for years. Find a partner that understands your business, and invest in SEO with the same mind-set you do with other paid media.

By following these steps, you can make clear and confident decisions about how to modify your investment in SEO.

Bill Parkes is senior VP-interactive and technology services at marketing agency nFusion Group (www.nfusion.com).

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