Determining if SEO is something my business needs and how much SEO to implement.

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Approximately 80% of all Web traffic now begins at a search engine. Increasing a Web site's natural search engine rankings through SEO can directly and positively impact an e-commerce-enabled Web site selling consumables and other low-cost or commodity products. Studies have shown that second- or third-page rankings can increase Web site traffic by up to nine times. Top 10 rankings, or first page listings, can mean an additional sixfold increase in traffic. The correlating impact on sales is also astronomical: 42% more sales within the first month of Top 10 listings and nearly 100% more the second month. And while paid search is an ever-accruing expense, SEO costs can be amortized over time.

SEO is not a panacea and should be employed as an integral part of an overall marketing strategy. Some studies indicate that paid search advertising may have long-term branding benefits, but the effects on unaided recall of brands within the context of natural search results is largely unknown.

Thus, a company that focuses all of its marketing thrust on SEO won't benefit from the long-term effects of brand-building, which can shorten sales cycles and build cumulative credibility in the market.

The best way to determine whether and how much SEO to implement is to determine how your target customers currently search for your product categories by running a report that provides a historical perspective of the popularity of key phrases that match your interest. If you find that thousands of Internet surfers are searching for your particular category per day, then you should move SEO to the top of your marketing priorities.

Remember that SEO is an ongoing, long-term investment. While the majority of SEO work requires optimizing content, programming and code, you'll need to maintain your efforts in order to remain on top.

Such pressures are both internal and external: Internally, you will undoubtedly update your site's content frequently and will want your new content to show on search engines. External pressures, such as search engines constantly changing their ranking algorithms, will require your designated SEO experts to stay abreast of how your site is being ranked.

Ignoring search marketing altogether can be detrimental to a company. Protect your brand and your competitive edge, and increase your bottom line assets by improving your search visibility.

Hollis Thomases is president and founder of interactive agency Web Ad.vantage.

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