One of those ever popular requests I get in my email box is "Can you SEO my website?". Yes I can but what are you actually asking?
Over and over on the Website Design sites I also see phrases like "SEO built in" but does that mean you will be top of the search engines?
The short answer is "No".
SEOing a website is not always about rankings
To Search Engine Optimize a website means simply to make it clear to the search engines what your website, or a particular page, is about. So:
Pre-SEO: search engines say "I can see this site exists but it's not really clear to me what it is about so I don't know how or where to rank it"
Post-SEO: search engines say "I can see this site is about subject A".
It is what the search engines say after that which determines your ranking so they might say "I can see this site is about subject A but I've got thousands of sites in my index about subject A and this one doesn't seem to offer anything new".
If they do then hard cheese, no top rankings for you until you carry out some further work such as off-page SEO (link building, etc) or paid marketing programmes (PPC, PPI, SEM, etc) to prove you should be higher up the search results.
From $500 to $5,000+
This explains the massive difference in prices that you can receive from some companies when they talk about "SEOing your website".
Most reputable companies assume you mean that you actually want to to rank and get traffic while the cowboys will see easy money in simply changing a few tags here and there and then saying, "you only asked us to SEO the website, nothing about rankings". And they would be right.
To make your site clear to the search engines is one job, to get it to rank is another.
Strangely, in the middle of writing this blog I was invited to bid on an Elance contract which really does sum up what you shouldn't do. Here's the screenshot:
This is someone who is an ideal target for a cowboy company. His request is so vague it is clear that he himself does not really know what he is asking. He'll get a cheap quote, someone will make a few changes to his website, and then say "it is SEOed".
Will his rankings improve? Will he get more traffic? In this case probably not as the site is fairly well established and needs more than a few meta tag adjustments.
So don't ask if someone can "SEO your website", ask them if they can rank you for keywords and make your website effective.
And what is effective? That's what you need to define. Is it people clicking on advertisements, users signing up to some newsletter, buyers buying, etc?
Only when you know what your goals are can you start to work with an online marketing and SEO company in a sensible and cost effective way.