SEO could benefit many businesses who are looking to increase their online presence and drive more targeted traffic to their websites. Unfortunately the SEO industry is not known for its transparency and this can be confusing for businesses that are wondering just what exactly they will be getting in return for their investment.The SEO industry has also attracted a lot of cowboys who employ “black-hat” techniques that go against the policies of Google and the other search engines. You should make sure that your SEO will be done using ethical “White Hat” techniques.Businesses that unwittingly employ an SEO that uses these techniques may see short term results until Google discovers the footprints left behind by these techniques, at which point they will see a negative effect on their search engine rankings. The black hat SEO offers quick fixes and is usually long gone by this point!What’s With all the Hats?The term “Black Hat” comes from the old western movies, the bad guys always wore black hats! The good guys wore white hats, you will hear ethical SEO referred to as “White Hat” SEO. Remember the bad guys always got their just deserts!What Should your SEO be Doing for Your Business?It is important to know exactly what your SEO will be doing for you and how they will provide you with measurable results. Be wary of any SEO who offers a guaranteed ranking, it is impossible to guarantee a ranking with Google or any other search engine!Any SEO who can guarantee results without even knowing which keywords you want to target is using this as a marketing ploy, how could they guarantee results if you wanted to compete for keywords like “Apple”, “Google” or “Facebook”?!Without conducting keyword research it is impossible to tell how likely the success of an SEO campaign will be and how long it is likely to take. SEO is an ongoing process of research, testing and analysis. It takes careful planning to identify the best keywords and to then put a solid strategy in place to rank for those keywords.On-site and Off Site SEOSEO takes into account factors that are both on-site and off-site. On-site SEO entails an analysis of your website. It involves looking at many factors including the site structure, use of keywords, the sites content, page loading times and the HTML and CSS that the site is built with. Good on-site SEO benefits the end user and also helps to avoid any technical “Gotchas” that search engines don’t like, such as duplicate content.A good SEO will start by analysing your site and making recommendations to improve an optimise the site for both users and search engines. Off site SEO involves creating relevant backlinks from other sites to yours.Each backlink is counted by the search engines as a vote for your site. Websites are given an authority score called Page Rank. Each time a site links to you it shares a little bit of its page rank with you, links from high authority sites share more of this page rank than lower authority sites. Incoming links to a site are known as backlinks.To Follow or to Nofollow…Some links carry no authority at all, many links carry a nofollow attribute that tell the search engines not to count that link as a vote. Webmasters and bloggers might add this attribute themselves if they don’t their link to be counted as a vote for the external site or it could be automatically added by the platform they are using to publish their content, this is often the case when a site offers its user to add comments or content and the webmaster has little control over what links get created by the sites contributors.Links without the nofollow attribute are termed “dofollow” and pass page rank from your page to the linked page. In HTML there is no actual dofollow attribute, dofollow happens by default in the absence of a nofollow attribute. You should never nofollow internal links as this will cause any page rank that would have been passed to that link to just evaporate!Where Did You Get Those Links?You should ask your SEO how they will create backlinks, a good SEO will try to build a varied backlink portfolio for you. This portfolio should include high value links that are found in bodies of text such as blog posts. These usually carry the most page rank but also require the most work as the SEO will need to build connections with blog owners and often provide the content themselves.Any good SEO will look for quality over quantity, anyone promising a high number of links is probably best avoided. The search engines like to see “Natural Links of Love”, a few high quality links will go a lot further than many low quality links.Other linking strategies include using quality business directories or commenting on blogs and forums as well as using social media and social bookmarking sites.Link exchanges are best avoided as these two way links don’t look like natural links. Search engines can see the Internet as a series of connected nodes and easily detect unnatural patterns like this.Your Business, Your NeedsYour SEO should talk with you about your business needs and goals and also try to understand as much as they can about your target audience. If they don’t do this then they are unlikely to pick keywords that will attract and convert the right audience for you business. They should conduct extensive keyword research and be able to identify the keywords that will bring in more of the right traffic. Traffic is useless if it doesn’t convert!Added ValueYour SEO should also be able to research your competition and tell you what keywords they are targeting and also how much time it is likely to take to compete for the same keywords. They should also be able to come up with alternative strategies if those keywords are far too competitive for your budget or to bring in traffic while you work towards competing for the main keywords.SEO takes time, it doesn’t happen overnight. Your SEO should be able to provide you with a monthly report that shows how you are progressing through the search engine results for your keywords. They should also be able to run PPC campaigns on your behalf and also create content and copy for your site.Many SEO’s will also be able to promote you via social media and advise you on other Internet marketing techniques such as building mailing lists for email campaigns.The Bottom LineThe rate for an SEO varies an awful lot. Some agencies will charge upwards of 1000 a month! A small business should be able to find a decent SEO for around 300 a month, this depends on the level of service required but 300 should buy you a good campaign targeting 5 keywords.The first month is usually a bit more expensive as this is the month that the on-site SEO takes place as well as the keyword and competitor research.Some SEO’s offer a very cheap service, you get what you pay for and keep in mind that SEO takes a lot of time as it involves a lot of research, analysis and content creation.If the price seems too good to be true then it probably is! Don’t risk falling foul of black hat SEO techniques for a cheap price!