Search engine optimization is a true example of the modern cyber economy, in a way that can seem unreal if you think about it for too long. It’s sort of the 21st century equivalent of a gold rush: companies fight tooth and nail to get the very best “land” available, even if that land is nothing more than a few 0s and 1s on a machine thousands of miles away from them. Land which constantly shifts by someone else’s directive. Land which looks different depending upon how you look at it. Land which can suddenly be yanked out from under you without you knowing it.
Seems a touch hallucinatory, doesn’t it? You might feel the desire for something of a technical shaman to guide you through this wonderland. But do you actually need one? There isn’t an easy answer to this question. Let’s try to summarize the arguments for both cases.
The argument for “yes”
The important thing to remember about search engine optimization is that it is a continually evolving cat-and-mouse game. Like playing the stock market, there cannot by definition be any one way, because if there was, everyone would be using it, and you’d have to find something new to one-up everyone.
This, combined with the increasing rate at which search engines change their algorithms, and the eternally growing size of the web that they are indexing, make it harder each day to keep up with the Joneses. This is an effort that you could work at every day if you wanted to, which means that it’s also a job you could pay someone else to do. Let’s not forget also that there are “white hat” and “black hat” methods, meaning methods that are considered fair and unfair play, and not knowing the difference can in worst-case scenarios result in your site being blacklisted.
The argument for “no”
You should be relying on far more than search engine results to drive traffic to your site anyway. While all of the above will constantly change, what won’t change are links to your site that customers/users can reliably use to find you: add in old school advertising to that list as well.
Moreover Google and other search engines have for some years been giving personalized results, meaning that there’s no one right measure anymore of how your site does in various searches: while a company can simulate this by pretending to be multiple users with different preferences, this is a lot of work for quickly diminishing returns.
Then remember that your site will naturally fluctuate in the ranking no matter what you do, and that not all traffic to your web site becomes paying customers (or whatever equivalent is important to you). You need to try to estimate just how much extra traffic you’re getting, how much that is resulting in extra business, and whether or not the amount you are paying for this higher ranking is worth it (and how much higher is it? Be sure to check yourself now and then).
There’s no good answer to this: Google has become one of the prime economic forces no matter what your business is, and other search engines like Bing only add to this importance, as well as the difficulty in doing it yourself. This is a tricky one. Take careful stock in the differences in your traffic, do the math, and remember that in the end, there’s still no substitute for just having a quality web site that represents a quality business.