Research has shown that web users rarely look past the second page of results on a search engine - so if your site is not in the top 25 best matches then you could be ignored.
Search engine optimisation (SEO) means increasing the chances of your website appearing in the first page of results when a word related to your site is typed into Google (or other, similar sites).
Google is the only site of its kind to solely offer a search facility. However, it is fiercely protective of its ranking algorithm and countless experts have puzzled over the holy grail of how the system works.
There are several ways to make sure you get higher on Google's search listings though.
SEO has become an activity that is now accessible to regular people. A lot of information is available on the web for those eager to get their teeth into it. Basically, if you can spare some time and have a fairly good knowledge of how the internet works, you could learn to do it all yourself.
To begin with, when you're building your website try to include keywords or metadata (information that describes a web page but isn't visible on the page).
Then, as obvious as it may be, a search engine is the best place to start your research. Enter a generic keyword associated with your business or industry and usually - though not always - the first site that appears will be the firm with the most authority in that area.
These sites will provide valuable information on your industry but will also have external links. If one of these links belongs to your competitor then you can now see how visible they are on the web. Run their name in search engines, which will bring up most sites that feature them.
Try and understand why other sites link out to these sites. Is it because they're highly reputable or because they offer something of value to visitors on their website?
You could also search discussion forums, trade journals and newspapers.
What are the aforementioned sites doing in order to have louder online voice than yours? Are they advertising on other sites through banners and links? Where are they advertising and on which type of sites?
By doing SEO yourself you keep the cost to a minimum, you have control over your website at all times, you can commit as much time to it as you like, you can experiment as much as you want and it will be immensely rewarding once it starts showing results.
On the downside, if you get it wrong you could affect your website's search engine listings.
Also, you're at a disadvantage because there are SEO professionals who do it full time. Whereas you're starting from scratch and learning the basics, they're experienced.
SEO is as complex as any traditional marketing method and, as such, you can't pick it up and then leave it for a few months. It's a continuous process, so if you want a return on investment then it needs to be part of your strategy all of the time.
Hire a professional
Lastly, you do your own SEO at your own risk. Be aware of any practices considered illegal and take care not to get your site in trouble.
The alternative would be to hire a professional SEO company that can develop complex strategies and work to make your voice heard on the web. Before you appoint a company make sure of its previous success with other customers. And ask for an analysis of your website and how they could help improve its presence.
The positives of hiring a professional company are that they will have the necessary experience. Meanwhile, you can focus on other aspects of your business. However, like any service you will have to pay for it. Beware, also, of any unethical companies out there.
One last option would be to pay a search engine to include your website in its search links or for a sponsored link.
Or, you could exchange links with other sites, such as trade bodies, consumer forums or related sites (not competitors).
Ultimately, what your decision boils down to is how scarce your time is, how important it is that you attend to the day-to-day aspects of your business, and how large a role online marketing will take in your business strategy.
You may not want to spend hours in the front of the computer. Then again, you might not have the spare cash to pay someone to do it for you.