As a company that launched the first plastics and rubber industry portal back in 1995, we're used to being ahead of the curve. We spend a lot of our time educating clients and prospects about the Internet technologies they can use to build new business. As a result, for the last several years, we've become accustomed to explaining the why's, what's and what for's of search engine optimization (SEO).
What's nice to see in the b2b space is that companies are finally understanding what SEO is, or at least have an understanding that it's something they should check out. At the same time, we're also beginning to talk with companies that have tried SEO already and have seen it fail, making them very skeptical about the process altogether.
Unfortunately, like any other industry, there are snake oil salesmen in the SEO industry. They're the ones that blast out the unsolicited e-mails offering to "put you on top of Google within the next half-hour", or to "submit your site monthly to thousands of search engines." Or, the ones that say they can guarantee you a position on Google and you don't really have to take any active role in improving your site, you just have to pay them money.
It's important to ask a lot of questions before you hire an SEO company -- the competent, reputable ones will appreciate your interest in learning more about SEO and will be happy to help you through the process.
Another reason that SEO can fail is that a company doesn't make a full commitment to the process. Some companies get way to focused on one aspect of SEO, blaming their site URLs, meta tags, keywords, etc., rather than making sure they've taken care of ALL the big things first. Usually, when an SEO project has failed, it's because the right amount of attention wasn't given to every aspect that's important to ranking.
What we usually find is that companies ignore incoming links -- it's difficult and time-consuming to do and so it gets pushed to the back burner. When their SEO doesn't work, they start re-examining the keywords, the site structure, the content, rather than addressing the most obvious problem -- lack of links.
I saw a blog post this week regarding SEO naysayers who claim SEO is snake oil. Check it out.