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This is the one field that is getting more difficult by the day. The situation is gradually changing from one where everything is free to one where you have to pay to succeed. At the moment it is still possible for small businesses to highly ranked sites with minimal outlay, but I dread the day when big business will rule the roost in the same way that the supermarkets have driven away the small retailers. However, that day is not yet on us, so make hay while the sun shines!
Google is currently the king of the search engines in the UK. They are continually trying to improve their service, and you need to understand they have to tead a fine line between providing good customers service and penalizing the spammers. They tend to favour large sites with incoming links from assocaited websites, and as a result are not so good for small businesses unless they are highly niche. The other search engines give more chance for niche businesses to rank in the top 10, so you should get some business from them, but Google has about 60% to80% of the market so they are the ones that really count.
All this means is that you have to try harder to keep up, but then in my experience that is what small businesses are good at.
Don’t, whatever you do, try to outwit the search engines unless you are extremely knowledgeable, and even then its a risky business. I’m always surprised by the amount of people that innocently ask me whether it’s a good idea to put white text on a white background, … well sorry, that one went out with the ark !
The best policy is a genuine site with genuine links. That way you will never be caught out, but instead will have a position from which to build.
The more interesting your site, the more people that will want to link, the more people will visit, and you’ll soon have the search engines sitting up and taking notice.