Being the first listing on Google can get as many as 55 per cent of all people who search for that term clicking on your link.

Put simply, SEO works. It's simple, cost effective and delivers long-term efficiencies. You just need to make sure it works for you.

The world of SEO is becoming more and more sophisticated. In a game of cat and mouse, the engines strive to limit spam and deliver relevant results in return for a few keywords, while so-called black hat SEO consultants, those who use unethical practices to gain top results, look to exploit the system.

A simple, professional approach to SEO can bring thousands of qualified visitors to your site, boost your income and make a real impact on your bottom line. So where do you start?

Work smart

The first thing you need to do is think about the journey your users take, from start to finish. At every stage of their journey, users enter different kinds of search query. These can be divided into three basic types.

The first is the navigational search: a query that includes your brand name, domain name or company name (for example: 'Sony Erikkson'). The second is the informational search, where the user enters highly generic phrases ('holiday in Spain'). Finally, the third type of search query is the transactional search: usually three-, four- or five-word phrases that exactly identify what a user wants.

Each type of search query is relevant at different parts of the user's journey, from initial research to shopping around and finally to selection and purchasing. The key to SEO success is to ensure you have visibility at each point of the user's journey, so understanding the sections of the journey is essential. Blindly optimising for a set of keywords you think is appropriate is a quick way to waste time and money. You really need to work smart to get the best from your efforts.

Think about the user journey for your site and select keywords that ensure you have a presence at every stage. Just because users who buy from you do a navigational search right before they purchase doesn't mean you should undervalue the influence other keywords have in the journey.

For example, let's say you sell handbags and you see everyone who buys arrives at point of purchase using your company name. However, the journey may have started weeks earlier, probably with an informational search.

Get indexed

Once you're happy with your keywords and overall content in the light of a user's journey, you need to start thinking about getting your site indexed by the big search engines. The chances are you won't have as many pages indexed as you think, but thankfully the rules are fairly simple.

First, you need to make sure they're able to crawl your pages. Search engine spiders favour a few simple things:
• Clean XHTML or HTML code
• A lack of on-page JavaScript (put it in an external file and use an include call)
• An absence of inline CSS styles: put them in an external CSS file instead
• Non-dynamic URL paths

The most troublesome of these four is the dynamic URL paths. Many shopping carts and content management systems use dynamic URL paths such as domain.com/=3888&colour=56.

All the current search spiders prefer URL paths that are static, so this could be changed to domain.com/ product-3888/colour-56. If you want to be extra SEO-friendly you could use URL paths such as domain.com/go-karts/red (see .net magazine's mod.rewrite tutorial at www.netmag.co.uk/files/mod.pdf).

Submit a site map

So, you've cleaned up your code, removed the JavaScript and inline CSS styles and made your URL paths SEO friendly. What next?