By then the site is designed, the structure decided and the copy written. What it is that’s limiting the site’s search engine performance is coded into the HTML – and has been sat on a server for months, perhaps longer.

Such poorly performing sites become prey to some of the less ethical search engine optimisation companies who will promise a top position in the search engines, in return for a monthly fee – sometimes tens of pounds, sometimes hundreds of pounds. The techniques that these companies use to magic your site to the top of the search engine results are, of course, a closely guarded secret.

With the website owner at a loss as to what the problem is, the words ‘over’ and ‘barrel’ spring to mind. Make no mistake – what’s being promised is snake oil. There is no silver bullet in terms of being top dog in the search engine results. Yes, there are ‘black hat’ (as in baddie) techniques, and yes, sometimes these work. But their success is by no means guaranteed and with some you risk blacklisting from the search engines.

Great search engine optimisation isn’t retro-fitted to websites. It’s not hidden pixie dust that you can sprinkle on later. What’s missing is that when the site was designed, search engine requirements weren’t taken into account – it’s usually as simple as that.

Coming up with strategies for better search engine results is something that’s best done as part of the website planning stage – with the requirements properly identified. There isn’t a single solution either (think about it: if the same solution were in place on every website, how would any one website rank higher than another?) which is another flaw in the techniques of the less ethical search engine optimisation companies, which tend to roll out the same tired old solutions each and every time.

A well-fitting search engine strategy is just the same as a well-fitting coat: tailored to every curve, designed for specific weather – totally snug. This is one reason we don’t do (or do very little) ‘retrospective’ search engine optimisation. Real search engine solutions are far more in-depth and involve more than simply hiding some keywords on a few pages. They are built into the site’s functionality, content and design.

More than anything, the search engine strategy should be long term – something that builds and becomes better and better, something that is constantly reviewed and revisited. It has to be: few businesses exist for long without change, so their search engine needs must be ready to change with the business.

It’s only by building a unique website, with tailored functionality and content, can we create unique search engine results. If your Web designer is doing his/her job correctly, search engine performance will be raised at the first meeting (by them and not you) and will be discussed at every planning meeting. It will be an integral part of how your site works. What’s more, how the strategy works will be fully explained to you – you shouldn’t be kept in the dark about anything on your website. You should understand and be in control of your search engine optimisation – not led to believe that it’s the mythical secret of a group of well-paid search-engine shamans.