Once you decide that you are serious about promoting your car rental Web site in the search engines, the first order of business is acquiring the professional help required to make it succeed. Search engine optimization is the process of getting your Web site pages to rank well in the search engines on popular keywords that pertain to your business and region. A professional SEO company can guide you through the often cumbersome and always changing process.

The first thing to understand is that the industry is relatively new, and there is very little standardization in the way SEO is practiced. SEO companies use completely different approaches and methods to provide these services. The fundamental activities of SEO is the creation of high quality textual content relevant to your business and region combined with a link-building campaign that expands the opportunities for Web visitors to find your site through other related and complementary Web sites.

1. What is their process for content creation?

A good SEO firm will have researchers and writers on staff that are able to create quality, original content for your Web site. If the company produces generic, copied information from either your existing text or worse, from other companies’ Web sites, then you need to find another SEO company.

Besides the obvious copyright infringement issues, the search engine algorithms can tell if the content is original, and the page may be penalized if it contains duplicated text.

2. What is their approach to link building?

A large network of links from complementary Web sites is the best way to gain inexpensive and qualified traffic to your site and establish link popularity with search engines. The success of this strategy works in direct proportion to the quality and quantity of relevant content that is developed in the areas of support, promotion and product and services information. This process is labor intensive. Although there are linking schemes, it is advisable to stay clear of these, such as free-for-all linking pages and link-only directories. They normally have links back to objectionable sites that can lower your credibility in the search engines and send spam to the e-mail used for registration. A quality SEO company will spend a good deal of time researching and negotiating quality link opportunities with other like-minded sites. [PAGEBREAK] 3. Do they use spamming methods knowingly or inadvertently?

Search engine spam techniques range from keyword stuffing of content pages to continuous automatic submitting, to cloaking, hidden text or doorway page creation. Ask the company you are considering working with what processes it uses when it comes to content generation and getting pages indexed. No company will admit to using spam techniques, so you need to have a clear understanding of how it will present your information to the search engine community. Ask to see example pages of content it has created for other clients.

4. Do they guarantee placement?

No reputable SEO company can guarantee ranking results. SEO companies do not control the search engines’ proprietary ranking algorithms and, therefore, have no real control over the process. All they can do is guide you through the process with an expectation of ranking and traffic improvement. A company that guarantees a top-10 ranking is not reputable because there is no way to do this using SEO techniques, and they are more than likely optimizing for non-used keywords or passing off pay-per-click schemes as SEO.

5. Do they offer any Web site conversion enhancement services?

More traffic does not guarantee more business or sales. Conversion enhancement tactics include copywriting improvements, advanced sales/lead conversion reporting, call to action creation and refinement, as well as addressing site usability issues. A company that can generate qualified traffic to your site and aid in increasing your sales conversion rate is the kind of company that will make your business successful.

6. Do they track and report on Return on Investment?

A quality SEO company will be fixated on the numbers. They will be able to show you statistics such as cost per sale and cost per click, and they will make a clear presentation as to where your marketing dollars are going and how you are benefiting from them.

Search engines are a major source of Internet traffic. As a result, they are relied upon to bring clients to your proprietary site. Using anyone other than a knowledgeable and ethical professional to do your search engine optimization is risking your search engine rankings. And risking your search engine rankings is equal to risking your online business. Think carefully and act wisely when making this choice.

Paul Allison is Internet sales and marketing manager at Car Rental Express (www.carrentalexpress.net), a British Columbia-based company that specializes in providing Web services for independent car rental operators. Car Rental Express also operates a consumer car rental site (www.carrentalexpress.com) that books reservations with independent car rental companies.