There's no silver bullet for search engine optimization. You need to do the right things a lot, over extended periods of time. Key among these are generating relevant content, gaining inbound links, and designing and coding for search friendliness.
Do these 10 exercises to start your program of search engine fitness:
1. Search your site on the top search engines: Google, Yahoo, MSN see how many links your site has—type link:http://www.mysitename.com in the Google search box. Search key terms and see who ranks high. Check how many links they have using a simple search—link:http://www.highrankingsite.com.
2. List your site in a directory. This is where the search engines start. DMOZ is free, so use that first. It takes a little longer than Yahoo to be listed, but you'll save the $299 Yahoo Directory fee. Use both if you have the money and want quicker results.
3. Pick relevant terms. The terms you use to describe your business may not be the terms people are searching on. Use a keyword selection tool like Wordtracker (www.wordtracker.com) or Overture (inventory.overture.com) to get some directional data on search term frequency and actual search phrases.
4. Use search-friendly terms in the file names of your pages. These are the names that show up in the universal resource locator (url) "address" bar at the top of your browser (e.g., http://www.mywebsite.com/search_term_everyone_uses). Search engines place heavy emphasis on file names.
5. Insert invisible meta tags at the top of your HTML using this syntax <META NAME = "KEYWORDS" CONTENT="popular term 1, key phase 2"> page. Search engines see them, browsers do not. Be sure to include relevant popular terms in the tags.
6. Use heading text (h1...h6) to highlight key terms <h1>Key Term</h1>, for section headers instead of bold and italics <b>, <i>. Search engines place more emphasis on heading text.
7. Use alternate text to describe images: <IMG SRC="filename" ALT="Description">. Search engines look for text, not images.
8. Make sure that all the important pages in your site can be reached through internal text links, not just menu navigation. Search engines cannot see graphical buttons or the text in them.
9. Include a site map. Search spiders use site maps to index your site. These and other useful tools can be found in the Google webmaster section (www.google.com/webmasters/tools).
10. Ask for links from high-ranking sites. Use email to contact the webmaster and tell them why they should link to you. Analyze their sites to see where/how they link to others and ask for similar links. Industry directories and reference lists are a good start. Don't mass email. Customize each request and use a spreadsheet to keep track of what requests you issued and when, and to schedule follow-up emails.
And, very importantly, don't fall prey to quick fixes or guaranteed placement schemes. Using tricks to exploit search engine algorithms will eventually backfire, resulting in penalties in the form of ranking downgrades.
Stick to the basics, be patient, and move on. Organic optimization should not be a full-time job (unless you are doing it for a lot of companies).
Taking these first 10 steps puts you on the path to search engine fitness. Remember, links, content, design, and persistence win the race.