In days of old, you could stop at the web development stage in the process and still have a chance of online success. Simply release your website to the world, and wait for the search engines to start indexing pages. The hope was that customers would find your site, start reading about your wonderful products/services, and ultimately convert into a customer. The competition has raised the bar with optimized websites adhering to SEO's best practices, and those that have implemented the strategy of hope have been buried somewhere on page 2 of the search engine results page (SERPs).
The process of promoting your website so that customers can find you online grows on a daily basis. While there are hundreds of benchmarks in a competitive environment, Internet market must have the following at a base level:
Keyword Research. What you think your customers are searching for is often not what they are in fact searching for. Using keyword research tools, it's important to find out what the most search terms are that have the least amount of competition and go after those. You can give important terms more attention, but use keyword research to cast that net wide and incorporate some long-tail terms as well.
Webmaster Tools. If the search engines cannot effectively crawl your website, they cannot index all your pages, and non-indexed pages will not show up in search results. It's that simple! As part of the SEO process, it's important to "help" the search engines crawl your site. It can be somewhat technical, but we are simply trying to remove roadblocks and show them the way.
Usability. There are thousands of variables in the search engine's algorithm, and many of them are based on what they believe the user feels is a credible source. Since they cannot ask the user directly, they have to try to use metrics to take an educated guess. Bounce rate, time on the site, pages viewed, etc. are all metrics that help the search engine to evaluate trusted sites that might produce results their user's are looking for. Usability involves making the user experience as enjoyable and easy as possible once the user is on your site.
Social Media. Continuing with the notion of what the user finds trustworthy, social media has introduced the ability to connect users with anything and everything online. People buy or use what their friends recommend, and social media provides the conduit. We have only scratched the surface as to how social media can be used in online marketing, but we do know that the search engines are factoring them in already. Connect your social networks to your website so search engines are aware of relationships, but complete the link for them by connecting with your network on the other side.
Content Strategy and Implementation. Content is king! Put together a thorough plan that addresses the content you'll need to create and how/when you plan to distribute it. This might sound like a trivial piece to the puzzle, but a solid plan will make sure you address all content needs as well as distribute when and where your customers can access it.
On Page Optimization (Title, Description, URL, H1, H2, Images, etc.). This step in the process can get a little technical, but it does tie in with keyword research and content implementation. During the content implementation process, it is important that the research you have done for keywords show up in the content that you publish. Specifically, in important areas on the web page that the search engine deems more "important".
Link Profile. Who links to your website can identify to search engines that your content is important. This can be a initiative that black hat SEOs abuse, but when used correctly it can be the difference between the #1 and #4 spot for your competitive term. You can build your link profile positively by writing great content and attracting incoming links, but you can also be active in this process.
The above is just a quick list of the essentials that should be getting attention as a part of your search engine optimization and Internet marketing campaign. The more competitive your market online, the more work needed to distinguish you from the competition as a trusted source in the eyes of the search engines. SEO is a process that needs love on a monthly basis, and is not a one time deal.