First apologies for the click-baity headline, but in this instance it's true. Often prospective clients ask me "How much do you charge for SEO?" I've come to the conclusion that this is not a question which makes much sense.
Search engines don't need anyone's help. If you publish something on a web page, they'll probably find it. If it's 'relevant' (more on this later) then it'll rank well.
Normally what these prospective clients are actually asking is how they can get their site listed on the first page of search results for a specific search query. The answer to that (sadly for me, sadly for them) is almost always something they need to do which we can't really do for them.
Google's main aim in life (and I'll use "Google" as a shorthand for "Google Search and to a lesser extent the other search engines") is to provide its users with high-quality, relevant results to their search queries. It sounds obvious but it pays to think about this a little.
If Google allowed people to pay their way to the top of the search results page then the quality of results would suffer. Imagine the results for a query close to my heart: "web design hong kong". All HK web designers are scrapping over this one. How does Google choose which one to honour with a first page result? If you could buy your way to the top (either by paying Google or an SEO), then the Hong Kong web designer with the most money would be listed first. Would this be useful to Google's users? Potentially not. As it is, Google's algorithm is designed to return the most relevant results, relevance (in this field) being calculated by an opaque combination of on-page factors (stuff your website contains) and, to an increasing extent, off-page factors (stuff elsewhere which reflects on your website, e.g. links to it).
If Google were to make their search algo too transparent then it would rapidly end up being being gamed by SEOs on behalf of their clients; over time this would utterly degrade the quality of Google’s search product to the point that people would stop using it.
Google being the size and age it is, there is very little chance you will be able to outwit the algo, and with every passing year this becomes more true. So (repeat like mantra) the only way to rank is regularly to publish high-quality content (relevant to the search queries you care about).
Why else do you think I'm sitting here right now?
This new fact about the world has had the bizarre effect that people now not only need to be good at what they do, but also to be good at writing about what they do. If you're a plumber and you want to outrank the other plumbers in your area, then you need to get home from a hard day's pipe-work and dash off three inspirational how-to guides about bleeding radiators (it's a verb).
The better search engines get – and they get better all the time – the less room there is for professional SEO (which is ultimately an attempt to trick the search engines into a distortion of their natural results) and the more call there is for everyone to simply to produce inspiring, shareable, enjoyable 'content' about their professional activities. It's hard work, and it's undeniably irritating that it's now necessary, but if you get it right it can be insanely effective.
So where does this leave Hong Kong small businesses who seek professional help with their online visibility? (Did you see how I shoe-horned Hong Kong into that sentence? And that one? I'm unstoppable.)
Put simply, your website probably needs a blog (even if you call it something different), and that blog needs content. You should think carefully about what content to produce, and by all means ask a professional to put togehter an 'audit' of your existing content and a 'content strategy' for the future (we do this for our clients all the time). To rank well, your website also needs to load quckly, use SSL encryption, and be mobile responsive – all of which you may well need someone's help with. But, unless you want to buy traffic using PPC advertising, the bulk of the work is down to you. Good luck!