As an online marketing all-rounder, I generally get hired to assess and develop companies' overall online marketing strategy. This can involve anything from SEO, to PPC, affiliate marketing, banner advertising, co-branding, etc. That said, I have come to realise that for the past year, I have been recommending organic SEO as the first course of action to practically all my clients, especially owners of small to medium sized businesses.
For such businesses it makes particular sense to concentrate on this strand of online marketing before anything else, because organic search marketing is feasible even on a tight budget, especially compared to, say, a banner advertising campaign. Unless you're going to do everything yourself, you will obviously need to pay consultancy fees or agency fees but the potential traffic you get as a result is infinite meaning better value for money.
It's a shame then that many small business owners who want to try their hand at doing their own online marketing start with PPC (Google Adwords in particular) instead, before attempting to actively gets organic traffic in. The majority of the people I've spoken to who've done this ended up losing money without getting particularly good results.
PPC is much hyped and has the appearance of being a cheap, easy way of getting traffic, but the competitive nature of today's paid search landscape means it's no longer either of those things. You really need to know what you're doing to get good results and you may need to pay quite a bit per click, unless you are in a particularly tight niche with little competition.
Thinking about your organic SEO strategy, on the other hand, can be a good way to prepare for running a successful PPC campaign (because it involves thinking about keyword targeting and on-page optimisation) and it can also bring with it long-lasting results that will keep bringing in traffic at no extra cost in months or even years to come.
In organic SEO, small, simple changes can often make a big impact on your traffic. That is one of its main advantages over other types of advertising and marketing.
Every website I've worked with had some good workable assets that could be used to increase its SEO value: original content, incoming links from authoritative sites, etc. Sometimes all it takes is a little tweak to unlock the full value of the site and send it up the rankings. I've seen sites jump up the rankings after simple anchor text changes or changes to the way existing text is presented on the page. Sure, at other times it may take a massive overhaul of the site to make it search engine friendly, but, ultimately, clean, solid SEO work from the ground up is likely to withstand many updates and changes.
Another advantage of organic SEO is that it's not affected by ad blindness. It's getting harder nowadays to attract people's attention with banner advertising (and, to a lesser extent, PPC adverts). Net users are learning to spot advertising and to block out anything that isn't of immediate interest to them. This is one of the reasons why banner advertising is notorious for not always providing tangible results (and by tangible I mean conversions) and why advertisers often find themselves needing to spend more and more money paying agencies to come up with all-singing all-dancing ads. PPC advertisers, on the other hand, need to work even harder to achieve much tighter relevance, so that people who are aware of the paid nature of the ad will still choose to click it. Organic SEO bypasses that problem because the end "product" (your website appearing in the SERPs) is not officially an advert. If you're prominent enough and relevant enough, you will get clicks and, what's more, you won't have to pay for each one.
More and more companies are finally starting to understand the benefits of organic SEO, so while it may not seem as straightforward (or sexy) as other strands of marketing, I do believe it's the perfect starting point for any self respecting business.