You’ve probably seen them: programs claiming to teach you how you can use SEO to boost your Google rankings and in turn build a successful internet business that runs on cruise control. All for the low price of $49.95.

While such programs almost always fall into the ‘scam‘ category, there is truth to the notion that SEO can be a pathway to success. If you run any sort of website, chances are you need traffic, and SEO can deliver it. But there are some inconvenient truths about SEO that often get ignored, especially in ‘newbie‘ circles. Here are six of them.

SEO takes time. Everyone loves the idea of instant rewards. Unfortunately, it’s hard to find instant rewards in the world of SEO. In my opinion, any commitment of less than six months isn’t a commitment at all because in competitive markets it’s my experience that you shouldn’t expect to see results that drive meaningful returns before then.

SEO is not fair. Paid links work and your competitors might be winning by using them in flagrant disregard of Google’s ‘rules‘. But that’s life in the world of SEO. Just as in life generally, some people break the rules, get away with it and prosper as a result. You can fret about this or focus on your own efforts.

Top SERPs aren’t always possible. Hard work and patience can go a long way, but let’s be honest: everybody in your market wants top SERPs for the valuable keywords. You all can’t have them. Bottom line: there’s only one top spot and only one person can get it.

SEO is not all about process. The mechanics of kicking a soccer ball are easy enough to understand. But chances are you’re not Ronaldo. The same is sort of true of SEO. While you can learn the mechanics, from page structure to link building, there’s something beyond the mechanics. The truth is that there are naturals who just have a natural talent for putting it all together and getting to the top of the SERPs.

SEO isn’t a standalone marketing strategy. I cringe whenever somebody tells me that his marketing strategy is “viral marketing“. Yet “SEO” isn’t much better. Sure there are some people who use nothing more than SEO and whose websites bring in big bucks, but for the average person just starting out, SEO should be looked at as a potentially valuable part of a more comprehensive marketing strategy. That doesn’t mean that, in the end, SEO can’t represent more than 50% of where you spend your time and money, but depending on the nature of your business, paid search, display, email and offline techniques can all play a big role too and are worthy of consideration.

The last mile counts more than the first 99. The process of getting great SERPs can be a long, strenuous journey. But getting great SERPs isn’t the end of this hundred miler. Success is based on what you do with those SERPs. So if you’re in the business of generating leads, for instance, all the organic search traffic in the world won’t do you an ounce of good if you’re not converting, or converting but still leaving lots of money on the table. Bottom line: SEO done right delivers intent; the job of your website is to convince the user to take action.

Photo credit: jetalone via Flickr.