Let us first take a chronologically short but technologically massive step back in time.
Thus when I built my first web site the name "Search Engine" had not even been invented, when Imagekings was formed virtually nobody had heard of Google but now - it is probably one of the best known (but perhaps least understood) institutions in the world worth £150 billion (as of June 2013) making it worth more than Apple & Microsoft.
That explains why you have heard of it but why is it so important to you?
Quite simply because, although you may not realize it, it is the most important marketing tool in the world - by a huge margin. So whilst it is now essential that you have a web site (if you have any type or size of business) it is now even more important that your site is ranked highly on Google or your web site & your business will lose out to the competition - or even fail.
So back to your original question - how do you get to the top of Google (or at least on page 1)? There are three ways:
Before we examine these options let us just consider why Google is so massively successful - quite simply because it provides the best possible results for the searcher (not the searched). This has always been and remains its absolute priority. Thus if you use any method (like option 3 above) that deliberately or accidentally try to trick their complex ranking system - it responds very harshly. Your site is expelled from Google forever.
Option 2, Google AdWords, has been (until recently) my preferred option/recommendation for advertising your web site because it is relatively easy and quite effective. Unfortunately, 72% of surfers never go to or buy from, sponsored links (which is what Adwords are).
Option 3. Early in 2008 I made the decision that Imagekings had to become a SEO provider. After considerable investment (of time & money) we are now in a position to offer this service.
Let me therefore explain how Google (and the other search engines) rank a web site. They have massive data centres scattered around the world which are constantly looking for new web sites; having found one it will crawl through the site, extract the relevant data, apply its complex algorithm and provide a ranking or ignore it depending how we'll optimised the site is.
It is important to note that this process may well happen (and be repeated) whether you like it or not. It is also worth noting that web sites offering to submit your web site to hundreds of search engines are virtually useless - the process will probably happen without their help but more importantly, it will not work at all for a site that is not optimised!
So what does SEO involve?
The answer is a great deal of work!
The most important aspect by far is the selection, suitable use of, and presentation of your key words & phrases. These are basically what a searcher might search for if they want to find what you are offering/selling. The skill is presenting these in the most favoured manner & quantity that Google likes.
Unfortunately Google also examines:
If you are begining to think there is no easy solution - you are right! SEO involves getting all this right plus examining (and then attempting to climb above) all your on-line competitors’ sites.
The simple fact is that getting to the top of Google is now the very best possible form of advertising but whilst it may appear free – achieving it is not.
If you have also reached the conclusion that there is no point in having a web site that is not optimised - you are right!