When someone enters the search terms into Google, Yahoo or MSN and press enter, they will have pages of results return. Pages that have been search engine optimized (SEO) and earned their page rankings. Inevitably, the end user skips the banner ads and sponsored results. SEO pages deliver not because they have paid the search engine to premier their results but because the work invested in the pages shows up in the ranking system.

In the world of SEO, individually owned businesses can compete with corporate giants. The playing field is still not completely level, because in contrast to those large corporate entities that can dominate in a local retail market – it is the individual small business that can create a stronger foothold with their niche focus.

SEO counts on the natural search function versus the sites that pay for the number of hits they get. Natural searching is organic because as stated above, the results are more real to what the visitor is looking for. The difference for the visitor is much like watching a paid advertisement on television and talking to a friend who used the product. Chances are greater that a person will be more influenced by their friends experiences than they will by the paid advertisement.

In world where marketing dollars number into the billions, it is not surprising that the average consumer whether in real or virtual marketplaces is less swayed by the advertisement than they are by the experience. As the search engine visitor scans the results to their search terms, theyll be looking at the links and descriptions as much as they will on the highlighted terms.

A person entering a search for do it yourself grout is likely to get hits like Home Depot, Lowes and even Sears. There may be paid advertisements for book links on doing it yourself from the larger book chains. There may even be an advertisement for Do It Yourself television shows featuring names like Bob Vila. But if all the person is looking for is some quick instructions on how to use grout, they are highly unlikely to click those links. They will be looking for the more organically returned results that feature step-by-step instructions and more.

Upcoming changes in the Internet market may also influence the effect that SEO companies have on search engines and individual websites. Yahoo, for example, has a new SiteMatch program that will be mixing both organic and sponsored results. The FTC (Federal Trade Commission) is taking an interest in the process. Paid fees are not supposed to affect rankings. That is why sponsored sites are listed as such. Yet, the very nature of sponsoring puts those websites up on the top part of the page.

Internet visitors are savvy, however and with the scrutiny being put on search engines by the FTC and other marketplace outlets, education in SEO and how it affects a web pages ranking is going to become a must know for all Internet consumers and visitors. Some search engines are removing their sponsored results altogether or separating them to allow visitors to choose what type they want to see. AskJeeves.com is one that announced it was impossible to present sponsored and organic results together in an unbiased format. The end users dont want to see results from the company that pays the most money to get their advertising out there. They want to see the results that most closely match what they are looking for.