As with anything you set out to learn in life, you don't get from point A to point Z without touching upon all those letters in between. This is why every day for the past 7 or 8 years I see the same search engine optimization questions asked over and over again by people in the various stages of learning. The search engines may change through the years, but people just finding out about SEO all tend to go through a similar growth process.
The Submittal Stage
Generally you get interested in search engine marketing after you have a Website created; you've got something looking good and open for business. You pay your designer, and suddenly it hits you...now what? How do I get people to actually find and use my site? So you turn to your designer who directs you to your server control panel, which comes with an automated search engine submit button.
The Meta Tag Stage
The next day [grin] you wake up and still have no visitors. So you do some research and find out that you need to add keywords to something called Meta tags. You find some automated Meta tag generator online, add its output to your site, and then crank up the automated submissions.
Then you wait, and wait, and wait some more.
Hmm...you still have no hits to the ole hit counter (except the daily one from your checking it, and the one from when you sent your old college roommate to see what a great site you have), let alone any sales. So you email your designer again with more questions.
The "It's Impossible" Stage
Now the designer starts to get all defensive and says, "Oh....you wanted high rankings in the search engines? Well sorry, that's just impossible, and out of the scope of my services."
You are nearly ready to give up at that point, but you're no quitter. You decide it can't really be impossible since somebody's gotta rank highly in the engines; so you begin your quest for more information. You look up "meta tags" and "submitting to search engines" at Google (because you figured you probably just did yours wrong), and find all kinds of articles that talk about something called "search engine optimization," aka SEO.
The Confusion Stage
Problem is, you have no idea what these articles are telling you. One of them says you need to make sure you use Meta tags, and another one says that Meta tags are dead. You read that you need high-quality links to your site, but you don't even know what that means or how you can get them. One article says you need keyword-rich content, but that means about as much to you as the linking thing. Some advice says you absolutely have to pay to be found in the engines, other stuff says it doesn't cost a thing.
The Trick-the-search-engines Stage
The more you read, the more you start to think that there must be some sort of trick to this whole SEO thing. Somehow you have to force the search engines into pulling your site up. You have learned that you need to think about keyword phrases as opposed to keywords, but you're still not clear about what to do with these phrases.
You remember reading about "keyword-rich content" and suddenly it clicks that you need to actually put your phrases on the page somewhere. But you have found so many phrases that you want to rank highly for, and can't quite figure out how you can get them all on your home page. You wonder if you should just list them somewhere. At the top? At the bottom? In a tiny font size, perhaps? Maybe you should make them blend in with the background of the site, because you really don't like the way it looks with all those phrases listed like that.
At this point, you're starting to think you're pretty smart for figuring that little trick out, and decide to tell some people you met on an SEO forum. Ouch! Apparently, you were not the first to think of this trick, and you got called all sorts of names, like "spammer"! You didn't even know there was such a thing as search engine spam, but you know that spamming anything can't be a very good thing to do!
So you start thinking that maybe tricking the search engines isn't the best way to attack things.
The Learning Stage
You decide to brave the forum again, to see if you can learn what other people do if they're not tricking the engines. By now, you've become intimately familiar with many of the terms people use, and some of the stuff they tell you is beginning to actually make some sense.
What you learn at this point is that you don't need to put all 50 phrases on the home page, just two or three! Now that seems doable. You also learn that you should use your phrases "naturally" when writing about what you do on every page of your site. Slowly but surely, things start making more sense, and each new tidbit you learn builds on the last one. You learn that the Title tag is also a good place for keyword phrases, and are embarrassed when you look at yours and see that it says, "Welcome to Our Home Page."
The Quick-fix Stage
You also learn that the search engines prefer to rank the most "popular" sites before the least popular ones, and you learn that they figure out which sites are the most popular by how many sites are linking to them. It makes perfect sense.
You really have no idea how you will get other sites to want to link to yours in order for it to be popular, but you know you're going to have to come up with some sort of a plan for this. You're a bit disheartened to think about how much time and effort it's going to take to become a popular site, so you ask your forum friends if there's a way to speed things along a bit...like maybe you can all link to each other's sites?
Ackk...they yell at you again and call you a link farmer.
The Hard-work Phase
Eventually, you reconcile with the fact that you're gonna have to work hard, just like you did when you first built your business offline. So off you go to make your site the best it can be for the search engines as well as your visitors, and a mature search engine marketer is born!