This is a common question, and one that is asked across forums day and night. My reply would be that SEO is personal to everyone as there is no real carved in stone definition of it, with even the wiki definition of SEO being an opinion.
I would say that the key is in the last word. OPTIMISATION. Optimisation means simply to reach an optimum. so that means make your site the best it can be. For me SEO goes WAAAAAAAAYYYY beyond the easy bit of getting a site to the top of the search engine reusults pages. For me and many other top practitioners of SEO, we take a hollistic SEO approach, looking at the whole thing, NOT just the rankings (although of course they are very important). Hollistic SEO’s look at everything, including ALL the potential keywords, not just the one or two site owners want to rank for.
Professional SEO for me is hollistic, it is about about conversions, profitability usability visitor retention maximising spend etc REAL WORLD outcomes. The things that matter. So you think that the most important thing is to be at the top of the search engines? NOPE.
If I was to ask you all what your goal is for your site, you would mostly say ‘to get to number one for all my keywords’. This is so sad. A person goes to the hardware store to buy a drill bit. WHY? does he WANT a drill bit? NO he WANTS a HOLE, but you need a drill bit to MAKE the hole, to insert the hanger to hang the picture of thee family on the wall. The drill bit is simply a means to an end, NOT the end goal itself.
So ask yourself again, what do I want from my site?
let’s say what you want is £30,000 per year. HOW can you achieve this? Say each visitor is worth £0.25, then you need 120,000 visitors right? WRONG. While getting to the top of google might well bring in this volume of traffic, it is NOT what a true SEO would recommend as a sole course of action.
If you can up the visitor value to £0.50 then you can earn £30k with 60k visitors. Assume for the purpose of illustration that your conversion ratio is 1 in 100. Get the conversion ratio down to 1:50 and you can earn £30 with 30,000 visitors. With me so far?
HERE IS THE KICKER THOUGH.
You now have an optimised site and are earning £1 per visitor. Remeber that 120,000 visitors you needed to earn £30,000and how being at the top of Google was going to earn you your £30,000 a year goal?
NOW it will earn you £120,000
THAT my friends is my take on professional SEO!