First things first. Setting up a business online, and not paying attention to search engine optimization, is like establishing a barber shop in the industrial zone of a small city -- and hoping customers might wander in. Much better to set up shop on Main Street, where thousands of customers walk by daily as they go about their business. That's why SEO ranking is so important.
(Note: read through this entire post. I changed my mind about SEO. See the final paragraph in bold. I'm leaving this up, however, to show the evolution in an online entrepreneur's thinking.) That said, the longer I play this inter-webs entrepreneurship game, the more I'm convinced that search engine optimization--while important--is not the only path to success. Indeed, in the early days of your online venture, SEO ranking is a bit of a lost cause. Your site will be so new and so disconnected from the rest of the internet that it won't matter what you write or produce: for certain key search phrases you aren't going to rank on the first page of Google for months.
While You Wait On SEO Ranking, Promote, Promote, Promote
This may actually be a blessing. Why? Because the absence of organic traffic will force the budding internet entrepreneur to learn other key skills. Namely, marketing, actively promoting content, connecting with others online, and finding other creative ways to get the word out about their new site or product.
In other words, in addition to producing whatever it is you produce for your customers, you have to promote, promote, promote. Indeed, I would argue that with strong enough marketing skills, you don't have to go the SEO ranking route at all to succeed. (Though I don't plan to test this hypothesis.)
So far I have not found marketing to be the most alluring of the pieces of the internet entrepreneurship puzzle. Indeed, my marketing muscles are flabby to non-existent. So I'm taking baby steps each and every day. Once those muscles get a little more toned, perhaps I'll take bolder action.
SEO Ranking - Here Comes A Massive U-Turn
(The below paragraph was written about one year after the above post first went live. I'm leaving this overall post up, however, as it shows the evolution in an online entrepreneur's thinking.)
I changed my mind on the topic of this post. SEO ranking is incredibly crucial. You should learn the basics as soon as possible if you are looking to do business online. You don't need to be slavishly devoted to search engine optimization, but you will struggle to get traffic if Google can't figure out what your posts and site are about. I advise spending the time to learn the SEO basics as soon as possible. Otherwise, you will have to do what I did and spend days going back to old posts and making them SEO friendly. Ready to learn the basics? My friend Miles Beckler has a fantastic set of "SEO domination" training videos to get you started.