I've got a client I've just designed a website for that's interested in SEO... he'd like to do it through me if possible. I'm a young designer, been doing it for around 3-4 years... versed in html, css, php, and js. Just curious to know: Is it worth it for me to learn how to implement SEO, or should I forward him to a professional service? Is implementing the basics of SEO labor-intensive?
SEO is easy. (it's getting to the top in a crowded market that's hard) but it's much more than just SEO that determines business success.
You should learn about what's involved, so you can spot the black hat techniques and avoid them. You should learn what works and what doesn't.
You should also ask the client what he hopes to gain from SEO, it might be that top of the page results for an obscure keyphrase, still won't bring him more business.
In my experience a lot of clients blame their poor sales results on poor search engine results, when it might simply be that they are not competitive or too cheap to promote their business properly.
You'll also find a lot of clients happy to part with silly money based on impossible promises from unscrupulous SEM businesses.
A good place to get good tips is Hobo: http://www.hobo-web.co.uk/ read what they have to say and you'll see it's mostly just about proper marketing.
To check your site is properly set up for the search engines use all the Google webmaster tools.
You can also get some analysis here: http://websitegrader.com/
At the end of the day, inbound links, fresh and relevant content that is changing regularly and the proper keyword to content ratios may be all you need. Your client's business niche and competitor's advertising budgets will determine how likely he is to be top dog...
It's a very big topic, I hope I've started you in the right direction?
I would not say "SEO is easy", but I do basically agree with Tony in the sense that what most pro SEOs are going to do for you is the 99% that's easy. I've seen what well-regarded firms have done for the website my wife runs, and you can certainly do that yourself. Literally, most of what they are going to tell you is to tweak your meta titles and h1 titles, looking at your logs and seeing what keywords your customers are using, but which don't really have an appropriate page on your site and things like that, tell you to request a link from this site or that site and other things you can almost surely figure out.
Only a small handful of SEOs are really wizards, but that tiny elite are in fact wizards and they can troublehshoot problems and spot issues that others won't, especially on large, complex sites, with tens of thousands of products, multiple servers and things like that. A good SEO is technically savvy, both in terms of server issues and code issues, studies Google like Jerry Fallwell studies his Bible, has an analytical mind, and has a good sense of marketing and copywriting. And charges up the wazoo. And is not that easy to find.
Anyway, I know you didn't ask for ideas on how to do SEO and I am certainly not in the 1% who would be a wizard. My apologies if this is all very basic, but since Tony kicked it off with some good suggestions, here are a few items for your toolkit that will get you a lot of the info of the sort that your base-level SEOs will be using.
First off, the first thing I do is do a site:example.com search for any site and see what pops up. Are the description snippets good? The titles? Do they sort in some relatively logical fashion or is your terms and conditions page at the top, followed by other junk?
Then a site:example.com search followed with a keyword. Is there duplicate content? Are URLs with/without slashes, www, and so on redirecting correctly so that there is one canonical URL and everything else returns a 301?
There are the basics - good meta and h1 titles, good copy, well-structured documents, bolding for readability, etc etc etc
Obviously, you need good analytics, both server side and something like Google Analytics. Also, you can get a lot of good diagnostics from Google Webmaster Tools as Tony said and also their equivalents for Microsoft and Yahoo!
There are also tons of SEO Tools at SEOMoz and lots of articles.
The Google Keyword Tool is your friend. You can use it both to put in your keywords and see what other phrases are associated with those keywords and you can also enter a competitor or related site and see what keywords Google sees them as ranking for. There are paid services that offer different, and some think better, data, such as Keyword Discovery and WordTracker. I've seen the CEO of Trellian speak a few times (they are the company behind Keyword Discovery) and they look to have a great service, but I honestly haven't used it.
I think Wil Reynolds is a fun speaker and a good teacher. He puts up lots of SEO videos on Youtube and elsehwere and makes all his Delicious bookmarks available. Naturally, you should watch the Google Webmaster Help channel
There are a lot of good tools at Microsoft too, such as the Commercial Intention Tool though their keyword forecaster seems to have quit updating in 2007... so you can forecast the future past or past future or something.
Lotus Jump willl scour the web for discussions that might be related to your products and tell you how and where to jump in. It will suggest content ideas and things like that. I got a free trial from them at Pubcon and it was fairly useful, but labor intensive to keep up with. If you can get a "marketing intern" this would be perfect.
Hittail will track the keywords use to get to your site and suggest phrases for which you're getting traffic, but for which you don't have targetted content.
Majestic SEO lets you study the link graph of your site and your competitors.
The SEOBook Toolbar and the SEOQuake Toolbar - both Firefox extensions - can give you some good insight into what you're seeing in the search results.
Some premium services like SEMRush give you a bit of data for free, but charge if you want to get serious.
There are also a handful of tools that are free or have a free version that let you do some basic research without paying. The ones that come to mind are Traffic Travis, Market Samurai, Content Bully, SEO Elite. I think some of these may no longer be free but they have a lot of overlap. Probably tons and tons more... but those tools already give more info than I can digest. In fact, just my server logs give more info than I can digest, but like I said, I'm not one of those wizards ;-)
This is essentially what my feelings were on the matter, but stated in a much more confident assertive way backed with experience - I thank you for this and will definnitely check out the resources you've provided.
PS - those are just SEO tools. If your client is doing commerce, then there's a whole other set of tools and sources of information on Conversion Optimisation. I don't know much about that beyond the Google multivariate testing tool and Brian Eisenberg's Always Be Testing book, both of which my wife has used, but which I haven't.