A lot of people pay a lot of money for a lot of bad advice for higher rankings in search engines. It seems like you can't throw a rock without hitting a breathless search engine consultant, touting MASSIVE AMOUNTS OF TRAFFIC and REALLY AWESOME BUZZWORDS.
These are the New Internet Hucksters.
Now, search engine optimization and marketing isn't completely worthless -- I've seen healthy improvements that can come from embracing a few simple practices when building your web site. The point is that they're simple practices, and only a piece of the much larger marketing puzzle.
So, how can you spot one of the good marketing gurus, and dodge the hucksters?
Hucksters focus on your website. Gurus focus on your competitors. Chances are, you're not the market leader .. so you better start paying attention to the dogs leading the pack. Where are they advertising? What products are they promoting? What's on the front page of their web site? Who links to them? Terribly ugly web sites can see a significant improvement in sales after they start emulating the other practices of the market leaders, without updating a single line of code.
Hucksters focus on traffic. Gurus focus on sales. Why? Because traffic is expensive, and sales make you money. Here's an example: Lets say you sell shoes. To drive traffic to your site, you buy advertising around the word "adidas." Very visible ... very expensive ... and most of your visitors probably aren't interested in buying what you're selling. Instead of "adidas," focus on the people who are shopping for a pair of "adidas Campus ST" shoes, which you conveniently have in stock at a reasonable price. Focusing your marketing on specifically what you're selling is the path to sales, not driving the hordes to your doorstep.
Hucksters tell you about your market. Gurus listen. Unless your consultant has experience in your market, don't let them tell you people's buying habits or industry trends. A guru will listen to your experiences with your customers, and use their expertise to figure out the best ways to reach them. And this leads directly into the next point:
Hucksters sell an easy solution. Gurus take the time to understand your problems. Retail is not easy. Managing a store is not easy. Understanding customers is not easy. Making a profit is not easy, and becoming a market leader is damn near impossible. A guru will help you figure out a long term strategy, and knows that it takes more than a few hat tricks to make your business successful on the Internet.
Anyone who tells you otherwise is a huckster.