SEO – Brain surgery? Perhaps not, but its not so far off!

Reading this blog here from oilman got me thinking about SEO and how people value their worth in terms of what they charge for their services and how some of what he is saying about others and their denigrating what we do can impact upon us negatively.

Putting to one side all those idiots who say they will submit your site to the search engines for a one off fee of $100 solicited by way of some awful looking spam email or adsense ad somewhere. Those tosspots really don’t help the situation as they help paint a perception that there really is nothing to what people like me do, when the obverse is so blindingly obviously true!

Some people have great difficulty in charging their clients the right price for what they do. Ive certainly been guilty of it in the past as have lots of others no doubt. If you are one of these people who works alone, then you may well fall into some isolationist camp whereby you dont *really* appreciate what it is you actually know. Add to that mix people like shoemoney saying that 95% of SEO is super simple or worse still, others who say stuff like , SEO is Bullshit ( a headline people will grab hold of and use to sneer at you with) and you may find others beginning to question the value of what it is you do. Ok, Ive been a little unfair to Mr Shoe when I say that as he did actually go on to clarify a few of his points, but still I think its fair to say that throw away comments like that, don’t entirely help in any SEO is a winning strategy, worthy of high dollar investment in quaility people perception game! Detractors seize on such statements and use them to dis the entire concept.

See, I know this guy who happens to be a brain surgeon. I knew him at school as a kid, he even credits me as part inspiration for his interest in the human brain, but that’s a story for another day. He is a clever fecker and studied all sorts of medical stuff for years. He now opens up peoples heads and performs surgery on their brains. Cool huh? Yet talk to him and he’ll tell you that its all pretty simple stuff really. He won’t brag or sound off like he’s some super know all mega-brain, oh no, he’ll just tell you that what he knows is simply the product of years of reading, observation, long hours of study and practice. But, you just know that to get where is he and be allowed to cut through your head and muck about with your brain holding a sclapel and all, that he’s pretty pretty clued up on how it all works and what needs to be done to keep you alive and functioning in a non cabbage doll way!

WTF does this have to do with SEO? Please, allow me to continue. I think it might help if I clarify a few of the issues and outline some of the complexitities of whats actually involved in doing the day to day work of SEO. I’m gonna brainstorm a little and see where I go and see if I can touch on just a few of things involved and state what I think is required in order to do it properly. I might miss a trick or two, so feel free to say your bit at then end. :D

SEO and Search engines

The aim of an SEO will be to get a website into the search engine results pages for their clients target keywords and phrases. The SEO therefore, has to have quite an in-depth understanding of how search engines work, an understanding of Page Rank, search bots, crawl rates, indexing, tag weighting, robots.txt files, algorithms. He will also need to keep ahead of the curve by continually monitoring and watching for clues as to changes in how things may be evaluated in the future. He’ll need to know what players are important, what user-agents they use and how to identify them, he’ll need an understanding of concepts like trustrank and authority scores, he’ll need to know how these are attained, sustained and lost. He won’t need to go and read guidelines on a daily basis, he’ll just have a good feel for what they are.

SEO’s as Client Side Scripters

Then there’s the website or page. He needs to know all about Title tags and H tags and keyword placement, tables and DIV tags why some meta tags are important and others aren’t, what is a <script> tag when to use noscript, how to use flash, what is a frame, why are they problematic? IOW, he’ll need to know a bit about HTML. Before he builds his page though he’ll need to know why KW research is important, he’ll need to know where to look and how to evaluate using search operators. Oops I forgot to mention CSS, oh and client side scripting too, what is AJAX? What is XML? What are the pluses and minuses of RSS.

SEO’s as Server Side Scripters

Whilst he is at it he may as well have some knowledge of server side scripting languages like PHP and ASP or CFM what is an include? Why are string manipulators so cool. How do you walk an array? Why is script security so important to your continual rankings etc etc etc.

SEO’s as Database Administrators

Then there are databases; you know, the things used to power most of the web. They use things like Structured Query Language to output data onto these things called webpages, you know, those things that hold all these keywords and all. If he really wants to help his client, he’ll need to know how to output his clients stuff, he’ll need to know about database design and structure, he’ll need to know how his queries will affect his site. He’ll need to know about query caching, database management and optimisation.

SEO’s as Server Admins

He’ll need to know a little about server loads and web server architecture, its processes and limitations, how a mod_rewrite can eliminate query strings in URI’s, how to block bad bots, bad IP’s, and why this is important to his clients aims, he’ll need to know about logfiles; error_logs and access_logs.

SEO’s and Metrics

He’ll need to have a good take on metrics – he’ll have a good take on what software’s are out there and why some maybe better than others. He’ll need to know why his visitor demographic is important and how he can best leverage that information to tweak and fine tune his efforts.

SEO’s and Market Pulse

Then there are all the external influences. Things like social metrics, bookmarking, link data, creating buzz and getting links, why is a reciprocal not as good as a one way, what is the difference between a good link and a bad link, what are the sites worth getting into, why are they so?

SEO’s and PPC

He’ll need to know how to help his client through quiet periods and algo changes, he’ll need a knowledge of PPC and what it is and what it does, how to set up campaigns, what is CPM and CPC? What is click-fraud, how is it detected? He’ll need a knowledge of MFA’s and other contextual abuses of his ad-spend, he might have a client who could benefit from Arbitrage or at least the knowledge of how it could affect their bottom line.

SEO’s and Spam

Then there is that huge topic of webspam and all that entails. What is webspam, what is cloaking , what is hijacking, what is a 301 and a 302 what is a 404 and why do they matter, what is hidden text, how do you file a reinclusion request what is a nofollow, why did it arise? What’s a splog? Whats a duplicate content filter, What is the difference between a filter and a penalty?

SEO and Creativity

He’ll need to be able to adapt quickly and think creatively on his feet. He’ll be able to tell the diffference between an opportunity and a yoke and use whatever is before him to best maximise his clients chance of success.

SEO’s and People Networks

And finally, there are the places to look and learn a little more, who are the people worth listening to and who aren’t and so it could go, on and on and on.

There’s quite a bit involved in it all, wouldn’t you say? Is all that lot easy? I don’t think so. It takes years of reading and trial and error and experience to get anywhere near to that level of knowledge and expertise, feckin years. It never stops either, never stands still, blink and you’ll miss a shedload.

See, if you are hiring an SEO company or individual then IMO they will need to have all of the above, and beyond. Any SEO looking to compete in the search space working for different clients in different market sectors will need to have those tools and knowledge in their armoury. If they don’t, then sooner or later a competitor will come along who has and just wipe them off of the landscape. SEO is a knowledge based economy.

You see, flying a plane, splitting an atom, building a house, riding a bike, baking a cake, learning your times tables are all one trick ponies. Once you know them, thats it, you get on with it. Some tasks or roles are different though, some continually shift and change as new technologies and ways of doing things are thrown at them. SEO fits right into this category.
I too liked what Danny Sullivan had to say in a defence of SEO in a blog at searchengineland.com

Yes, you can invest time to learn these “simple” things. But if you know nothing about them, they can seem like rocket science. Over the years, I’ve talked with plenty of people who weren’t even aware of the basic tip that every page should have a unique, descriptive title tag. They think “title” means the biggest text on the page, not the HTML title tag. Talk of HTML title tags — that IS rocket science to them.

Damn right too, we all tend to take what we know for granted, but when we sit down and compare it against the general publics knowledge of it all, then we begin to get a little more perspective.

So, if anyone tells you that SEO is easy, if anyone tells you its just a simple case of putting a meta tag in here there and anywhere, then I suggest you tell them to go and get ranked for something worth ranking for and then come back in 6 months and let you know how they did. Get them to start from scratch mind, none of these pre loaded authority blogs or similar subdomains. ;)

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2 thoughts on “SEO – Brain surgery? Perhaps not, but its not so far off!

  1. Joe Whyte

    Hey Rob,

    This is a realy well thought out post! Very detailed about what to look for in an seo. I couldnt have done this better myself!!!

    You are the man!!!!!

    -Joe

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