April 20, 2008

SEO: a service covering many specialities

by Brian Turner

SEO: a service covering many specialities

Understanding what SEO is can be confusing at the best of times for businesses who are not very conversant with the internet.

The biggest mistake any business can make is to presume that SEO is a generic service, available as the same from SEO companies, but the only difference being one of price points.

SEO is a generic term that covers a range of different disciplines, all involved with helping making a site work better with search engines.

For example, the following are specialities within SEO:

On Page SEO

On-page SEO is probably the most common service, and the most common perception of what SEO as a service general covers.

On-Page SEO is effectively an extension of web accessibility, not least such as using appropriate keywords in page titles, headings, subheadings, etc, to emphasis the page content.

Additionally, placing relevant descriptive keywords in image alt attributes, plus writing meta-description and meta-keyword tags in an appropriate manner, all fall under this heading.

Because a lot of this is easy to learn and achieve by anyone with the time and patience to apply it, some people get the impression that “SEO is easy”. And to be fair, On Page SEO can be successfully practiced by most anyone with only a very basic understanding of how search engines work.

The pitfall comes in that if every competitor has a search friendly website, only those applying additional techniques for a competitive edge will lead the field in ranking results.

And if you want to rank for high traffic competitive keywords, simply doing the above will never be enough.

SEO Copy Writing

Writing copy good for marketing/sales, but also for emphaising keywords and keyword relationships. Often requires a keen understating of delivering a marketing presentation that leads to a call to action (CTA), while also understanding the linguistic relationships between keywords on the page, other pages on the website, and how Google & co are likely to interpret these.

Many SEO’s presume SEO copy writing is nothing more complicated than writing text with keywords, and completely overlook the various subtle nuances involved. This is a surprisingly difficult, subtle, and challenging area for a professional to engage in.

SEO copy writing will often be categorised under “On Page SEO”, but it really deserves to be recognised as a far more complicated field than is usually acknowledged.

Site Architecture

This is another of those specialities that are usually regarded as On-Page SEO, but again this is a speciality in its own right and the complexity of what can be involved easily overlooked.

This is especially the case with larger websites, where simply applying the same navigation links to every page makes no sense – being able to apply unique navigation elements according to the content of the page can offer a serious advantage for users and search engines together.

Additionally, sculpting PageRank and blocking sections of a site to force search engines and link equity into specific targeted areas is something that requires a very carefully considered overall approach. Anyone can work on site architecture, but doing so skilfully and as part of a very carefully considered plan is another.

Site architecture is again another

Link Development

Google is a links driven search engine, so taking careful consideration of a site’s link profile and being able to manage that is a skill in itself.

Unfortunately, too many SEO companies believe that link building involves nothing more than sending mass emails to engage in link exchanges or even to buy links, or just being listed on hundreds of junk Indian SEO directories.

Link development is a far more complicated speciality, which has to explore a whole range of link weighting factors, apply what Google has described in patents to future proof the campaign, and additionally manage risk so that the chances of being penalised for link building actions is minimalised.

Most SEO companies will claim to offer some degree of generic link development service, but usually these are sub-par and easily beaten by a competitor using a link development specialist. Additionally, some SEO companies have such clumsy and ill-thought out link building campaigns that they can actually have clients banned in Google for their actions.

Social Media Optimisation

SMO is an extension of viral marketing, in terms of trying to locate relevant discussions on the internet and trying to push client products and services as the focus of the conversation.

The result is the potential for massive traffic spikes and powerful links covering the discussion, all of which can result in a serious boost to a website’s presence on Google.

However, SEO is a very labour intensive process that results from social relationships being built and maintained, and a very keen understanding of a social media site’s visitor profile – and how to write for that target visitor.

Usually a person involves in SMO directly will have little time for other SEO/marketing work, so companies offering SMO usually either have one or more dedicated staff in this area, or outsource it to those with a proven track record.

Keyword research/analytics

There are also SEO’s who have specialised in providing keyword research services.

While some keyword research can be provided via existing tools, such as wordtracker, overture, and the Google Adwords sandbox tool, these tend to provide blunt approximations that may be quite skewed from current realities.

Therefore SEO’s who have developed unique ways of determining commercially useful keywords and how these should be targeted – from generic to longtail phrases – can provide a much more valuable service to a business.

What’s more, while a lot of people think of keyword research as something to simply implement at the beginning of a campaign, the reality is that in a marketplace as dynamic as the internet, and with seasonal sale cycles to boot, keyword research is often an ongoing process.

Using feedback processes such as server logs and analytics programs to determine best areas for conversion via PPC and organic rankings, an ideal marketing campaign will need to be flexible in terms of what is being targeted, and that means the keyword determination process cannot remain static.

URL rewriting/dynamic solutions

For small and simple sites, re-writing URLs and applying search-friendly On Page SEO issuescan be a reasonably easy and simple affair.

However, once you start addressing large ecommece and corporate sites, which can have hundreds of thousands of pages, to apply on-page SEO good programming skills are required for the relevant coding language used to generate the pages.

From creating custom mod_rewrite rules to redeveloping a site template to allow unique elements to be applied dynamically, whether in php, ASP, Ruby on the rails, etc, this is an area where an understanding of how to work with and leverage different programming languages becomes essential.

This is even more so the case because any SEO changes made to the site cannot interfere with the existing sales process and website functionality. And companies providing such SEO services have to be able to maintain such a status quo in the face of software updates and upgrades.

In this regard, this speciality within SEO is much more IT-focused, with a particular-savvy marketing approach.

Overall: SEO is diverse – know what you need

As this short guide should hopefully illustrate, SEO is not a “one size fits all” service – it is an umbrella terms for a range of usually very specialised approaches.

It is therefore all the more important that companies looking to engage in SEO services take time to determine what actual services they need, and ensure that the SEO company they finally engage in can actually deliver not simply knowledge but specialist experience in delivering solutions in the manner required.

Point is, as raised, realise that SEO covers many niches, and many SEO companies are specialists in one niche, but not the whole range.

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3 Responses to “SEO: a service covering many specialities”

  1. Bill Kruse on April 20th, 2008 11:49 pm

    I’d add usability and page-loading speed to the above.


  2. Jenn Osborne on April 24th, 2008 2:22 am

    Great post! This “one size doesn’t fit all” advice is helpful for clients.

    It’s also helpful for SEO companies to keep in mind when hiring. So often we advertise for an “SEO” but that job title is just too broad. There are so many potential skill sets necessary to do the job that it’s getting harder and harder to find all of those skill sets in one person. As SEO’s specialize I think we’ll see more new job titles evolve as well.

  3. Brian Turner on April 25th, 2008 9:16 am

    Thanks for the comment, Jenn – and it does raise a lot of issues.

    I recently saw an ad for an “SEO” to work in house who, from the job description, was expected to be a seasoned expert in every single speciality listed above.

    I don’t think the company seriously knew what they were asking for.

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