Sign up for weekly recaps of the ever-changing search marketing landscape.
SEO Is Easy? Let’s Look At The Hard 5 Percent
The SEO world has always had its supporters and its detractors, and it’s
never made a great deal of difference. The bigger battles often waged within the
community between the whitehats and blackhats. The whitehats would rant and rave
about how the blackhats could get clients in trouble and how blackhat tactics
generally junked up the SERPs. The blackhats would fire back with, well, not
much really. I suppose they were mostly busy with making money. This internal
squabbling was largely ignored by the outside world and that was fine. Lately
that is not the case.
There is a new battle
waging, and on one side you have people calling SEO ‘stupid
‘snake oil’ and so forth. On the other side, you have folks like me taking some
pretty serious offence to our livelihood being denigrated by non-SEOs. A large
part of the argument is that SEO is 95 percent easy, and it’s the other 5
percent that is what we really get paid for — and that 5 percent is the slimy
stuff that makes the web a worse place to be.
We’re going to take a look at that 5 percent in this article based on actual
work I’ve done for real clients. These clients all have one end goal. That goal
is revenue – pure and simple or, more specifically, targeted traffic that
converts by handing over their hard-earned money for your product or service.
Revenue is the only measure of any relevance. Traffic and rankings are just
fluff, if you’re not making your client money.
The 5 Percent
- URL Structure (the fixing thereof)
- Advanced Linking
- Appropriate Cloaking (err…IP Delivery)
- Dynamic Template Modification
- Client Management (agency life)
- Redirection (site moves or redesign)
Let’s breakdown that 5 percent a bit more and see what exactly is entailed,
since all the other stuff is easy and anybody can do it (he says with his tongue
firmly planted in his cheek).
One of our clients uses an incredibly complex CMS that was developed by a
bunch of former Inktomi engineers (which is surprising considering the complete
search engine un-friendliness of the default install). This CMS generated some
horrible URLs. Working closely with the client and the CMS support team, we were
able to clean up those URLs to make them actually crawlable. There was far more
we wanted to do, such as getting the keywords for products and categories into
the URLs. That didn’t turn out to be possible, so we settled for crawlability,
which was a still a massive improvement. The end result was a 4,000 percent
increase in indexed pages in Google.
Yes – we buy links. Lots of links. For several of our clients. Buying links
is one of those items that was blackhat but is now almost completely mainstream.
Anybody and everybody can buy links but what puts it in the 5 percent? You can
totally shoot your website in the foot, if you don’t buy links correctly. Not
all links are created equal. You need to understand the authority of the sites
you are getting links on and the authority of your site. You also need to verify
that the site passes that link juice you desire. Very few people know how to do
Social network links such as what you get from Digg, Netscape, etc. aren’t
what I’m talking about here. Those links generally only help you rank for brand
Appropriate Cloaking (err…IP Delivery)
Cloaking has long been a hallmark tactic of a blackhat search engine
spammer, but there are several perfectly acceptable and reasonable uses for
cloaking. I recently helped one of our clients transition their online store
from HTML to a fully Flash based store. Whoa, you say. Yes, that’s backwards,
but when your talking about a top 25 world brand with a whole team of brand
managers focused on slick user experience, you don’t always get your way. The
simple fact that companies still do stuff like all Flash websites is a pretty
clear indicator that SEO isn’t understood very well at all.
The solution in this case was to build out an underlying HTML version of the
website and serve it only to search engine crawlers and to serve the Flash to
real human surfers. Here’s the key – everything is identical between the two
versions of the page. Any change we make to the HTML version is reflected in the
Flash version. This maintains integrity with the search engines as well as
keeping the brand police at bay.
Dynamic Template Modification
I debated this bit for a while, because it seems very straight forward. All
you need to do is understand a bit of programming and a bit about how a database
works. I debated that is until I was explaining to one of the senior IT guys
that works on a client’s website and he said to me "To be honest I don’t really
understand how this website works. It was built this way 5 years ago before my
If you don’t even understand how your website is built, how can you
reasonably understand how to insert the SEO elements I’ve requested? The end
result of this was a document with a screenshot of a product page and the
associated source code with arrows and colored boxes and samples of what the
code looks like prior to being processed into HTML etc.
Client Management (agency life)
This arguably the hardest part of any mainstream SEO’s job. In short, it is
about managing client expectations and getting them to champion SEO within their
organization. It’s about the buy-in and recognizing the value. I guarantee you
that most companies that say they’ve had a bad experience with an SEO agency
more likely than not will point to lack luster results and poor client
relations. Of course, usually the client did not get the SEO recommendations
implemented correctly or at all but it’s still the agency responsible for
results. The agency in turn resents this, and the whole relationship spirals
downward in a hurry.
This is backed up by the most recent Constellation Report for Jupiter
Research that identified customer service as the number one reason an online
marketing agency is retained beyond the initial contract. Results were number
At Range, we do a lot of SEO for
some very well known companies in the Fortune 500/1000 arena, and we do it very
well. Below is a revenue graph for one of our longest term SEO clients. The
dollar values have been removed from the chart for reasons of confidentiality
but rest assured the numbers are in the millions. Can you spot where we began
SEO for this client?
Results and client satisfaction are my metrics. Happy clients making money
help me sleep very well at night. Call me a snake oil salesman, if you like but
my snake oil is has cured the ills of many websites over the years.
Todd Friesen is the director of search engine optimization for
Range Online Media, a firm that
specializes in search marketing and online media. He also blogs about SEO at the
Oilman blog. The
column appears Thursdays at Search Engine
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.