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 easy,’ ‘bullshit,’ ‘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).

URL Structure

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.

Advanced Linking

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 that. 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 terms.

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 time."

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 two.

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 100% Organic column appears Thursdays at Search Engine Land.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: All Things SEO Column | Channel: SEO | SEO: General


About The Author:

Connect with the author via:


Get all the top search stories emailed daily!  


Other ways to share:

Read before commenting! We welcome constructive comments and allow any that meet our common sense criteria. This means being respectful and polite to others. It means providing helpful information that contributes to a story or discussion. It means leaving links only that substantially add further to a discussion. Comments using foul language, being disrespectful to others or otherwise violating what we believe are common sense standards of discussion will be deleted. Comments may also be removed if they are posted from anonymous accounts. You can read more about our comments policy here.
  • JasonD

    Todd, Hear Hear on everything you said.

    Could you fix the image though please ?

  • Michael Martinez

    Todd — the graph is not displaying for me.

    As for Jeremy’s comments (which you referred to), those who don’t know how to do on-page SEO well always poo-poo it and act like they have the secret to success.

    The truth is that there are many different ways to achieve rankings in search results. The most efficient methods don’t always work by themselves, but the most efficient approach is to employ a flexible combination of methods.

    Jeremy is right about one thing: if you’re a white hat SEO and you don’t keep up with what the black hats are doing, you’re bringing a water pistol to a gun fight.

  • chris boggs

    Great post, Todd. Especially valid is the agency life segment, IMO. Rand also commented on this being the difference between doing SEO for small/midsize versus large organizations. To paraphrase him, the small/mid is a struggle sometimes to get the SE’s to notice you, and the biggies is the communication/implementation factor.

  • f-lops-y

    Super stuff Todd! I’d like to add my two bits to your dynamic template modification:

    Some of our agency clients are pretty big. Some of them got on the internet bandwagon way back, you know when SEO was HUH? to most people.

    So case in point, lovely database to make management nice and easy – with a single include to cover all page titles and metadata to ‘ensure consistency of branding message’… and HELLO DC filter.. so reworking the whole backend to make the site even basic spider friendly was required… so i hear ya! and as to the other points – I agree 100%. REAL SEO:…
    Its NOT that easy. Its NOT that common, and It IS a big deal (especially for little guys)….(- and I’m happy to defend it with you :-))

  • Natasha Robinson

    Well Todd,

    You bring up two great points.

    1. Major brands wanting Flash based sites. Dude, once I saw FLEX I thought it would be only a matter of time before major brands start changing over to this ecommerce form because of usability and that SEO better stop the “It’s dumb to have flash sites” argument and figure out some work arounds. Thank you for pointing out the possibility of this.

    2. “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?”. I recently requested the code of a dynamic site to get an understanding of how the site was working and where in the code would need to be chaged. The engineer looked at me like I was crazy ‘What, let you in on the code, you are no engineer” is what the look on his face said. LOL. Then I explained that as an SEO even if I am not an engineer I better understand enough about how dynamic websites work and how the pages are created in order help them understand what parts will need to be modified. I see I may have to start drawing Arrows and Colored boxes as well.

    BTW: You better top writing articles like this or I’m gonna expect more of the same on a more regular basis!

  • ogletree

    Thanks Todd. I’m so glad somebody defended us. I think it is quite appropriate that Oilman defends the “snake oil salesmen” :)

  • Mike Empuria

    Appropriate clocking is a 5% issue and redirection is so important that you don’t even talk about it!

  • DanielR


    Agency client management issues is definitely a biggie, but I think there is more to be said here.

    It can be difficult to explain to a client why SEO is not just a technical operation, but requires to changes to copy, talking to brand, co-ordinating with PR and so forth.

    And once you get the understand from the client lead, there’s the need for getting support with the copy dept, legal dept, PR person etc.

    Understanding, Buy-In, and Coordination.

  • SearchStudent

    Todd, blog more. Thanks.

    Great post BTW.

  • AjiNIMC

    >> URL Structure
    Along with canonicalization is needed. I am writing a complete post on different level of canonicalization.

    >> Advanced Linking
    This is pretty much tricky, with recent matt cutts tool for reporting paid links. Use it on your own risk. I advice for buying links, buy from those who are not selling.

    >> Appropriate Cloaking (err…IP Delivery)
    I do not think I will support it. KISS always works for me.

    Rest of the section is obvious.


Get Our News, Everywhere!

Daily Email:

Follow Search Engine Land on Twitter @sengineland Like Search Engine Land on Facebook Follow Search Engine Land on Google+ Get the Search Engine Land Feed Connect with Search Engine Land on LinkedIn Check out our Tumblr! See us on Pinterest


Click to watch SMX conference video

Join us at one of our SMX or MarTech events:

United States


Australia & China

Learn more about: SMX | MarTech

Free Daily Search News Recap!

SearchCap is a once-per-day newsletter update - sign up below and get the news delivered to you!



Search Engine Land Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors

Get Your Copy
Read The Full SEO Guide