An SEO critic answers his critics

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This month, an article I wrote for DM News titled "Troubled Times for SEO Firms" (http://www.dmnews.com/cms/dm-news/search-marketing/38695.html) created a firestorm of controversy on SEO-oriented message boards. It's clear that I touched a raw nerve and I've received a fair share of critical e-mail.

I've also received a much larger share of e-mail applauding the fact that I seem to be the first guy to say what's obvious to anyone who's worked in the SEO/SEM business for more than a few months: SEO isn't rocket science, it isn't worth paying a fortune for, and in all but a few rare cases, it's not something you need to pay some uber-geek to do month after month.

Amazingly, one critic attacked me because I relied on data provided by MarketingSherpa clearly showing the SEO industry's best days are behind us. This guy claimed that revenues for SEO firms are growing more quickly than the data indicates, because SEO expenditures tend to be hidden inside budget items. Okay, this might be a fair point: companies sometimes bury SEO expenses in IT and marketing departments.

But I ask you, why should companies be hiding their SEO expenditures any more now than they did in prior years? Until I see some evidence demonstrating that these expenditures are being hidden more in 2006 than they were in 2005 and 2004, we should regard the degree of "budget concealment" as a constant, accept the flattening SEO revenue curve as a fact, and move on.

Other SEO'ers were clearly upset that I questioned the kind of high-margin consultancy, which many of them offer, month after month, to clients seeking top organic rankings. For those SEO firms, which function more as PR agencies than ongoing tweak-and-fix consultancies, such a relationship might make sense. If you have $10,000 a month you want to pay a PR agency, of course you're going to get some good public relations out of it. And if you're spending $10,000 on SEO, of course you're sure to get some Page Rank out of it. But if you have any sense of how either the PR industry or the Google Visibility industry work, you'll quickly realize that you can spend a fraction of this and reap almost as many benefits.

Here's an analogy that applies directly to way the SEO industry behaves. When you go to your doctor with a skin condition, what does he do? Unless your doctor is a quack, he does some tests, gets the results back and prescribes an off-the-shelf or prescription medication. You rub this stuff on your skin once a day, once a week, whatever. You might go back and see your doctor in a month or two to evaluate the results of this treatment.

If your doctor behaved the way many in the SEO crowd believe SEO firms should work, he'd run some tests, come up with a treatment plan, but wouldn't give you the medicine to rub on your skin. He'd keep this medicine (labeled "Super Secret SEO Sauce") locked up in a vault in his office. Then he'd make a series of appointments for you to come in so that he could rub this medicine on your skin, charging you hundreds, perhaps thousands of dollars for each visit.

Now, of course, there are maladies that do require many visits to the doctor's office. Of course, there are obscure life-threatening diseases that require a team of specialists, in-hospital care, weekly appointments and high-tech gizmos. And yes, there are cases where companies need to consult an SEO specialist more than once, especially in cases where there are multiple Web properties involved, complex content issues, and the need for the same ongoing visibility-obtaining services provided by traditional PR agencies.

Most marketers, however, will never need this expensive level of specialist care and shouldn't have to pay these high specialist fees. We're not talking about treating chronic, incurable diseases here, folks. We're talking about fixing your Web site so that its current and future content is optimized for search engines. This is not, repeat not, rocket science. Anyone who insists that it is, is nothing more than a quack selling you a bill of goods.

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