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Demystifying the Complexity of SEO

By Paul J. Bruemmer (c) Nov. 2005, Bruce Clay, Inc.
Published in

“SEO is still a tiny portion of the total search marketing spend.” So states MarketingSherpa in its recent Search Marketing Benchmark Survey. I find it hard to understand the under-utilization of organic SEO compared to PPC (pay-per-click) advertising when organic listings are preferred by 5 clicks to 1. The natural organic listings convert better, too. So what gives?
MarketingSherpa also states that organic results are “better noticed, read and clicked on than paid listings.” The report notes that organic listings convert as well as, or even better than, paid listings (4.2%, versus 3.6%). Study after study continue to demonstrate the power of organic links.

Delight and Dismay

MarketingSherpa researchers were both “delighted and appalled by the year over year data on marketing search spending.” Delighted because more marketers said they would allocate largër portions of their marketing budgets to SEO to gain valuable organic listings. But appalled at the “continuing disconnect between paid search spending and SEO investmënt.”

The keyword is “investmënt.” SEO is an investmënt in time, resources and knowledge – an investmënt that is accountable and yields an excellent return. The benefits of SEO are long lasting when compared to PPC because paid clicks can start or end immediately, depending on your budget and a variety of other factors. Conversely, organic SEO changes to a website stay with you indefinitely.

Requisite Site Changes

Organic SEO takes a lot of expertise, and it also takes cooperation by the client in executing the recommended site changes that allow a site to rank well in the major search engines. A recent JupiterResearch study states there are numerous obstacles to achieving necessary site changes when search marketers outsource SEO to vendors. In fact, 64 percent of the marketers and agencies surveyed said they did not implement their SEO vendor’s recommendations. This leads to the assumption that they didn’t achieve good organic SEO results.

I myself wonder just what the “SEO recommendations” were that the marketers did not implement in this study. Why? Because I’ve seen and heard a lot of inappropriate and/or weak SEO recommendations over the past ten years.

While the reasons cited for not following through with site changes are reportedly varied, the most common were (1) “lack of internal human resources to implement changes,” (2) “timing/ frequency of update issues,” and (3) “lack of outsourced IT budget.” In my opinion, this is by and large due to the SEO vendor failing to set proper client guidelines and expectations.

The Communication Workaround

Can any client trust the advice they receive from any given SEO vendor? It seems like a catch 22 for the politically correct — clients pay big bucks for SEO services, but they don’t get results because they can’t make the site changes. I say horse feathers to this assumption — clients come to an SEO vendor for help. It is the vendor’s responsibility to guide the client to success. Failure occurs when the vendor fails to communicate what is required of the client prior to signing a contract.

A partial remedy for not implementing site changes would be to task the SEO vendor to FTP the site changes, but many companies will not allow outside consultants to access their site. The best solution is for the vendor to be clear upfront in communicating with the client, coming to mutual agreement on a procedure and schedule for making recommended site changes.

SEO vendors need to be more explicit in delineating the IT vs. marketing tasks necessary. They also need to consider the expertise and knowledge factor. SEO experts can likely accomplish the site changes in less time than the client IT technicians; however, there is tremendous value to in-sourcing SEO in the long run. Vendors can provide a realistic time schedule for accomplishing changes and factor in time for unknown contingencies due to client company operations. Explicit communication between the SEO vendor and its client’s IT and Marketing departments will lead to much better SEO results – a win-win for both parties.

The SEO Mystique

The MarketingSherpa report stated that “SEO under-spending” is a trend that will continue in 2006. The researchers asked, “Why don’t more marketers invest in SEO?” The major reason given by respondents was “Don’t understand SEO, overall complexity.”

Despite the fact that users prefer unbiased organic links, and the conversions from organic links average higher than those from sponsored links, some marketers won’t invest in organic SEO because of its ambiguity and complexity.

That’s why it is necessary to educate marketers and technical people on SEO, demystifying the process. It is really not difficult to understand when examined step by step, but the problem lies in identifying qualified SEO vendors. SEO requires specific knowledge of appropriate methodology and a bit of perseverance. Some of the vendors with marketing visibility lack such traits, leaving a lot to be desired.

Another obstacle to the widespread adoption of organic SEO is that experts in the field offer conflicting advice. A lot of what you hear on the Forums is rhetoric and hearsay. Then there is the lack of SEO standards and a code of ethics, which further erodes the integrity of the industry.

Some SEO experts talk in very general terms, e.g., all you need to do is write your site content for both your customers and the search engines, give each page a keyword-optimized Title and Description Meta Tag, and get as many quality inbound links as possible. Others will say it’s more a matter of technical changes, “you need maintenance.” Very few know what goes on behind the scenes, and this contributes to the SEO mystique.

SEO Made Simple

First, you need a site review. This includes establishing your business goals with respect to search engines, leading you to measurable organic SEO results. I’m talking about Server Header Status, your IP C Block, dotting the (i) and slashing the (t) in the basics of server-side status, site architecture, page construction, content and inbound link popularity.

Next, a competitor review tells you what you are up against. Your site is obviously lacking several criteria or you wouldn’t have such poor positioning. This will also wake you up to the reality of what is required to achieve good positioning. Hello! I think Wake Up is the keyword hëre, get specifics from your vendor and don’t settle for rhetoric or marketing lingo. Here’s your scrïpt.

I want evidence that my IP address is not IP blocklisted, I want to know why a robots.txt file should be in my root directory, I want to see I have a site status header 200 when you ping my server and not a 400 or 302. I want to see if my HTML is being read properly by a spider read, a browser read and a request read. I want to know how to determine what my odds are of acquiring my strongest competitor’s best positions in Google. I want to know I will be sp@m frëe, and I want to know how my site should be arranged so that spiders can find, crawl, index and rank all my data.

And if you need more info on demystifying SEO, drop me a line.

About The Author
Paul J. Bruemmer has provided search engine marketing expertise and consulting services to prominent American businesses since 1995. As Principal Business Analyst for Bruce Clay, Inc., he is responsible for strategizing and implementing business development activities. Paul is well-known in the industry, having written articles for ClickZ, Search Engine Guide, Pandia, iMediaConnection, MarketingProfs and SitePoint. He has also been a featured speaker at the Search Engine Strategies Conference and eComXpo.


Camilla Todd
Camilla Todd is Head of Digital Marketing at WNW Digital and manages Search Engine Optimisation, PPC, Social Media campaigns and Brand Awareness for WNW Digital SEO clients. You can follow her on Twitter @camilla_wnw, email her at or phone on 01392 349580