John Andrews is a Competitive Webmaster and Search Engine Optimization Consultant in Seattle, Washington. This is John Andrews blog on issues of interest to the SEO community and competitive webmasters. Want to know more?

johnon.com  Competitive Web & SEO

Client SEO is Harder Than Ever

There has always been debate about professional search engine optimizers’ motivations. Why would someone who could rank web pages at the top of Google offer to work as a consultant to others? A good SEO could make more money working for herself than for others, right?

Not exactly. Just as in any other line of work, we humans thrive on satisfaction. We seek it out, work hard for it, and feel really, really good when we get it. Thing is, people are all different, and different things satisfy different people. Some SEOs are satisfied with money… true. But others seek the praise of others. Some seek the thrill of dominating a fierce competitor. Some get high off the underdog thing: David beating Goliath. Still others get satisfaction out of finding and exploiting a little known secret or undiscovered market opportunity, kind of like playing a game of spy v. spy or Clue or working through a complex puzzle. For some, the money isn’t the goal. The win is the goal. For some, it’s the journey that matters.

I have held several of those perspectives at different times in my life, and I believe I understand them. I also expect there are many more perspectives out there driving SEOs to do their magic. For me, there is no need to debate “Why would an SEO work for others” because the answer is simple: because she wants to. A better question might be, is it cost-effective to SEO for clients?

Lately SEO for Clients has gotten much harder than it used to be. And there is one reason: CHANGE.

I believe the only barrier to SEO is change. Anyone can learn to optimize websites. The basics parallel webmastering – proper code, proper design, complete details. The SEO part comes from paying atention to the details of search engines. The competitive aspects of SEO come from the fact that SEO is always changing, and SEO practitioners need to adapt and keep up to remain competitive in the SERPs. There is a TON of free SEO information on the web. Most of it is junk. Much of the junk is outdated, but most of the junk is assumption based on minimal experimental evidence or simply anecdotal evidence. With so much changing, novice SEO detectives cannot deduce anything meaningful. Still, they deduct. So much well-cited published information is outdated by change, that SEO self-study isn’t easy or inexpensive. Lately, there is more change than ever before.

Client work is expectation management with a little SEO sprinkled on the top. That can be easy money for a smoozer (think Ad Agency) provided the SEO part is easy enough. But as things change rapidly (as they are now), client expectations become harder to manage. SEO is harder to manage, but the client expectation side is even harder. It’s much easier to fire your low-level SEO and pay 5 times more for a short stint with a top-tier SEO than it is to explain to your client why you were 100% incorrect with your last SEO strategy document. Why your judgement was bad. With rapid change, even the best clients get anxious. The worst clients become nightmares.

When you work for yourself you can turn on a dime. You see opportunity in change. When you work for a client, change is a P.I.T.A. that creates more work for everyone. If that work is 80% client expectation management, you better like client expectation management.

It’s simple, really. There are two kinds of SEOs. Those who work for clients, and those who work for themselves. Two sets of objectives, two skill sets to match, and two perspectives on the changing world of search engine optimization. Many of us wear both hats at different times, but that just means we are able to function from differing perspectives, and perhaps are good communicators. In the end, the best SEOs will outperform everyone else provided there is adequate change. If the change slows down, the client expectaton management people will do well. If change picks up, the independents are likely to enjoy more satisfaction than the client-serving SEOs.

Of course there is one exception: the snake oil salesmen SEOs. They do well with very high levels of change, and they are exposed by periods of minimal change. It looks to me like we can once again expect to see high-pressure snake oil SEO making a comeback.

★★ Click to share this article:   Digg this     Create a del.icio.us Bookmark     Add to Newsvine

10 Responses to “Client SEO is Harder Than Ever”

  1. Katy Says:

    I totally agree with your point in the article about SEO being so dynamic. I started about 6 months ago in this industry and have only recently begun to catch onto the basics. I think another thing wrong in SEO is that it’s an industry of people who were totally 100% self taught. This is not a course you can take in many colleges, although I believe I heard they are starting to spring up. You have to read at least 10 different online sites everyday to stay on top of all the news and when you add that to a pile of client work, the task can be very daunting. I applaud SEO entrepreneurs. It’s indeed a difficult place to get a footing.

  2. Otto Says:

    Hi John,

    Interesting post – especially as I used SEO as a client.

    To be perfectly honest, as there’s so much information out there, you do expect magic when you ask for advice from an expert, even though I’d never admit it.

    My real expectations would be to get a strategy to be implemented over a period of time, which would lead to measurable ranking over time.

    Also, I believe that the law of decreasing returns applies – it is much harder to improve a site to perfection (which, as you indicated, is never attainable due to constant change).

    I would also expect an honest presentation of attainable results, but I guess that there lies a problem for “honest” SEO sales. It’s a much harder sell when you tell people they have to wait for results, especially when I could have “top-10 rankings for 99.95″ just by sending someone my url…

    I guess the saying “when the student is ready, the teacher appears” applies here as well. The right client will understand it takes some work and will find the right consultant for him. For the SEO looking for clients, I guess all you can do is tell your side of the story. At the end of the day, that’s how I founf your blog and why I kept reading your posts…

  3. Marios Alexandrou Says:

    Good SEOs can take a site that’s already been out there for a while and has some content to build upon and bring additional traffic to it by applying SEO. It would be much harder for these same SEOs to start from scratch especially in a market filled with strong brands. So the answer to why SEOs consult for others could just come down to it being more lucrative (or just easier) to help several large brands improve their sites rather than spend the time to build new sites. This I think is particularly true in the short term.

  4. IncrediBILL Says:

    I just do SEO for myself because I don’t want or need the whiny customers anymore.

    If I do the SEO work for myself, then it keeps paying me everyday, 24×7, 365 days a year. If I do the SEO work for a customer, then it’s just a paycheck to me and they reap all the big rewards, and I get all the whining. Therefore, I do it all for myself, reap all the rewards and work a lot less than I used to with lots of spare time, sleeping in late, long leisurely lunches and no pesky calls. YMMV.

  5. Cape Cod SEO Says:

    To Consult or Not To Consult, That is the SEO Question…

    If you are reading the SEO blogs in recent months (or at least some of the ones that I read), a hotly debated topic (an SEO challenge if you will) has been brought to the table by many well-known SEO’s in the industry. The subject is in why &#82…

  6. To Consult or Not To Consult, That is the SEO Question | Cape Cod SEO Says:

    […] respected SEO’s explaining their reasons for being a search marketing consultant and those defending (or at least validating) the consulting business […]

  7. Alex Says:

    Kudos on explaining why some SEOs also want to work with clients. Satisfaction can come in different forms… I’m an experienced SEO/SEM and I’m considering work with clients so I’m finding myself in new and somewhat unfamiliar territory.

  8. SSL Certificates Says:

    There are lots of people who want to make their career in SEO, those work for clients and people who know SEO but earn revenue do affiliates, adsense using their tactics. But they are always behind the people who want to make their career

  9. Internet Hosting Says:

    I would also expect an honest presentation of attainable results, but I guess that there lies a problem for “honest” SEO sales. It’s a much harder sell when you tell people they have to wait for results, especially when I could have “top-10 rankings for 99.95″ just by sending someone my url…

    I guess the saying “when the student is ready, the teacher appears” applies here as well. The right client will understand it takes some work and will find the right consultant for him. For the SEO looking for clients, I guess all you can do is tell your side of the story. At the end of the day, that’s how I founf your blog and why I kept reading your posts…

  10. Cheap Ev SSL Says:

    I agree with katy.

    The best way to ensure a solid return on your website investment is to employ the services of a SEO firm with a proven track record of success, knowledge of current and cutting edge techniques and experience working with the business community.