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How SEO Consulting Has Changed

My fellow SNC writers are awesome. I was utterly stuck for a topic this month, until during a Skype chat with Dave and the others until a great suggestion from Doc Sheldon got me thinking, and soon after ranting, about one of my many pet peeves in SEO. Hoopla. Yeah, hoopla. It’s the hoopla over “New Patents” over “Updates” and over “Public Outings“. I don’t find anything particularly wrong with any one of these things on their own, but it’s the Brew Ha-Ha that gets me equal part amused and frustrated. I appreciate the entertainment value, but I resent how much more difficult it makes my job. Our jobs.

The problem is SEO is not mainstream enough for people to have a solid understanding of how it works, but it is intriguing enough to the masses that there is plenty of MIS-information on the subject in the public arena. From TV shows that irresponsibly insinuate that negative reviews can bolster search engine rankings to vague references that do nothing but further mystify the Great White Search Engine.

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Not to mention there is dissension even among the “expert” community on what matters, what works, what’s “ethical“ and what will get you screwed. For every piece of SEO advice you find online, there is another one contradicting it. And for people who don’t know “Who’s Who“ among SEO’s, this creates the kind of confusing environment where misunderstandings can breed like bacteria in a petri-dish.

So with all of this contention surrounding our work, consulting has changed a lot. It involves a lot more than just taking someone’s site, and “working your magic“ and handing back a turbo-ranking piece of kick-ass-ness. There is more involved now, more to discuss and more reasons to come out from behind our secrecy, jargon and tech-speak.


One of the first things a consultant has to do with any new or potential client is de-programming them of the false information they may have. I once heard someone in the market for SEO services rant for 20 minutes about the impossibility of getting good rankings finishing his diatribe with the assertion that “nobody really knows anything about SEO“. Well, obviously that’s not true. It’s not Monopoly money the industry leaders are raking in”¦

I’ve also reviewed “SEO reports“ that others have paid for. After looking at all the factors I was left feeling sorry for the client and aggravated by the “report”. There were inconsistencies, and smoke and mirrors all over it.

Any time you talk to someone new you need to find out exactly what myths they believe to be true that need to be dispelled. Sometimes it’s as basic as convincing them that optimizing their PDF’s does not take priority over their site architecture. Others it’s having to convince them that spending $3000 on blog comment spamming was an expensive mistake. It happens all too often that the first thing an SEO needs to do on a new account is run damage control. We become part therapist, listening to problems and offering counsel, and part janitor cleaning up other people’s messes. But in our entirety we become educators.


After we manage to heal the wounds of SEO’s past and straighten out misunderstandings, we have to be teachers. In order for our work to be appreciated there has to be a period in which we help the client come to understand what quality SEO means. That no, it’s not a short cut, or an alternative to the intense psychology of other types of marketing. We need to instill the values of content. We need to explain the merits of some links over others. We need to cultivate a real understanding of which on-page factors actually matter and which ones are cheap excuses for burning contracted hours.

Yes, there are KPI’s and ROI’s, deliverables and measurements. But they won’t always be what you expect them to be. And rankings don’t always automatically = money. Not if the site has fundamental problems. Conversion optimization is a whole other ball game. So yeah I can build you back links till the cows come home, but if your home page sucks, we’re still miles away from success. That’s why in addition to helping our clients become educated about basic concepts in SEO we need to work with them to make their sites as powerful as they have the potential to be.


Once we get to a point where the wounds of the past have been salved, there is a new understanding of the realities of SEO we can really get to work. The thing is, as knowledgeable as we SEO’s are on many subjects we can never know a client’s business as well as they will. We can make estimations based on previous experience and what we’re told, but they are the ones in the trenches every day doing what they do. Ok, well even if your point person isn’t, SOMEBODY on their staff is. That’s why great SEO is about teamwork, between you and the client and their people.

They know what their own resources are and what their staff is capable of. Sometimes our job is just figuring out how to take that information and help them utilize it to improve their online visibility. A good hearted company is going to make charitable contributions regardless of where they rank. We can help them find good causes that also give links to their benefactors.

Our job is often to help them channel their own ideas into effective internet promotions. But we can only do that if we’re truly willing to work with a client. That also doesn’t mean acquiescing to every request they have, sometimes we need to stand our ground, when we know something that sounds good on paper, probably won’t play out well. People talk a lot about “managing client expectation“ that is a huge part of today’s SEO consulting process and not always the most fun. So sometimes we need to dig in and remember patience is a virtue.


Getting aggravated is easy; I do it like 10 times a day. Being patient is hard. But patience is an important part of SEO consulting for both the client and the agency. Sometimes things happen quickly, but other times it may be weeks or months before we see the full impact of an effort. So just because results aren’t instantaneous, it doesn’t mean they aren’t coming. We also need to be patient when dealing with questions and doubts. Sometimes we have to try and fail just to prove that our original assessment of likelihood was true. And when it is, we need to refrain from saying “I told you so“. No one said being patient is easy, and in a world of instant gratification in a society of people with terminal ADD it seems even harder. But without it, we lose all the excitement, and fulfillment of the slow burn. SEO is a crock pot, not a microwave. And sometimes we all need to remember that.

SEO consulting has certainly changed over time and continues to evolve every day. The best any of us can do is focus on the core values of marketing, education, collaboration, testing and patience. Without these things, we can never really achieve the kinds of ranking success we want, or the kind of client satisfaction paying customers deserve. We have to accept that there are and will always be sharks in our midst, but how we choose to do business is entirely up to us. As an SEO you can be a predator, or a healer it all comes down to whether you want to be the guy making messes or the one restoring faith in an industry.



  1. Barry March 21, 2011

    Hear hear! Fully agree. There’s too much hype and hullabaloo in the SEO world (one of my first blog posts for Searchcowboys was actually about that) and we could all do with a solid dose of patience and common sense.

  2. Jey Pandian March 21, 2011

    Agreed, this was a much needed post on common sense. I wish you’d write more often, your posts have subtle wisdom woven throughout them, would love to see you come out more frequently.

    PS Don’t struggle on your posts, just share what you are passionate about 🙂

  3. Doc March 24, 2011

    Amazing post, and spot on in all regards, Jen! Easily one of the best I’ve read recently (and I read a lot of ’em!)

    I also agree with Jey… you need to write a lot more often. 😉

  4. Roshan March 27, 2011

    those who think they have learned seo might as well unlearn and relearn the seo.

  5. Jesika March 30, 2011

    I love it when a client asks “How much does it cost to get to the top of google?” and you get to patiently explain the definition of organic search results. For the sixth time.

    Great post, Jen!

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