SEO (define) has always been part art, part science. Creative, effective copywriting skills are a must for a search expert. A Web page's content must not only help a site get search engine traffic but also convert visitors into customers.
Site design is another crucial, and often overlooked, artistic skill search experts should have. All professional SEO experts should know how to place important keyword phrases and supporting graphic images and multimedia files on a site. This way, site visitors can find the site's products and services, and search engine spiders can easily access the site's content. It's not as simple as, "Change all graphic images to CSS-formatted text." Search-friendly design has never been that easy.
Are Advanced SEOs Really Beginners?
IT professionals and Web developers are sometimes considered advanced SEO professionals. They maintain database-driven or static Web sites, often servers. They have advanced IT skills. But since when do advanced IT skills automatically translate into advanced SEO skills?
It's time we stopped calling SEO professionals who practice IP delivery advanced SEO experts. IP delivery is the practice of giving search engines different content than site visitors get, based on IP address. IP delivery is certainly an advanced IT skill. Some sites genuinely need IP delivery. However, if a person has IP delivery skills, does that qualify him as an advanced search expert? Absolutely not.
Are Black-Hat SEO Professionals Search Experts?
Many self-righteous, self-proclaimed search experts tout their skills as the be-all, end-all in search marketing. These search "experts" are usually black-hat SEO professionals.
For years, I've read that the crucial difference between white- and black-hat SEO professionals lies in technical skills. The argument goes something like: "The only reason white-hat SEO professionals criticize our IP delivery skills is they don't have them."
That's an ignorant statement. The truth is more like: "The only reason black-hat SEO professionals criticize our copywriting, design, and usability skills is because they don't have them." Many SEO "experts" ruin site design. Some sites must be graphics intensive. That's what the target audience prefers. A talented, experienced SEO professional knows how to work with both graphics- and text-intensive site designs without resorting to IP delivery.
Usability and Search
One reader told me usability skills shouldn't be part of an SEO professional's skill set. People who make this statement are usually algorithm chasers.
If a site owner wants search engine traffic, the information displayed in SERPs (define) must convince the target audience to click the link to the site. Search engines often show title-tag content, meta-tag content, or content snippets from an actual page. This is a fundamental result of search usability skills.
No one wants to click on a keyword-stuffed search result. Users want to be delivered to a URL with the exact information they searched for. This process requires usability, persuasion, and technical skills.
Even search engines employ usability professionals, in-house or otherwise. Ask your SEO firm: how many usability professionals do you have on your staff?
SEO has never been only about top positions on results pages. Search experts understand this.
Advanced IT Skills Are Still Advanced IT Skills
I don't wish to demean my colleagues who maintain servers or huge, database-driven sites, or the IP-delivery experts. I'm a tech person, too. People with these skills should be respected for having them and implementing them to make better sites.
Likewise, search-friendly copywriters, Web designers/developers, and usability professionals should also be respected for the skills they bring to the SEO table.
So what constitutes a search expert? A person with both technical and artistic skills, which are applied to search in a user-friendly manner. I know very few people with both technical and artistic/marketing skills. Then again, I know very few true search experts.
Want more search information? ClickZ SEM Archives contain all our search columns, organized by topic.
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Shari Thurow is the founder and SEO director at Omni Marketing Interactive, a full-service search engine marketing, Web, and graphic design firm. Acknowledged as a leading expert on search engine friendly Web sites worldwide, she is the author of the top-selling marketing book, "Search Engine Visibility," published through Peachpit Press. Shari's areas of expertise include site design, search engine optimization, and usability.
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