Identifying SEO Experts, Part 2: Intermediates

In this three-part series, I present my thoughts on what constitutes a true SEO (define) expert. Part one addressed the beginner level. Today, the intermediate level. Finally, we’ll look at the advanced/expert level. I’ll also include some personal observations.

SEO Beginner: Review

A successful SEO campaign is part art (copywriting and site design skills) and part science (coding, programming, and analysis skills). Beginner SEO experts have the art covered. Writing title-tag and meta-tag content that helps sites rank well and encourages prospects to click a link to your site is certainly a laudable skill. As many site owners know, having effective copywriters on your staff is good. Having search-friendly, effective copywriters is better.

Most Web sites don’t consist of words alone. Even a site with perfect search-friendly copy might not rank well if search engines don’t have easy access to that text. This is where the science comes in. Intermediate SEO experts have beginners’ skills (keyword research and copywriting), along with technical skills to optimize a site.

Key Skill: HTML Coding

The intermediate SEO expert must be able to code HTML and CSS (define). And I mean really code, not relying on the WYSIWYG coding available in Dreamweaver, FrontPage, or even ImageReady.

A good designer/developer knows how to use WYSIWYG features to make coding faster. These tools can also be useful for HTML troubleshooting. Yet the intermediate SEO expert understands the types of design and development issues that can prevent a spider from easily accessing content.

JavaScript links are generally hit or miss with search engines, for example. A smart SEO expert should know how to modify JavaScript to make it more search friendly — and when that’s appropriate. Sometimes, search-friendly JavaScript links aren’t a good idea, such when the scripts are for exit pop-up windows.

If a site owner suspects his site has been banned or penalized due to search engine spam, expert HTML coding and Web analytics skills are needed to determine the technical reasons a site might not be listed.

Web Site Usability

Always design and write your site for your target audience. Search engines don’t spend thousands or millions of dollars on your products and services. Your target audience will. Every site optimization strategy should benefit your target audience first, the search engines second. Usability is a key component to getting qualified traffic and conversions.

Unfortunately, too many SEO professionals give lip service to usability. Don’t get me wrong; I’m happy to see progress in this area. I applaud SEO professionals who learn more about site usability and apply what they learn to client sites.

Yet I don’t believe most SEO professionals truly understand usability. I hear a lot of usability buzzwords thrown in the sales and marketing hype to impress potential clients. But I don’t see usability principles applied to the actual sites, not even the SEO professionals’ own sites.

I cringe when SEO professionals claim to be site architecture experts. Many search engine marketers claiming to be site architecture experts have absolutely no background in building Web sites. They have no coding skills whatsoever. They’re very good at repurposing information from noted usability experts, such as Jakob Nielsen, Jared Spool, Steve Krug, and Eric Schaffer. They don’t actually develop and test usability methodologies themselves. Very few search marketers have certification, training, or any formal education in usability.

Usability and information architecture existed long before the Web and search engines did. An intermediate SEO expert should have education, training, and experience in site usability. He should actually apply this knowledge to make sites more search friendly.


Though HTML coding and usability skills are the science of SEO, creating effective Web pages is still an art. If your target audience prefers graphics- or Flash-based navigation, for example, a search-engine friendly designer will give your target audience what they prefer. A truly skilled SEO expert will also create user- and search-friendly secondary navigation schemes (vertical and horizontal) and relevant cross links. The result? Content that pleases humans and search engine spiders alike.

Next: identifying advanced SEO experts.

Want more search information? ClickZ SEM Archives contain all our search columns, organized by topic.

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