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But good SEO is mostly easy, common-sense techniques that don't change very often. Bad SEO (gaming the system) is the hard part, and I have to imagine it's mostly the part people are willing to pay a lot of money for.

But good SEO is mostly easy, common-sense techniques that don't change very often

This is sort of like saying "good programming is mostly easy, common-sense techniques that don't change very often", and since programming is a solved problem, anybody willing to pay a lot of money for programmers is clearly getting something hinky done.

Programming is not a solved problem. Neither is marketing. SEO exists at the intersection of programming and marketing. Every site and every business brings their own unique challenges to the mix, and they're not all addressable with "Slap some alt tags on those images and you're good to go", any more than you can solve any programming problem with "Rewrite it... with more AJAX!"

SEO for many startups will involve, among other considerations, "How do we convince our users to create? How do we convince our users to share?" Those are core product/marketing questions for many startups, but they're equally core to the SEO strategy, and they're tricky to get right. For that sort of startup, you could imagine someone looking over their widget's viral activity with the amount of intensity that Zynga spends on its viral channels, because sharing via the widget creates several types of value for the company (via direct traffic, branding, and ranking effects).

I don't want to take this analogy too far but.. In some ways it is similar to a lawyer or accountant.

A lot of the time, especially with small common issues, the answer is standard and simple and you could have just looked it up yourself. A lot of sites actually just need to pick some decent keywords to target and write titles for the page.

Sometimes, you want a professional to tell you that even though it is mostly just standard stuff because otherwise you don't know if you could be saving tax by doing something else.

Sometimes things are complicated and the difference between a creative (which usually also mean experienced) consultant helps.

BTW, that doesn't mean rely on professionals and don't learn it yourself. Learning a bit of law or accounting might also be a good idea. Certain types of creative solutions are only really going to come from you. Some solutions are best engineered in from the beginning. EG, you might want a lawyer on the founding team of a music sharing startup.

Good programming is mostly easy, common-sense techniques that don't change very often. At least, if you want to ship your product. Also, answering questions as far as getting your users to create and share is largely a UI/product issue, nothing to do with SEO.

I think the main issue is that most developers/business owners have seen SEO companies charge enormous sums for adding very little value, or using dubious ethical means such as link farming, keyword stuffing, invisible keywords and so on. It's going to take a long time for all of that to wear off.

GREAT reply, patio11. It's not just a question of good versus bad SEO. Within each 'colour', there's a vast range of techniques. Not everyone knows about them, and certainly not everyone can implement them. More importantly, the things that really sets a talented ethical SEO apart from an inept ethical one are creativity and business smarts. Just like any marketing campaign, an effective, sustainable SEO campaign requires a deep understanding of the client's business needs and market.

Working in the SEO world for a long time on a huge number and variety of projects, I'd have to say that despite my respect for the people who visit and comment here, this comment is entirely false.

Bad SEO is easy, good SEO is hard. Just like anything else in life; nothing worth having comes easy.

You are (purposely?) mis-stating what he claimed:

He wrote "good SEO" meaning ethical or non-sleazy and "bad SEO (gaming the system)" as sleazy SEO.

Not your re-defining them as "good" as "effective" and "bad" as "incompetent".

In my experience with several large-ish companies (ymmv with smaller shops), they paid outside SEO firms good money to provide "good" SEO and tell them what we (the technical folks) already knew. However, the value was that then we were given budget/time to go make the changes/cleanup the pages/etc... And it gave weight to our suggesting that maybe not all the content should only be showing in fancy JS driven modals, etc... They also had some metrics and advice regarding the most useful keywords/content we should be utilizing (helpful stuff) that the internal marketing folks had no ideas on.

Thankfully, I haven't worked at a company that hired a "bad" SEO firm, yet.

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