For years (perhaps as long as I've been in this industry), I've read comments all over the web about how "anyone can do SEO" and/or the obligatory "don't waste your money on an SEO expert."
After all, we all "know" what to do to optimize a website, right?
Truth is, there are thousands of resources available that can tell you "what to do to optimize your website", but the other side of that truth is that there are so many varied components (thousands of different ways) to optimizing a web presence and it's not just "what" you do, but "how" you do it that makes all the difference.
Anyone can build a website and "get some links," but a lot of folks simply don't know how to build a good website for users, much less search engines (or both?) or how to go about promoting a website (growing a "good" link profile). And, that's just the beginning.
Let me share a few scenarios with you:
This Isn't How You Do Social Media Marketing
I have a client that I had told, many years ago, that they needed to incorporate a blog into their site and start developing interesting, unique, quality/shareable content, on a consistent basis. This client moved on the idea (after much prodding), and hired an agency two years ago that "specializes" in social media marketing to write posts and manage the social promotion across multiple channels. They "did" what we asked them to do, but they most certainly did not do it "how" we would have liked.
To date (almost two years later) their blog lacks a single comment and just a handful of "shares". Out of the roughly 50 blog posts that they've created to date there are 12 that have gained any links whatsoever, and – of those – the links are coming from six sources (the company's Google+, the company's YouTube profile, the company's Pinterest profile, an aggregator (feedage.com, Ask.com, and Folkd.com).
We have been extremely limited in our ability to work with the social media agency, and thus "social media is in a vacuum". That's not "how" it's supposed to be.
I could write an entire article on the things that we would have liked to have had more influence on, such as the design of the blog portion of their site, the share features, content plans/editorial calendar and how the content is promoted to influencers to gain more traction. Alas, this client is paying a pretty hefty sum for a "specialist" in social media marketing to have little effect on metrics that I would think matter in this realm (engagement/brand building and yes, links).
This Isn't How You Do SEO
Another example is a prospect that I'm currently pitching. They are a national company, with hundreds of locations (franchises) throughout North America.
To date, they have taken a very tactical approach to search engine optimization. When you run through the checklist of things that you "should do", you could say that they're doing "everything that you're supposed to be doing". Problem is, they are just not doing it very well.
Each franchisee is afforded the opportunity to make the most of their sections of the website. They have the ability to create pages, blogs, link to social profiles, etc. They can edit their "main page", and pretty much anything within their sections of the website.
The problem: these franchisees are too busy running their businesses, and probably lack an understanding of "how" things are supposed to be done, so they end up just running through a checklist of things that they should do, and do the bare minimum, and then realize that nothing good is coming from their "efforts" (this has some thinking "SEO doesn't work" and/or "SEO doesn't deliver value").
Many of the locations are using duplicate content to describe their businesses, keyword stuffing areas like H1s, creating blogs on TypePad that do virtually nothing for them, and link out to social properties that they can't/don't maintain (one location even inadvertently linked to their "LinkIn" profile – not LinkedIn, as should have been the case).
There are even examples of "Service" sections for these locations where they are linking to The Team page, News and Events, etc., when then should have their actually services that they provide in this section.
Where's the good content? What's the strategy? Any thoughts on how all of these things are supposed to work together? The answer? "Nope."
This Isn't How You Do URL Rewrites
One client sells products that can run as high as $1.5 million. They are redesigning their website and were considering a complete rewrite of their URLs as part of the process (product pages currently reside directly off of the root). The thinking was "URL structure should mimic the website's structure and follow the same path as the breadcrumb".
In most cases, I would agree. However, when you already have top rankings for these product pages on Google, other top ranking competitors seem to also have the same URL structure and each product sells at a net that represents a very significant sum of money, you have to ask yourself…should I do things "right" or be more pragmatic and avoid (possibly) screwing something up?
When this much money is on the line, you take a prudent approach. Redesign/relaunch the website and consider a rewrite once the dust has settled on the other massive changes that you're making.
This Isn't How You Do Link Building...
I have seen many examples of clients/prospects listing their businesses on Google+ Local, and other Local Listing opportunities who have linked to their company home page (rather than directly to the pages for that specific location), have their address information listed on their Location page (without using Schema) created blogs on unique domains that had no traction to "gain backlinks" to their websites, utilized "link building agencies" that merely build links on websites that they own/control (and have no relevancy to their business, and no authority themselves), redesigned their websites to be more "SEO friendly" (while forgetting to exclude the development website from the search engines to avoid indexation prior to going live, forgetting to redirects URLs or perhaps even remove content that had been a "top performer" prior to the redesign), creating doorways pages, mass duplicating content, etc., etc., etc.
Again, for the novice, it might appear that they're "doing SEO." They are creating content, even if it's duplicated and they are creating links, even though they don't count for much or – worse yet – could be hurting them.
I could go on and on...
Knowing "what" to do in SEO is not the difficult part. It's knowing how to do it.
Keeping up with the "how" is a constant effort of study, practice, tests, deep analysis and years of experience. In the ever-evolving field of SEO, while there are many more "what to dos", knowing "how" to do them is ultimately what leads to success.