SEO Consultants are not Necessarily Experts

I've always been a bit confused by people who consider themselves SEO (Search Engine Optimization) consultants. It's not that I don't think such a position should exists - on the contrary, SEO is an important part of the web development process that is often overlooked by web designers and programmers. What confuses me is how they consider themselves experts.

Most of these consultants devote their focus on Google. This makes a lot of sense, with Google being the elephant in the room when it comes to search engines. However, it seems that the majority of their focus is always on the algorithm and how it changes over time. When Google made the Panda update early in 2011, there was a big push for unique, organic content on sites. SEO consultants seem to be reactionary, watching to see what Google determines is important in determining good content and structure is. This is the wrong approach.

Well-rounded web developers take a simple stance when it comes to SEO. Just build out a web presence that make sense. Each page on a website has a title matches what the content on the page is about. The DOM structure flows like a natural outline of information, with header, paragraph, and list elements at appropriate content points. You don't necessarily need to look to see what Google is doing, or what SEOmoz recommends, when 'optimizing' a site. Creating a site that makes sense, both in terms of the DOM structure and for what the target user will be looking for, should be the priority.

There are certain things that are important to building out a web site, which Google ranks high in their search algorithm. I'm not saying that SEO consultants are incorrect in focusing only on those things, but I do feel that they should be looking at the end goal instead. Search engines want users to find web sites that are related to their queries. It's not important to focus on title tags or anchor text. It's important to find ways to make a website relevant to a particular market. If that means changing a few anchor tags, headers, or manipulating the DOM structure, than it makes sense to. Changing that information around because of a recent algorithm change or following an 'experts' advice does not make sense.

The largest factor in all this is simply experience. SEO is one of the few fields that you can call yourself an expert on without having any real experience. The easily solution to this lack of knowledge is to read up on what other people, whether they are part of consulting groups like SEOmoz or not, are recommending. Instead of trying to learn from experiments or practice, many consultants are simply regurgitating articles and quotes without truly understanding the reasoning or having a solid background in their field.

My idea of an effective SEO consultant is not someone who studies Google's algorithm all day long or vows by SEO companies and expert statements. An effective consultant is one who understands the underlying semantic structure of a web page and knows how to make strong, targeted content and structure that search engines will rank highly because they've done it hundreds of times by hand. I believe that some consultants out there are true experts - but I think the majority don't know HTML from PHP.