SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and SEM (Search Engine Marketing, or just Search Marketing) are two different beasts. SEO is a subset of SEM but the skills utilized in various aspects of the overall SEM campaign are different from the specific skill sets utilized in an SEO-only campaign.
This is where I think Shari Thurow goes wrong in the second part of her series “Identifying SEO Experts”.
Her section on HTML coding is dead on. I don’t think anyone should be calling themselves a skilled SEO without knowing the fundamentals of HTML and other forms of web page coding. A big chunk of our optimization services consist of working with and fixing enormously bloated code. Code validation is an important step in our process, but even validated code can be enormously over weighted with unnecessary tags, tables and other elements.
Much of this code is the result of designers who know little HTML to begin with. Many designers use software such as Adobe GoLive, or other WYSIWYG interfaces that allow them to do what they do best, design. Those programs, however, automatically chop the design into images and text creating HTML on the fly often producing code which is workable in a browser but usually over-inflated with excess junk.
The coding elements of SEO is not to be understated as it is a crucial step in the overall process.
Where I disagree with Shari is her section on web usability. Not that usability isn’t important to your web site marketing campaign—it its—its just not a primary function of SEO. Shari seems to tie search engine marketing and search engine optimization together as if they are one and the same. Usability is primarily a marketing function and I would suggest that it is a function more in the design phase than the optimization phases. (Actually, things work best when design, optimization AND marketing are all in cahoots with each other and not separate “phases”.)
If I could, I would insist that each client go through a considerable re-design process as part of the optimization campaign, but I would be missing out an a large chunk of my customer base because not everybody wants to, or can afford to, go through that process. In such cases we optimize based on what we have to work from. Usability is worked into the process secondarily and changes are recommended from a marketing perspective without re-inventing the wheel for each client.
In the grand scheme of things, usability is a necessary ingredient for a successful online presence, which is where I believe Shari is approaching this from. Strictly speaking, however, the optimization process does not focus on usability, but any SEO will recognize that if they produce top rankings but no added sales follow, any client will consider that SEO a failure.
Thanks Shari, for another excellent article!