Search engine optimization has had two faces in its early life. Early optimizers found weaknesses in the search engines to exploit. They quickly became the black hats, trying to stay ahead of the search engine algorithms and game the system to achieve artificially high rankings. As the reputation over black hat optimization became something to avoid, the white hat optimizers came to be, offering optimizations safe from search engine penalty. Over night many people started businesses based on SEO white hat services.
Unfortunately there was not an attempt to rename the SEO industry during its birth. It held on to the SEO title first established by the black hat marketers who by now had become an underground, black market industry. The SEO industry offered a sliver of the knowledge necessary to build a successful website, with most focusing on passing on the few simple rules for content and site design that are unknown to casual site owners and businesses. To those that make websites, SEO is just a piece of overall site design, creation and management included in any project.
I’ve never like the term SEO. To me it implies a secret science when I believe all the information is readily available. It is also common sense while the search engines provide a fair and appropriate way to rank site popularity. Still, many clients want the “secret” for their newly launched site to rank number one for their industry search terms. I think it is more of an education issue and clients need education on more than just SEO. Derek Powazek writes about the evils of SEO and how it contributes to the wealth of spam comments and other zero-value material on the web. In the comments of his post, many working in the SEO industry object to the classification that SEO is not legitimate. It seems many are stuck on calling themselves SEO experts or other such titles. If you are focusing on just SEO, you are limiting yourself. While SEO may be a well known term that brings customers, it is also an industry with a shady, untrustworthy background that confuses and scares many looking for help. Increasing your offerings into areas such as usability, content management, website management, etc. you can increase the areas you consult in. I think by being more than a SEO only company you will gain more respect from clients and gain a greater reputation in the industry. As Derek says, make great websites for you and your clients, that will bring the best advertising.
Don’t have expertise in design or usability or architecture? See if you can partner with some other small firms to refer work their way. By moving away from a SEO firm to a full-services firm you can help correct the problems that SEO causes on the web like comment spam and link selling and grow yourself at the same time.