Does SEO Consulting Have a Future?

This is a guest post by John Hargaden from, which is a follow up to our post on selling SEO consulting services.

a chip in the sugar

Try not to look like a country bug. Blend. Blend in.
- Flik, A Bug’s Life

The complexity of SEO, the forensic nature of parsing words and matching lines, is a hard sell. How do you describe it without sounding like Lou Grant, as opposed to a can-do service provider? PPC is transparent, measureable, a better market to focus on.

SEO versus PPC. Experiential versus rational processing. Intuition versus logic.

Once upon a time, there was no ‘versus’, no sound of a hair, splitting. Just SEO and PPC. Now, as the online market matures, limbs get minds of their own, and the question becomes, “Which would you prefer, working in organic search or working in PPC?” And I say, “Organic search” (because I’m trying to be cool). But I mean, “PPC” (because I need to eat).

And I also speak today, because I can’t help it, about the parallels I see in the evolution of the online marketing sector today, buffeted by a recession (petty distinctions among the econ gurus aside) as a mirror of the games development industry in 2000, buffeted by the dot com deflation.

Why Pay-Per-Click is Important

Pay-per-click marketing allows you to test in real time. Conversely, the more expensive the associated PPC ads are, the more value there is in performing SEO on a site in a paid niche.

Why Traditional SEO Consulting Tires Easily

In a frontier, we few settlers have the time and space to hold hands, to tame the beasties. With online marketing, the elastic mindshare stretches ever outwards, and how a client interacts with the media and people in their marketplace (and here I’m thinking particularly of social marketing, semantic search etc.), rapidly morphs as time delivers a consumer and producer net-literate family – we will watch our care grow surly, independent and, oddly enough (or maybe not oddly at all), conservative and risk-averse.

Oh dear.

As SEO movers and shakers, then, our assumed mantle of progenitors will, as history teaches, count for nought; it will be up to us to change. Again.

But, here’s the thing: companies and corporates, for all their twittering on about flat management structures, are hierarchical, irrespective of how big the base or how shallow the pyramid. And I mention this because, at this stage in the evolution of the search marketing industry, the internal architecture of a company cannot accommodate what is, at this moment in time, an essentially horizontal agent – the SEO analyst. You can tell that companies are caught in the headlights of oncoming online traffic, because they invariably advertise for an online marketing manager “....reporting to the Marketing Manager.”

Ah lads, get a grip.

I have faced grown marketing managers across the mahogany tables of traditional sales and marketing lairs, lilac carpets bristling with empathetic static, as their watership down eyes peer into mine, pleading with me to answer that question normally reserved for their newly-appointed, crabbid-out CEO, but now commandeered almost exclusively on the appointment of an online marketing executive, “What the hell am I supposed to do with him....?”

Empathy is a shared keyword. You hear a lot of talk about empathy. Perhaps, as an online marketer, I can admit to valuing the relationship with the Client more than the relationship with the product. Liking the Client drives motivation. I wouldn’t worry about it – it’s a growing pain.

The point is, search results – the kind that the Client wants – are predicated on future, not current, ambitions. Marketing managers, and their staff – they implement based on what’s coming down the product pipeline. The Head of Search Marketing, on the other hand, is required to be at the conception of the new ambition, before the specifications are written, at the point where the Boss wakes up in bed in a cold sweat, turns, and, leaning over his (shhh, sleeping) Corporate Body, whispers to his online acquisition principal (who, convinced that he as ‘a bit of all right’, as opposed to being, quite literally, just ‘a bit on the side,’ is patiently consuming lines of shifting search engine algorithms under a night-light livid with the colour of validation), “I think I know where this is going to next.”


With marketing managers, size matters; we, on the other hand, console ourselves with the thought that it’s what you do with it that counts. Traditional marketers view adrenaline as a reward; we view it as a rival for our charms. Design versus dasein. A chip in the sugar.

Which reminds me: epistemology and metaphysics, logic, semantics – we need philosophers, not technologists (whatever they are). And still we repeat the sins of our forebears, when online games recruitment banged on about quote having a passion for gaming unquote, until it copped itself on and realised that what games development needed were full sets of feet to march forward upon, not more ingrown toenails. Perhaps even we can teach the old dog new tricks.

Less self-regard, more oxygen. To paraphrase William Goldman about another all-sex, zero-foreplay industry, nobody knows everything.

Why Traditional SEO Consulting Will Persevere

Businesses that value their online objectives will be clever enough to realise that you can internalise process, you can internalise implementation, but you must outsource strategy, you must outsource training, you must outsource mentoring, you must hold your nerve, be sufficiently confident to absorb externals telling you what needs to be done – and what doesn’t. The only people I know who can provide that level of service are people who value what they have learned from their mistakes more than their successes. Scars versus skills. SEO versus PPC.

Cor. And blimey.


Published: July 8, 2008 by Aaron Wall in marketing


Lee Stuttaford
July 8, 2008 - 11:04pm

Hi John,

I enjoyed your article very much, enough for me to visit your site and as is typical of all developers I guess, I took a look at the source code. And stopped dead. 'Commented' keywords and description within the Meta tags in the head?

This practice as I remember it went out of fashion years ago - so I'm curious if you're aware of it? From the insight you've shown in your article, I must say I'm surprised to see something like that on a site that you in charge of.

One other question if I may, do you still see value in reciprocal link management (you offer it as a service it seems?)

I look forward to your reply.


July 9, 2008 - 1:16pm

Hi Lee -

thanks for your comment - the site is in redevelopment (I'm in receipt of the protoype today), and, like all cobblers, my own shoes never get a look-in!

I shall atone for my sins very shortly.

Again, thank you for your comments.



Lee Stuttaford
July 9, 2008 - 9:10pm

Hi John,

I do understand - I would have felt remiss had I not brought it to your attention.

Please drop me a line when you go live with the new site - I look forward to seeing it!


July 10, 2008 - 2:03pm

A well-written piece, though I'm not completely sure that SEO strategy will always need to be outsourced.

And that's a strong statement from someone making their living in the agency world.

I guess what I'm saying is that while there will always be a market for outside SEO consulting (and a rather large one at that) I foresee more and more companies developing a farm system of sort...building up their own SEO strategy gurus in-house. I can also foresee companies hiring online marketing managers that have a strong background in search.

Actually, both of these things are already happening, it's just that both are the exception and not the rule.

July 15, 2008 - 11:22am

As with the pace of Optimizing the sites, more and more techniques are coming out as an experimental basis but one thing should be kept in mind during optimization that a search bot do not have any mind as human. So they can only work over the criteria that are mentioned while building it. And among these criteria i think that traditional SEO techniques (directory, Article posting) will always survive as these are the best way of getting inbound links that in turn increases the sites rank.

July 15, 2008 - 11:29am

And among these criteria i think that traditional SEO techniques (directory, Article posting) will always survive as these are the best way of getting inbound links that in turn increases the sites rank.

I am seeing just the opposite...where the easy to gain links from sources like directories and article websites count less and less.

The easier something is to do the dirtier it becomes as a signal of quality and the less it is trusted.

August 2, 2008 - 2:01am

Seems like a long winded way of saying, yup they will survive. I would agree that SEO Consulting will indeed survive but if and only if it is combined with Web 2.0 marketing resources like Social Networking and Bookmarking.

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