Choosing An SEO Expert? The IR Litmus Test, Part I
The online marketing industry is full of purported SEO experts that know very little about how search engines work or the document indexing process. What I have come to find is that these 'experts' are always just regurgitating catch phrases and tactics that they have overheard in blogs and forums. This class of search engine optimizers developed their tactics and portfolios during SEO's infancy. Low competition, low saturation, and with relatively under-developed search engines. Remember when all it took to get a client to the top of the search engines was to edit the Meta tags? Not that current tactics are all that more complex. Title tags, focused content, keyword placement, RSS feeds, link exchanges, and blogs are all in the current expert's repertoire.
Not exactly brain surgery. This haphazard success is soon going to evaporate though, as competition increases, more companies continue to migrate online, and the search engines refine their indexing and relevancy algorithms. So, why are many SEO experts not as qualified as they purport to be? The answer lies in the skill sets of the individuals who are becoming search engine optimizers. Up until now, the bulk of the search engine optimization profession recruited from the ranks of HTML developers. It actually makes complete sense if we look at the minimum skills necessary to optimize a website, and the state of the HTML development industry during the rise of the SEO industry.
HTML developers were the ideal candidates to quickly move into the profession because they already possessed the minimal skills necessary to go behind the website and edit the HTML. I think we can safely assume that to perform the current SEO, the expert needs to have a decent knowledge of web development. Although learning a markup language such as HTML is not that difficult, it would be a significant roadblock to any newcomer who wanted to enter the field. The common lay person, or nuclear physicist for that matter, would be forced to first learn remedial coding skills. Additionally, when the internet bubble burst (along with the web developers high paying salaries) no other group was better positioned to identify the new lucrative opportunities that SEO offered. A huge population of domestic developers found themselves out of work and being undercut by cheap overseas labor. Its not surprising that they were able to segue their current knowledge into offering higher-value services that would position clients more effectively to their consumers. The problem is that 95% of these experts have no real idea how the search engines index web pages, or determine relevancy. They are simply recycling the formulas of previous SEO success, and following the latest trial and error trends that someone in the chatroom 'swears by'. Continually implementing and testing, without any underlying comprehension of the science they are up against.
Its like someone without a bio-related degree trying to recreate evolutionary studies after reading a paper on Darwinism. Its absurd. They are completely flying blind. A true SEO expert understands the fundamentals of information retrieval. This includes document indexing, linguistics, and a strong knowledge of linear algebra, including stochastic matrices, vector space theory, latent semantic analysis, and singular value decomposition. This is the key knowledge that is necessary to understand how the search engines view your client's website, how that information will be received, and what needs to be done to increase their ranking. Unfortunately, this knowledge, which does take a considerable amount of mathematical expertise, is well beyond the scope of your average HTML web developer. It has become difficult to not only find enterprise-level experts, but differentiate them from the rest of the masses. So how are professional service firms expected to identify which SEO experts they hire are truly professionals? In my next segment, I will continue my discussion on the survival of the SEO expert, in correlation to information retrieval. I will also introduce you to the IR Litmus Test, which are techniques that a firm can utilize to accurately qualify SEO experts, and differentiate amateurs from enterprise-level professionals.
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