We often come to the SEO table thinking that it's going to be relatively easy. While SEO isn't inordinately difficult (neither is changing the car oil, building a fence or painting a house) it is often time consuming and rarely ever "simple." What appears to be a small task on the surface can often become a much larger task once properly researched and considered. Like an iceberg, the bulk of SEO is behind the scenes and requires hours upon hours of labor.

I only need a little bit of text!

Not long ago I was performing a cursory site audit for an e-commerce site. On the surface, the site looked pretty minimalistic. There were only four main product areas, each having anywhere from 5-20 categorical divisions. Each of those divisions contained only a handful of products, many that fit into multiple categories. By all measures, this is rather small for an ecommerce site.

But as I began to analyze the site more carefully, paying attention to it's optimization needs, a whole new world opened up before me.

The site totaled around 50 category pages, and close to 100 individual products. Each of these pages needed optimized content, titles and description meta information written. We are talking anywhere from 40 hours (10 minutes per page, making superficial edits) to 150 hours (60 minutes per page with full content rewrites) of writing needed on this "small" site alone.

Before you can start writing keyword research needs to be performed. The research for each page wouldn't be that difficult but good research is time consuming to ensure you find all potentially relevant terms. Then it's a matter of determining which keywords have the most value and will generate the most sales-driven traffic. Such determinations are an ongoing process, that is confirmed and re-confirmed only when properly analyzed by tracking performance.

On the surface, what appeared to be a quick and easy site to optimize became much more involved and time consuming upon closer inspection.

I don't see a problem with the navigation!

Another site I recently reviewed was even smaller. Only a couple dozen pages, all outlining the various benefits of a single product. And again, on the surface, all appeared pretty simple. But once I got investigating, a nice and clean navigation was revealed to be anything but.

This site requires a significant architectural overhaul to create a more search friendly site architecture and eliminate what amounts to at least a dozen and a half pages of duplicate content.

Once that is fixed then the keywords will need to be carefully researched and implemented. The site has great content, just needs to be keyword focused and targeted. This site is a case-in-point to why SEOs should be consulted with throughout the site development process. Instead of paying to have the site re-developed to be search engine friendly, the company could have saved money having it done right the first time.

These keywords are gonna be easy!

A few years back I took on a client in a very niche, yet extremely competitive, industry. There wasn't a lot of other businesses competing for the same keywords, but those that were invested heavily in the SEO making getting good search results much more difficult that initially thought. This can happen if you do not adequately investigate the competition, which I admit I was guilty of. It looked easy and I made some assumptions.

While we were able to achieve results for a decent number of keywords, the cost and time involved didn't quite bring about a strong ROI for the client. Over the long-term the ROI will improve. Less work will be needed to maintain their places in the rankings, but the initial year was a near break-even for the client. The client then moved on to other forms of advertising and marketing and received similar low-ROI results.

The allure of SEO is a double-edged sword. There are promises of better ROI than other advertising, but that ROI is never instantly achieved, especially in competitive markets. SEO takes time to work and, as it is commonly said, time is money. Some company's have enough to invest, but not quite what it takes to succeed. This is to no fault of the business owner, other than ensuring expectations are in line with reality. The SEO must do his part to keep expectations in check as well.

Optimizing most sites is generally never as easy as it appears on the surface. There are almost always delays by either the client or SEO, or more issues get uncovered than was found in the original analysis. But when it's all said and done, SEO is about time. Time to write compelling copy, time to build a good site architecture, time to research keywords, and time to keep pushing rankings up in the results while pushing the competition down.

The next time you think you've got an easy optimization project, take a second and even a third look. It may not really be as simple as you think.

July 28, 2009

Stoney deGeyter is the President of Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. Stoney is a frequent speaker at website marketing conferences and has published hundreds of helpful SEO, SEM and small business articles.

If you'd like Stoney deGeyter to speak at your conference, seminar, workshop or provide in-house training to your team, contact him via his site or by phone at 866-685-3374.

Stoney pioneered the concept of Destination Search Engine Marketing which is the driving philosophy of how Pole Position Marketing helps clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Stoney is Associate Editor at Search Engine Guide and has written several SEO and SEM e-books including E-Marketing Performance; The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!; Keyword Research and Selection, Destination Search Engine Marketing, and more.

Stoney has five wonderful children and spends his free time reviewing restaurants and other things to do in Canton, Ohio.


Some good points there - things always look simple on the surface, but, often have hidden depths.

I often come across clients wanting miracles for very little money - with a bit of education they usually can see what it would take for a 'full' workover, but, that often doesn't affect the budget available. Do you have any insights into how SEO on these kind of sites can be 'chunked' to fit the budget? The obvious way, which I usually end up doing, is treating pages or sections as stand-alones and concentrating on them, moving onto others as the budget allows..

James, I think you've got the right approach. Break the totality of what needs to be done into phases or increments that can be performed within the client's budget. Of course the downside is you have to know ahead of time what the budget it and many don't want to give that information up before they get a proposal.

Very good read, I am just getting start with all this and just starting to learn and us SEO. I am finding that I need to go back and fix a lot of pages. Wish I would have tried to understand this before I started but at least I realize the value in doing it right moving forward.

You are definitely on target! Too often, those who are really not "in the know" often dismiss or diminish the value of SEO and the work that needs to be put into it to work. Equally unfortunate are those supposed SEO experts who see only a small part of the big job of SEO but latch on to clients and suck blood until the client cries foul and dismisses SEO as quackery. Unfortunate!

I know exactly what you mean, there is a lot to SEO and for it to properly work it can take a while. I only do the first stage of SEO by building keywords into a site but sometimes that can be fairly difficult and time consuming.

Some very good points here.
I am not sure that there is right or wrong seo ( if you keep the rules and not get punished) but seo is not easy at all.

It seems I run into this every time. "Oh, this will be easy!" Just doing the intial review of the site so I can talk to the client about what needs to be done becomes a "can of worms."

Stoney, this piece is spot on. You have articulated the issue that we all seem to face in a way that is easily understood. Perfect piece to show to clients. :)

Hi there,
when i do SEO of an ecommerce website (online shop)
I define a automatic text with variables in order to define meta, title, h1 and so on ==> it tooks less time even if it's not so precise as a customized work for each page
Best regards and thanks for all articles on this great website

To further the last comment, I think you have to shoot for the low hanging fruit when you approach a big job like SEO for an entire website. The first thing I prefer to do is move the entire site into an SEO friendly CMS like Wordpress, which has plugins which can build keywords, descriptions, titles, etc from the existing page content without needing to visit every page by hand. It won't be precise, but it will be light years better than the blank results currently sitting there. This also eliminates one common and easy-to-fix problem for poorly constructed websites, which is having the exact same title on every page of the site.

From there, the only choice is to dive in by hand and optimize the old fashioned way to bring it into full optimization. No way to sugar coat it. Maybe find interns? :)

As for me, SEO, is the easiest job that I have ever had in my life. The hard part is convincing the client that they need to make changes to their website to increase their ROI. For many websites increasing website traffic will not solve the lack of conversions situation.

You can not merely rely on information to make the sale. You have to actively engage the visitor by using a sales funnel and ask for the sale. A "Buy Now" button does qualify as a close.

We fix the website then we do the SEO. This approach will make the client happier in the long run. Its getting them to realize this that is more difficult. Then getting them on board for link building is its own challenge.

I have worked manually outdoors in the hot Tucson summers so I will never call SEO difficult or hard. I have worked hard in my life. I don't work hard now!

I totally agree with your post. "SEO is about time," yes, and it's about patience.

- Dave Stack

You have really made good points about SEO. It is really easy but sometimes it is difficult. And it is all about time, so one should have patience. :)

development services). What would you suggest to take into account before starting of such sort of business?

While having an experience in web promotion, I'm stucked with such questions as:

1. What one should promice to his clients, and what shouldn't?
2. Do you have some fixed tarrifs or you vary price for each client separately?
3. What type of reports do you make?
4. How do you estimate the effect of your services to show it to your client?
5. etc.

Compelling read. I agree, as important as SEO is, the initial comprehension of the amount of labor needed to produce profitable results can be overwhelming to clients. Patience is a virtue and because ecommerce tends to evoke high expectations of ROI on the investors side, it’s important to take time and map out desired rankings while remaining relevant. Even though a carefully formulated plan may not be within a predetermined budget and may need to be implemented over a longer time frame, SEO demands this kind of time in order to be successful.

Thank you for this insightful piece! I've written about SEO, but I don't actually do SEO professionally -- because, I think, I understand instinctively the point you're making here: SEO jobs that look fast and easy are often anything but.

Very Good!

This is the true color of SEO, looks easy on the outside and complicated on the inside.

This are true and thgen again, SEO is a worth of getting into compliacated things. After all this hard work, we can all benefit from SEO.

Good share. Thanks!

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