For many people who aren’t involved in search engine optimization (SEO) on a regular basis, it’s easy (or so they think). You simply create a website, write some content, and then get links from as many sources as you can.

Perhaps that works. Sometimes.

More often than not, the craft of SEO is truly a unique practice. It’s is often misunderstood and can be painfully difficult to staff for. Here’s why.

SEO is Science

By definition, “Science” is:

a branch of knowledge or study dealing with a body of facts or truths systematically arranged and showing the operation of general laws: the mathematical sciences.
systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation.
any of the branches of natural or physical science.
systematized knowledge in general.
knowledge, as of facts or principles; knowledge gained by systematic study.
Anyone who has performed professional SEO services for any length of time will tell you that at any given time we have definitely practiced each of the above. In some cases, changes in our industry are so rapid that we crowdsource the science experiments among peers (via WebmasterWorld forums or Search Engine Watch forums).

Unfortunately, Google doesn’t provide step-by-step instruction for optimization of every single website. Every website is unique. Every optimization process/project is unique.

Every website represents new and interesting optimization challenges. All require at least some experimentation. Most SEOs follow strict methods of testing/monitoring/measuring so that we know what works and what doesn’t.

We have a few guidelines along the way:

Our “branch of knowledge” is well formed in what Google provides in their Webmaster Guidelines and SEO Starter Guide.
Our unique experience. Just like you might “learn” marketing by getting your bachelor’s degree in marketing, you really aren’t very good at it until you’ve worked in your field and gained real-world experience. There are so many things that you can read in the blogosphere regarding SEO that are complete crap. But, if you didn’t know any better, you’d buy off on it because “it sounds reasonable, so it must be true!” So, be careful to claim something is 100 percent “true” unless you have enough “scientific” evidence to back up the claim. Otherwise, it’s called “hypothesis”:
A supposition or proposed explanation made on the basis of limited evidence as a starting point for further investigation.
A proposition made as a basis for reasoning, without any assumption of its truth.
SEO is Also Art

By definition, art is:

the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects

I’ve worked with and befriended many incredibly bright SEOs in my years in this business. It is those who manage to blend the scientific skills with the creative thoughts on how to experiment/improve programs are the gems.

Getting creative with SEO is thinking of how a marketing program can encompass social, graphic design, link building, content generation, and PR to drive toward a common goal.

Getting creative with SEO is also about reworking a website’s design/code so that usability and accessibility improve, while maintaining brand guidelines and keeping with “look and feel” requirements, yet improving SEO.

Every day, we must get creative in determining how to best target keywords by determining which method of content generation gives us the best chance at gaining a presence in the search engines and – most importantly – engaging our audience.

Should we write a blog post? Should this be best handled in a press release? How about a video? Infographic? New “corporate” page on the site? There are a multitude of ways that we might determine to target a keyword via content.

The Perfect SEO

Today’s SEO is so much more involved than SEO of years past. When I hear people saying that they’re trying to determine if they should hire an in-house SEO or an agency, I will give them the pros and cons of each (and there sincerely are pros and cons of each).

But one factor which I believe leans toward the strength of an agency is that there’s typically going to be a team of individuals, each with a unique skill set. And, these individuals can share examples of what works and what doesn’t, with each other (scientific experiments often occur), they can bounce creative thoughts off of one another and collectively provide more value than any one person might.

Our industry needs more of these highly-skilled “freaks of nature” who blend both the scienctific skills and artistic creativity of SEO.