SEO has a history, like every other endeavor, and it has competing schools of thought. Here’s my take on two different approaches to SEO: the technical and the marketing approach. In the spirit of full disclaimer, let it be known that I am firmly in the “marketing” camp of SEO experts.
The Technical Approach to SEO
The technical approach to SEO is, by far, the older and the more prevelant of the two. Technical SEOs perceive SEO as first and foremost a technical endeavor. It’s a war of their computer against Google’s computer, their technical skills against those of Google’s engineers. Technical SEOs see SEO as the manipulation of content (on page) and especially links (off page). Many technical SEOs are fond of building link farms, such as private blog networks, to focus “link juice” on particular keywords and the target website. They are also tend to deemphasize human-generated content, in favor of mechanistically produced content. The focus is very numeric, and very technical. Design, content, and marketing issues take a back seat to technical aspects such as keyword density, placement in tags, link sculpting, and inbound links.
The Marketing Approach to SEO
The marketing approach to SEO, in contrast, focuses much more on content and on the human element. It sees SEO as a subset of marketing, and emphasizes creating quality content – first – and worrying about search engines – second. It also focuses much more on social media and the social experience of content. And finally, as marketers, market-oriented SEOs focus on the end result: sales or sales leads, vs. rank on Google.
Most people are in the middle. I believe in the marketing approach but recognize that SEO has many technical aspects – among them, the correct positioning of content into key tags (e.g., TITLE tags) and the use of links (especially link sculpting on one’s own site and link-building from other sites to your own).
Finally, Google’s Panda and Penguin updates are really both an attack against technical SEO: the former, against low quality (machine generated?) content, and the latter, against link schemes (again, mechanistically generated blog networks or paid link schemes). Google is increasingly emphasizing quality content… but that content must bring along certain technical SEO features (e.g., a tag structure and an adherence to link building) to succeed.
As is so often in life, the most successful path is not “either” this “or” that, but rather “both” this and that.