SEO is About Beating Other Web Sites
Part of what I do is provide recommendations to site owners about how they should optimize their websites for search engines. Often this list of recommendations is quite long and made up of items some of which are relatively easy to implement and some of which will require quite a bit of work. As you can imagine, there is sometimes push back from the site owner regarding the high effort items. Usually this resistance is phrased like, "Do I really need to do item #43?"
In the past I've taken the approach of explaining each recommendation to make sure it is understood (some can be quite technical) along with the reason for it when it comes to search engine rankings. Obviously the person paying for my services has the final say and so once I've provided my explanation I leave it to them to give the thumbs up or thumbs down. Sometimes so many items are rejected that I'm fairly certain the client has guaranteed failure with their SEO efforts.
What I believe I've failed to emphasize is that the only way to win the SEO game is to be better than all of the other competing sites. This is obvious to me and probably to everyone doing SEO work, but I'm now convinced that people outside of the search industry don't get this idea. I believe they think that the game is just with the search engines such as Google, Yahoo, and MSN.
So if a website happens to have very little competition because it focuses on a very niche area, then the amount of SEO required is going to be small. In such cases it makes sense to look at a list of recommendations and reject the time consuming and expensive items. However, for websites where competition is present, perhaps from web-savvy affiliate marketers that build their websites from scratch with SEO in mind, it simply doesn't make sense to not do everything possible to improve rankings in the search engines.
Over the next couple of months I'm going to try this new approach. That is, I will go in to meetings with a feel for the level of competition in a particular space (something I generally develop during my site analysis) and after explaining my recommendations I will re-iterate that any rejected item reduces the chances that the site will bump the currently top ranked sites. To support this I think the key pieces of information that I'll need to have at the ready are the number of competing sites as reported by Google for high priority keywords along with a list of the top 5 ranking sites. In addition, if there's any indication that the top 5 sites are actively engaged in SEO, I'll throw that in to the mix as well.