Search Engine Optimization and the Locomotive Consultant

January 24th, 2007 by Will Scott

There is a lot of chatter among search engine marketing professionals right now having to do with whether or not the basics of SEO, particularly on-page search engine optimization techniques, should be worthy of the attention it gets.

Just to recap: Jason Calcanis, formerly of AOL, has been quoted on more than one occasion as suggesting that SEO (search engine optimization) is B.S.

There are a number of folks in the industry who I read with some frequency who have weighed in including Shoemoney, Quadzilla of SEO Blackhat (Quadzilla), Michael Gray (AKA Graywolf) in his Jason Calcanis post, and many others.

locomotive consultant image of steam locomotive as imagined by Midjourney

Perhaps my favorite is from Danny Sullivan, the godfather of SEO at Search Engine Land.

Danny makes a great point: Those of us in the industry tend to think, out of long habit, about those things one must do as a cost of entry for SEO.

Most clients don’t.

Regardless of Mr. Calcanis’ suggestion that all one has to do is publish good content and wait, there really is a bare minimum cost of entry. At the basic level, it’s not rocket science. But, if you are busy running your business anything which distracts from your main mission may seem as though it is rocket science (or voodoo). It’s just like anything else, until you have a level of comfort it’s odd and scary.

For whatever reason I’m thinking about this today as I go about my other business and it reminds me of a great story of the Locomotive Consultant:

The train yard is at a dead stop, and commerce is hobbled when one of the giant freight locomotives breaks down blocking the main track.

The best and brightest in the rail yard aren’t able to get it started and it’s too heavy to push or lift off the tracks.

Finally, after days of effort with no success the railroad management decides to call in a locomotive consultant.

The consultant arrives, and on reviewing the scene proceeds to walk around the locomotive looking here and there as he goes. He gives it a couple rounds and goes back to his truck.

A few minutes later he returns with a ball-peen hammer, walks right up to the locomotive and gives it one good whack. He then turns to the railroad’s engineer and says “give it a try now”.

They do, it starts and everything is back on track (pun intended).

The locomotive consultant then presents the manager with a bill for $1000.00.

As subtle as a Ball-Peen Hammer

As subtle as a Ball-Peen Hammer

The manager is incredulous and asks the consultant to itemize the bill. It looks like this:

  1. Hitting the locomotive with a hammer – $5.00
  2. Knowing where to hit it – $995.00

I hope the point is clear. As Shoemoney says: “95% of SEO is super simple“. There is however one caveat.

You have to invest the time and energy to know that it’s simple and then to implement that knowledge.

The good news for the SEO community, and our clients, is that it is much more economical for most business managers to hire a locomotive consultant

. Sure, you’re paying something because we know where to hit the engine, but it is probably a lot less than the opportunity cost of your time spent in acquiring our knowledge and putting it to work.