There's a saying in baseball circles that a good manager doesn't win games, but a bad manager can lose games. The idea being that a good manager lays the groundwork to give the players the chance to win, but a bad manager's poor decisions can lead directly to a loss.
Whether you believe this or not, it is still an interesting idea and one that often can be seen in places outside of sports. In fact, there's one thing that I've been covering a lot lately--that definitely hurts when done poorly but can only take you so far when done very well.
This is search engine optimization, or SEO. The main idea behind SEO is that by following certain practices and procedures, a Web site can become highly rated by popular search engines such as Google. This increased search engine visibility will lead to increased Web traffic and increased product sales or advertising revenue.
There are certainly plenty of Web sites out there that do their best to hide from search engines and that can benefit from good SEO practices. It doesn't take long to find sites that have page URLs that are all random numbers and letters, or sites that use their internal links to poor effect (with most links for things like "click here" rather than "widgets you need.")
Sure, just as there have been great baseball teams that were so talented they could rise above their bad managers, there are sites with such compelling products and content that they will get high search rankings and great traffic despite poor SEO. But for most sites with bad SEO, they aren't getting anywhere near the attention they should be and improving their processes will almost always lead to a higher profile on search engines and increased Web traffic.
Eventually, however, SEO reaches a point where it has done all it can do for a company's Web site. The greatest baseball managers of all time can't take a Triple A team and turn it into a winner on the major-league level. At a certain point though, a Web site gets all of the traffic it's going to get, and no amount of SEO is going to change that.
Of course, this doesn't mean that the company should give up. There are plenty of other ways to improve traffic and Web site visibility outside of search engines. Sites can expand into new content areas, such as social networking and other Web 2.0 and 3.0 technologies, thereby increasing the ways they reach customers and visitors.
Affiliations with other sites can improve reach and boost a site's profile. And of course, good old fashion marketing, sales and public relations can get the word out about your site in media and other outlets.
Hall of fame baseball manager, Casey Stengel, once said that: "Managing is getting paid for home runs that someone else hits." In the end, the success of your company's Web site will depend more on the quality of your products and content then on any practices and processes for SEO.
That doesn't mean they aren't worth doing. Any Web site is definitely better off with good SEO practices in place. But don't expect too much from it. In the end, the site needs to win attention and traffic on its own.