Seth Godin takes a pass at flavoring search engine optimization as: passive vs active SEO. There’s nothing horribly bad about what he describes, it’s just not entirely spot-on accurate. There’s nothing really passive about SEO. It’s pretty active and ongoing. He compares passive (aka on-page optimization) with active (aka link building) and does make a good point about not having the same person do both.
In our SEO practice, on-page search engine optimization typically starts with keyword research, web site and competitor analysis and a content creation and optimization strategy. Title tags, meta, page text, anchor text links and overall site link structure as well as technical/code optimization fall into the “on-page” category as well.
The off-page tactics Seth mentions as “active” I think are right on actually:
“ACTIVE SEO is the act of going outside of your site to build other sites (blogs, Squidoo lenses, delicious tags) or influence other sites (links and directories) to point to you. Not just you doing it, of course, but your readers and fans and employees as well.”
Basically he means link building. “Influence” and “authority” are operative concepts with link building. Understanding spheres of influence is very important for creating link building programs that can become viral. Inspiring others to promote your site on their own as well as viral/linkbait tactics can drive tremendous amounts of traffic and link popularity.
Sometimes posts by bloggers about SEO that are a tiny bit off get a lot of heat from the SEO community. Personally, I would rather see high profile people like Seth Godin oversimplify SEO as in the passive vs active post than to portray SEO as some sort of scam.