A lot of search engine optimization writing passes by my desk, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a simple distinction made.
PASSIVE SEO is the idea that you can do things to your site (metatags, phrases, even the articles you choose to write) that will be warmly received by the search engines. As we all know, the best passive strategy is to make great stuff, but beyond that it’s pretty clear that architecting your site properly is smart. There are people far better at this than I am.
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. I wrote an ebook about part of this (download for free: flippingpro.pdf).
There’s no doubt that these two activities need to be closely coordinated. But I’m not sure they should be done by the same person. Sometimes, dividing a task increases your ability to get it done…
[updated] Peter Bell writes in to amplify:
In the SEO industry, it’s often referred to as "on page" vs. "link building".
Not only should on page and link building be done by different people, on page should also be divided between technical and content.
A technical person should follow best coding practices to optimize site tags (including proper use of CSS and headers) for SEO (and accessibility). It’s about 2-8 hours of work to redesign most site templates and then whatever it takes to load that into your content management system.
A writer and/or subject domain expert should create the great content to drive traffic.
A top SEO guru should ADVISE you on how to do the link building with the latest hints and tips (2 hrs at $300/hr – high rate, low hours).
Someone between your sales/marketing team, an intern and a college kid in Vilnius should then actually implement the various recommendations depending upon the skills required for each.