But then it dawned on me that probably the professionals would gain from the free exchange of information as not all SEO firms are giant companies with many coders, writers, testers and techs on hand.
In my experience, there is more genuine research done by small, even one-person SEO businesses than by the medium and larger SEO companies.
Too often the larger companies have absolutely zero budget or commitment to R&D, and believe that time is far more profitably spent in sales pitches. I know several of the larger UK SEO companies very well, and don't know any of them to have any real commitment to research. Most will happily commit to researching/developing new tools, some marketing statistics, yet completely dismiss the idea of setting up a network of test sites, and performing serious research on search algorithms in use, and specific techniques for ranking well in them.
Traditionally, the bigger SEO companies are the ones that depend the most on reading the forums (if even that much) as their sole channel for learning new techniques, researching patents, or discovering what changes in an algo. You are right that they are the least likely to post or share anything useful. You were simply mistaken in your guess at the reasons.
However, that has all been changing over the past couple of years.
Most SEO forums now feature very little discussion of actual techniques and tricks that work well enough to be used by the pros. The reason for that is that publishing a trick is the fastest way of killing it, so if you are an SEO with a trick that is actually worth much, you'd be a fool to give it away, and even if you did, you'd have made an enemy of all the other SEOs who were using the same trick, and now have just months to find a new one.
Not all forums fall into that mould of course. Here at Cre8asite, and also at HighRankings, and elsewhere too, we have always tended to avoid the 'trick' approach to SEO and instead focus on the basic principles from which you can build a stable position that needs no 'tricks'.
In a forum like this, we also do what we can to give you the founding knowledge to research your own tricks and techniques. The only kind of SEO that can be effectively shared in forums is the type that is not dependant on specific techniques, and certainly not on specific code.
Why? Because just as you read this now, you can safely bet that competitors of yours, for the same big money search terms, have read, or will read it. Any "step 1, 2, 3" approach would therefore cease to be a USP immediately. You'd all do the same, and thus negate any edge from doing it at all.
So instead what you'll see from me is tips, pointers, and questions to help you find your own plan, based on your own work. That way it is yours, and tied to your own USP and unique situation. By creating a need for you to think, not just copy, I create a barrier to competition for the techniques I hopefully help guide you towards.
For certain, a lot of questions that I'm paid to consult on are also ones I have and will happily answer for free right here. But the benefits of consultancy are that I can also do that original thinking for them - give them a precise plan without fear that competitors will be hearing me explain it and copying the idea even before my client has implemented it.
In addition, a number of SEO companies over the years have employed me as a consultant. One of the first to do so explained the reason perfectly: "We could devote 30+ man-hours each week to keeping up with all the stuff you do, or we can hire you for one hour to chat with us and get the same info."
So long as it is cheaper to talk to me for an hour or two than to employ a reasonably skilled researcher to trawl through forums, papers, studies, and run their own studies and test sites just to get the same qualified answers, I'm guaranteed to be the smart businessman's choice.