SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMISATION
Search engine optimisation is like a red blanket on forums, newsgroups
and blogs across the web. Wave it around, and you'll have masses of bull-
headed participants charging at you from all corners. Everyone thinks
that they, and only they, know the truth, and they're extremely eager to
tell you what you're doing wrong and what you should be doing instead.
Because their uncle's dentist did it on his site, and now he's number
Stay away from these people. Yes, that's right - I am telling you to stay
away from anyone that tells you that any one particular thing is
guaranteed to get you great rankings on the search engines - because
they're wrong. With search engine optimisation, there's no such thing as
a one-size-fits all approach, no golden rules that will always lead you
straight to early retirement and a private jet. Of course there are
general guidelines - textual content, relevant links, and so on. But with
SEO, the answer is much more likely to be "sometimes" if you're asking
whether or not a particular technique works.
It's easy to see how people draw the wrong conclusions. They tweak a meta
tag, add a particular link, or change their headline to H1, and boom,
they've climbed up to #3. Great. But don't assume that your changes were
the driving force. Your website doesn't exist in a vacuum. It could have
been a great new link to your site that made the difference, or a slight
change in the search engine's algorithm. It's even possible (and this is
something that people always seem to overlook) that it had nothing to do
with what you did right, and more to do with what your competition did
wrong. Maybe they were penalized, who knows. The point is: don't assume
that you have all the answers - unless you work for Google, you really
don't. In this talk, I'm going to cover some of the more pervasive myths,
and try to add a little "sometimes", "maybe" and "there are no absolutes"
to the mix. Next time you come across someone touting the latest gospel
truth, you'll hopefully be a little more wary.
I'm going to say very little about PageRank, because I feel it's been
covered ad nauseam already. I simply want to say: those who obsess about
it are wrong to do so, and so are those who claim that "PageRank is
dead!". It was never as important as some people thought, but it
certainly still has its uses.
Quite simply, PageRank is a system that Google uses to determine which
pages are more important or credible than others. Based on links,
PageRank plays a role - but not necessarily the most important role, at
all - in deciding which order the search results should be ranked in.
If you spend time, any time at all, obsessing about the numbed and size
of that little green bar, please stop. It's not helping you, and I'm sure
your time could be put to better use.
Links and link strategies
As people learned more about PageRank, all kinds of crazy schemes and
strategies reared their ugly heads. All that anybody seemed to hear was
"Links! More links! Higher PageRank!" and so the whole circus took off.
Nowadays, there are plenty of places on the web where you can buy text
links from sites with particular content and certain PageRanks. Want a
link from an "authority science-related site" with PR 9? It's yours for
$1250. Perhaps you're more modest, and want a PR4 link from a software
site? It can be achieved for a mere $35. Sadly, people fall for these
scams, as if a real "authority science" site would link to the highest
bidder, even if it meant that they had to include a prominent link to
"Cheap villas in Spain" on their index page. Where has common sense gone?
A cheaper, more popular solution has been to set up link pages where you
trade links with anyone who'll have you. Apparently it doesn't matter
that you sell photo software, you think your customers would love to see
your links to herbal tablets, card tricks and folding furniture. The more
links, the merrier, right?
Wrong. Because Google and the others quickly caught on to these types of
schemes, and now it's not so easy to boost your own PageRank simply by
buying a few links or setting up homespun networks. In fact, Google
doesn't like link-buying - as you'll see when we discuss the so-called
sandbox further on. They've even gone as far as recommending that you
mark any links you sell with the "no-follow" tag, to make sure you don't
"affect your reputation in Google".
Google doesn't like link farms, either, and they've actually stated that
on their Information for Webmasters page. The simple act of you linking
to someone that Google doesn't like could hurt you - because there's now
a thing known as "bad neighbourhoods" that you'd be wise to avoid.
But there's no need to be scared. It's quite simple really. Just think
quality, rather than quantity. Link to sites that you feel are genuinely
interesting and useful for your visitors, and seek out links from similar
sites. Don't accept any link you can get. Think of links as friends.
Sure, if you went out on the street with a fistful of dollars you'd
probably find some people who'd be willing to call themselves you
friends. But is a random, money-grabbing stranger the type of friend you
want? No, and it's not the type of link you should want either.
Meta tags and keyword density
In the early days of SEO, meta tags were abused. People stuffed their
keyword tags with all kinds of irrelevant nonsense, and as a result they
now play very little, if any, role in the search engine rankings. But to
go out and declare that "meta tags are useless" is both short-sighted,
ignorant and downright silly.
First of all, who knows what the future holds? Even if your meta keywords
don't appear to be making much difference today, it's entirely possible
that they might tomorrow, or next year. For what it's worth, I would
certainly recommend making sure that you use relevant keywords and
phrases in all your keywords meta tags. It doesn't take long, and it
could end up being helpful.
The meta description tag is something of a gem - most people tend to
ignore it, or just stuff it with the same, boring text on each page. This
is a shame, as it can be a really valuable marketing tool. Why? Because
Google often uses snippets from them in their search results. If you
write a good, solid and appealing description, it might not matter that
you're #3 rather than #1 - the searchers will be struck by your snippet,
and click on your link instead of your competitions. So don't leave it to