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Everything you need to know about SEO in one page

© May 2008 Anthony Lawrence

Search engines want to produce good results. When you type "frabble" into Google, Google wants to give you the best list of pages it can. It doesn't want to give you junk pages that have nothing whatsoever to do with "frabble" and it doesn't want to give you pages nobody else cares about. It wants to give you pages that have been useful to other people who were searching for "frabble". Google and every other search engine wants you to be happy with its results.

That's obvious, right? That's the way you want it to work too. You want exactly what they want. They want to give you the best, you want the best. Everybody's happy.

The goal of SEO (Search Engine Optimization) should be right in line with that. SEO should be about helping Google et al. find the best pages, index them properly and ultimately give you and I what we want.

It's not nice to fool Mother Nature or Google

SEO definitely shouldn't be about fooling search engines into pushing less than stellar content to the top positions. Of course it often has been about that: people are going to try to cheat, are going to try to improve their standing at the expense of someone else. That's human nature, so it's no surprise that some SEO firms dabble in that area. It shouldn't be any surprise that the search engines are constantly looking for that kind of activity and are improving their algorithms to avoid being fooled.

Google's webmaster guidelines go into a great deal of detail about things you shouldn't do. Every thing they list was once an SEO "trick" used to increase search rank, and every one of those tricks can now actually penalize you rather than helping you.

For example, not so many years ago, keyword stuffing with invisible text was an SEO "trick". A page would have dozens or even hundreds of keywords in a color that matched the background color of the page. Text like that is invisible to human readers, but perfectly plain to the search engine robots. The idea was that the keyword stuffing would fool the search engines into ranking those pages higher because of the keyword density. Nobody does that anymore because the search engines don't like being fooled like that: they changed their code to ignore and perhaps even penalize pages that do that.

Link farms, reciprocal linking schemes and paid links have also suffered the same fate. Search engines like links: if a lot of other pages mention "frabble" and link to your page, their algorithms will rank your page higher because of it. But the search engines want those links to be real, honest links, created be real people who really thought your "frabble" page was a good resource. They don't want you buying up junk domains and creating your own links, they don't want you and seventy of your best buds forming a link trading network. They don't want you buying links. They want it real: "organic" is the term used to describe such links.

Honesty really is the best policy

No, really, I understand: it's a dog eat dog world and you've got to do what you've got to do. Your teeny business is competing with big nasty giants and if you have any hope of getting any attention from the search engines, you've got to play in the mud. So you read all the grey hat and black hat SEO stuff and you dance the dance and walk the walk. It is what it is, right?

OK. But I can tell you flat out that the BEST way to get search engine love for "frabble" is to work to be the best resource there is on that subject. Or work to be among the ten best. That doesn't require anything more than producing honest content. It's been said over and over: content is king. Nothing else really matters.

The proof is in the pudding

I can give dozens upon dozens of examples from my own pages right here. Try a few Google searches for these keywords: "Sco Unix", "Kerio Mailserver", "Lost Linux password", "PTR record" .. I could go on and on, but for all of those searches (and hundreds more) you'll find this site in the first page of results and often at or near the top. I didn't set out to be Number 1 for those searches. It just happened. That isn't from any dark SEO tricks or techniques. In many cases, I don't care: I don't care that I'm the top result for "PTR record" and many other phrases. I wrote that post to help explain PTR records to my customers, not to be number 1 in Google. That happened just because the content has been seen as valuable by other people and enough of them have linked to it to push it up. That's all: no magic keyword tricks, no link baiting, no special anchor text.. no effort at all, in fact. The same is true for every other keyword that drives traffic here: I wrote the posts for other reasons and never thought about how search engines would react to them.

So here's the real truth about SEO: content is everything. Everything else is minor. All you need to do is go back to my first few paragraphs to understand why: content is what everyone wants and what the search engines want to give us. Maybe you can fool Google into pushing up your site right now, but whatever trick you used isn't going to last. Google will close the loophole and you'll sink back where you belong. There's only one "trick" that will stay valuable forever, and that's valuable content.

Oh, yes, it's good not to have too many spelling errors, it's good to have attention grabbing headlines, it's good if your HTML validates. It's probably helpful to use metatags correctly and help Google and the others understand your site with proper internal linking. That's all good, but don't get frantic about it. Content should be your primary goal. Good content and lots of it is the best SEO of all.

Google has something else to say:

It's not safe to assume that just because a specific deceptive technique isn't included on this page, Google approves of it. Webmasters who spend their energies upholding the spirit of the basic principles will provide a much better user experience and subsequently enjoy better ranking than those who spend their time looking for loopholes they can exploit.

So stop worrying about SEO "tricks". Concentrate on your content and ignore the SEO games.

Got something to add? Send me email.

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Mon May 26 12:55:00 2008: 4236   TonyLawrence

One of the silliest responses I've ever had when I've said something like this is "OK, but if you did use some grey SEO techniques, you'd do better".

How can you do better than page 1?

If your page hits in the top four or five for Google. maybe, maybe, MAYBE you can move it to the top three by fine tuning and some trickery. That's a big maybe, and I have to ask: does it really matter? Is your life going to change because you now rank number two instead of number five?

Maybe for Ford Motor Company that might matter. For most of us, it absolutely doesn't.

Mon May 26 12:57:44 2008: 4237   TonyLawrence

I came across this after I had posted:


Similar concept and good advice.

Tue May 27 11:38:38 2008: 4239   anonymous

Hmm. Googling "frabble" turns up
14th out of 2,430.

I'm not sure, is this good or bad? ;-)

Tue May 27 11:43:55 2008: 4240   TonyLawrence

Pretty funny.. but bad :-) Bad for people who really want to know about "frabble", that is.

Sorry "frabble" fans: I thought I was picking a nonsense word.. I should have checked it myself!

Tue May 27 14:04:22 2008: 4241   JonR

After eleven years of using search engines virtually daily, I know one thing for sure: My best results are going to be found, most likely, on pages two through four of the results. Rarely, the very first hit is a good one. But most often, the sites and pages that are trying to deliver useful information, rather than hook me into a selling ploy, will be found a little further along. If I had the patience to go beyond, say, page fourteen, I might find more results that were useful; but the times I've done that have taught me it's generally a waste of time. (My searches are mainly for technical, often Linux-oriented, answers to questions; for scientific and medical issues; and for cultural, generally arts-oriented, information. But I find the same rule of thumb applies to my searches for items I want or need to evaluate or purchase.)

Tue May 27 15:13:39 2008: 4244   TonyLawrence

I don't disagree at all (though of course you have to at least scan the first page results because sometimes the best matches really are there).

Funny how all the competition is for page one but page two is often better :-)

Tue Jul 28 08:49:24 2009: 6703   TonyLawrence

Here's another "Emporer has no clothes" post about SEO



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