How can I learn to speak intelligently about SEO?
March 27, 2007 10:04 AM   Subscribe

What are some good resources out there such that I can bring myself up to speed quickly on Search Engine Optimization?

I am interviewing for a job as a Product Development Lead for a company that has very established brand in its market, and is only just beginning to make a foray into the web space. I have over a decade of product management experience (writing MRDs, SRSs, FRDs, go to market plans), ad trafficking and analytics experience, and project execution experience, so I think I have a really good story to tell. However, one area where I have no experience whatsoever with is in Search Engine Optimization. I know what this is of course, and have gone to the usual places for resarch, but I am falling short of understanding what this means from a business standpoint. What do I need to do to execute an SEO plan on my company's behalf? What relationships to do I need to build? What players do I need to know? What resources can I check out so that I can speak intelligently about all of the foregoing? What are the costs and benefits, myths and realities of it. Thanks in advance for any help you can provide.
posted by ScreechingEyeballStupidShitboxClownshoes to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
First stop is Web Master World. It sounds generic, but it's actually the top SEO related forum. It's not like a normal forum.. the actual big guns of the industry hang out and contribute there. Look down the right and you'll find scores of subforums, most of which have great content due to the site's tight editorial policies.

You might also want to buy a couple of SEO e-books to read. Unsurprisingly (to me, at least!) the two I recommend are the top two entries for "seo ebook" on Google! They're Aaron Wall's SEOBook and Michael Wong's Search Engine Optimization Strategies. These books aren't just techniques, but do cover some of the things you are looking for.. that is, the 'culture' surrounding it. I can't speak for any other books, but know those two are good, even if their sales pages look a bit over the top (par for the course with e-books).

There are undoubtedly further resources for answering the questions about putting together larger campaigns, but that is not an area I have experience with, so I will leave you to greater minds on that one.
posted by wackybrit at 10:23 AM on March 27, 2007

The best way to boost page rank is to make a good site people want to link to.
posted by chunking express at 10:40 AM on March 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

Eponysterical? Kinda? A little? Somethin'?

That said, you'll probably get little sympathy around these here parts for SEO. As chunking express pointed out, actual content of sufficient quality to secure you a coveted top seat should be your goal. The system is useful precisely because of that meritocratic bent. When you start hacking it, the utility goes away. It's almost akin to asking "I want to learn more about how to send spam."
posted by mjbraun at 10:50 AM on March 27, 2007

Response by poster: Well, if that's the answer, that's the answer mjbraun.

I have a prospective employer (a legitimate, old guard company) asking about it. I had seen many articles in about people using bs techniques to try to artificially boost page views (and cheat advertisers), but that's not what I was talking about. I thought there were legitimate and accepted techniques (buying keywords from google, for example), that didn't touch on the shadiness that you're referring to.

I'm willing to accept that I'm wrong about that, but that's why I brought my question to AskMe, sort of hoping for an intelligent response (such as the one posted by wackybrit), rather than empty snark from chunking express or rhetoric about SPAM = SEO.

/I'm now off to flag my own comment for breaking the guidelines.
posted by ScreechingEyeballStupidShitboxClownshoes at 10:59 AM on March 27, 2007

Best answer: There's two kinds of SEO. There's "black hat SEO" that does dirty tricks with javascript, hidden keywords, link farms, etc to try to fool search engines. And then there's "white hat SEO" that's just about doing legitimate things to make sure search engines understand your site. See the URL up there for your AskMe post, with the "How-can-I-learn-to-speak..." right in the URL path? Classic white hat SEO trick, Matt implemented it a month or two ago.

Webmaster World is indeed the place to go to learn about SEO stuff. They're the experts and will have links to lots of resources. You may also find the blogs and articles of Danny Sullivan and Matt Cutts interesting.

Good luck on your research.
posted by Nelson at 11:04 AM on March 27, 2007 [2 favorites]

chunking express: "The best way to boost page rank is to make a good site people want to link to."

While I agree, just look at what a little bit of work here (i.e. adding the title to the URL) can help each question's likelihood of coming up in a search. (See the follow-up to this change.)

In other words, SEO shouldn't be about catapulting your unknown and nearly worthless site to the top of a ranking — it can't do this anyways — but it can be about not shooting yourself in the foot.
posted by Xoder at 11:05 AM on March 27, 2007

Personally, I've learned a great deal at the Search Engine Strategies conferences. There's one in NYC in a few weeks. Yeah, there's a fair amount of crap thrown around, but there are plenty of little things you can do without hiring someone that can have a positive impact. I don't want to make this sound like a sponsorship or something, so I'll stop here. Email me if you want more info on some of the things I've learned.
posted by Atom12 at 11:29 AM on March 27, 2007

Here are some "top 10" tips I've learned by working with an SEO gun-for-hire for a while. Don't worry, I work on a "good site that people link to." That said, chunking express really didn't "point out" anything. Good SEO practices are necessary for everyone these days, not least because there are so many spammers out there. If you let yourself get penalized on something small, you'll drop off the face of the earth - regardless of whether your site is "good" (whatever that means).

1) Site speed - search engines don't want to point someone to a site that will take more than 2ish seconds to load. Irrational as it may be, slow sites reflect poorly on the search engine itself: 'why doesn't this link work? Google is slow today'

2) Rich content - having lots of relevant in-page content is pretty hard to go wrong with. Google knows when you've copied or "sampled" content from another site. Wherever the content appears first is considered the "source."

3) A strong homepage - This is usually the page people link to if they like your site. And links-in are gold. If your homepage has problems, like spammy content or a slow load time, you're dead.

4) Crawler friendly - duh. If everything on your site is only accessible via its internal search engine, you're fucked.

5) Strong relationship between page title, H1 tags, and body content. Whatever is in your html page titles, the h1 tags on the page needs to be directly keyword relevant to the content of the page. If this is the case consistently, you'll be seen as a site that titles and tags pages appropriately. That is considered a good thing.

6) Flat structure - the fewer clicks required to get from your homepage to your content, the better.

7) Human-friendly titles - Let's say you have a page about the harms associated with testing perfumes and colognes on animals. You might be tempted to use the word "Fragrances" in the title, because it's one word that covers mens and womens scents. But don't. Most anyone doing a search online for a scent is probably a woman, and she's probably going to type "perfume" into Google. Consider that "typing your search" moment when you name things. Use words that people use. "Cars" not "automobiles." Etc.

8) Publish RSS feeds - not only can crawlers use them to "slurp" your content in a structured way, it will give people across the web an easy way to incorporate your content and links to your site onto their sites

9) Link exchanges don't work - think about it: it's easy for Google to see that two sites link reciprocally. This ancient practice of trading links doesn't help anyone anymore.

10) Fresh (not random) content is good. If whatever's on your homepage changes 100% with every refresh, like showing a random article each time from your library, then the crawler can't come to a conclusion about whether the page's content is relevant to the page or not and may ignore it. There's no penalty for having new content appear, but avoid the "random rotating content module" that Marketing Guy thinks is a great way to showcase your goods.
posted by scarabic at 12:50 PM on March 27, 2007 [6 favorites]

xoder, i'm well aware having clean URLs, semantically correct layouts, etc, all help with page rank. I just think the *best* way to get ranked higher on google comes from producing something people want to link to.
posted by chunking express at 12:55 PM on March 27, 2007

Response by poster: The site's objectives are neither to sell advertising space, nor to get to the top of any rankings lists. It is a company that uses graphical images (and sparing text) to reach a niche market of people and entice them attend its special events (if I say any more, you'll know who it is, and I can't risk it). I think what they are looking for is a means to attract as many people in its core market as it can, using whatever means appropriate. SEO was one of a few methods that had come up in early conversations.
posted by ScreechingEyeballStupidShitboxClownshoes at 1:06 PM on March 27, 2007

Another tip is to use hyphens instead of underscores in URLs (see MetaFilter's URLs for example), because the search engines can't tell that words separated by underscores are separate words. So a search for "sports cars" would find "sports-cars" but wouldn't find "sports_cars".
posted by kirkaracha at 2:12 PM on March 27, 2007

Assuming you're focused on Google as the SE for your SEO efforts, you'll want to visit the Google Webmaster resources page -- the links there, particulary to their blog, are invaluable.

The Best Answers you've marked have great links, but keep some healthy skepticism for some of the content on the other sites linked -- while white hat and black hats are easy to spot, there are a lot of grey hat SEOs that speak with an unearned sense of authority. I won one of the first SEO contests a few years ago, and have had the chance to interact with a bunch of people in the SEO community, and while folks like Danny Sullivan and Matt Cutts are great, a small number of SEOs seemed to be among the least ethical people I'd ever encountered online.
posted by anildash at 2:04 AM on March 28, 2007

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