What I KNOW about SEO

Many SEO specialists will tell you that SEO is part science, part art. I’ll skew even more to the art side of things, but perhaps I’ll classify it and maybe call it “practical art” or something like that. In the quest to gain high rankings and relevant traffic, some spend many hours conducting research, collecting data and attempting to reverse-engineer the search engines’ algorithms. I am not one of those types, although I sure do appreciate reading about any substantial findings :)

While we have lots of research, we also face a consistently-changing and evolving environment. This makes proving various concepts with respect to algorithms very difficult. Did Site X improve 5 spots because we changed the keyword density in the title tag, or rather did some of our competition make adversely-effecting changes to their sites? Rather, could the change have resulted from an algorithm tweak and thus have benefited us regardless of any change we made? Its usually not possible to say with 100% certainty. In fact, in many cases people would be happy with 75% certainty. As such, many rely on core, common principles about building a search-engine-friendly site, and work with the understanding that the nitty-gritty details will change from time to time.

So, since so many things we hear about we don’t actually know for sure, is there anything we do truly know. Probably not, but regardless I’m going to pretend there area. Let’s classify things as what we’re 95% sure about, what we’re 75% sure about, and maybe scaling down from there.

What I KNOW:

(95% sure about anyways)

  • Having all simple “a href” html text links on your site is best for spiderability.
  • Having more pages on your site is generally better than fewer pages, so long as those pages have a purpose.
  • Having more text on a page is generally better than having lesser text, so long as that text has a purpose.
  • Content may or may not be the king, but its certainly a king. Lots of high-quality, relevant content is a very good thing. It provides a value to your readers and helps make your site a memorable, worthy resource. That, my friend, can help you to build links to your site.
  • Inbound links are huge. Lots of links from good, quality, related sites that are not doing anything sketchy. Quantity of links seems to matter more for Yahoo, whereas the number of real high quality links seems to be more of a Google thing.
  • Anchor text is a good thing, especially in acheiving rankings in MSN. As is my general view on all things SEO-related, variability is key here. Get links from many sources, via many channels. Build a great site that attracts its own links. Register your site with reputable directories. Issue online press releases when appropriate. Seek out partnerships (not link farms, but actual partnerships – this means it will take more than 30 seconds of discussion) with related sites.
  • Time is huge. Its nearly impossible to get a domain that is less than 6 months old to rank very well in Google for anything even mildly competitive. I believe there are two aspects to this – 1) how long the site has existed (i.e. first appeared in index) and 2) the age of inbound links to the site. As each of those two things age, rankings generally improve.
  • Good keyword research is crucial. Top rankings mean nothing, unless they are for terms that actually attract visitors, and in turn a reasonable amount of those visitors convert. Too many people go after rankings for rankings’ sake. I suppose that gives them something to brag about while they are going out of business.
  • As a follow-up to the immediate above, don’t discount longer, more specific search phrases. While they generally yield less traffic volume, they generally also convert at a significantly higher rate, since chances are your site is indeed more relevant to those phrases if you are ranking for them than a very general phrase.
  • Time is huge. Yes, I’m repeating this. Not only is time for pure age’s sake huge though, the ability to improve steadily over time is key. This means 1) keep your content fresh and updated periodically, 2) add new content periodically and 3) make sure you are getting new links to your site periodically. This would be the exact opposite of building a site with tons of great content and attracting thousands of links in one month and then not doing a thing for the site for two years. Yes. That would be a bad thing.
  • Title tags are key, as are H tags. Not just for rankings, but for steering visitors as well.
  • Clean code is key, although truthfully I’m not quite that convinced it helps w/ rankings. It probably will help you keep a good site up and updated though, which will help in a roundabout way.

If anything, the above is meant to show that really what is needed is simply (or not so simply) to build a great site that not only trys to look like a great, relevant resource, but actually is one. Duh! Build a great site with lots of great content. Update it and add to it regularly. Implement features that help your users and make the site more valuable. Promote it using all sensible vehicles that you would use for legitimate advertising, PR, etc. Don’t ever fall into the trap of doing something purely for the reason of trying to get high rankings, as it most likely will be something sketchy that will get you into trouble. Rather, focus on building a great site that has a high profile and the rankings will follow.

In this sense I’m beginning to describe myself no longer as an SEO, but as a more general Internet Marketer. I still accomplish the same goal – more (relevant) traffic to help a site do more of whatever it is that it does, but the strategy and approach is a bit different now. In that respect you could say the search engines have won a great victory here – as I used to think in terms of getting good rankings, and now I think about building great sites. Isn’t that what they want after all?