Building a good web site is a lot like life. The most powerful success principles often seem esoteric – or downright obscure – to the uninitiated. If you've ever wondered how to get your site ranked higher in Google, you know what I mean.
Search “SEO” on Google, and you'll run smack into the smoke and mirrors of the high-priced Search Engine Optimization (SEO) “gurus.” The sheer glut of SEO experts and firms, countless SEO ebooks, courses, tools, and private sites, and all the SEO jargon might make you feel like a stranger in a very strange land.
Does getting a solid position in the search engines really require a godlike grasp of such mind-numbing complexities as algorithms and keyword density ratios, as well as a monk-like devotion to minutia? Not really. The most important SEO principle can be boiled down into one simple sentence: Your web site must be built so spiders can grasp your text and determine EXACTLY what your site is about.
If you're putting your favorite no fat, low carb dessert recipes online, it makes sense to tell the search engines that your site should show up if I search for “low fat desserts.” It makes even more sense if I search for “no fat low carb desserts.” SEO is really the art and science of informing the search engine spiders – in terms they understand – of the exact content of your site.
But even though the basic idea of SEO is simple, actually applying it to your own site can be confusing. Where do you start? Here are my top picks for free SEO resources online:
SEO Chat Forums
A comprehensive site helpful to SEO newbies as well as experienced webmasters. Plenty of accurate information on building sites that work with the search engines, not against them. A huge section devoted strictly to Google, as well as forums on the other major engines and directories. A nice touch for users of the latest version of Internet Explorer are mouseover windows. These display the first few sentences of the post BEFORE you click.
Also possibly one of the friendliest SEO forums on the web. Beginners are rarely talked down to, and a good-natured distinction between “white hats” and “black hats” helps you distinguish between the safer, proven techniques and some of the more questionable practices.
Webmaster Toolkit's Search Engine Optimization Tools
Webmaster Toolkit shows you can still build an incredibly useful site by simply collecting the best links, resources, and utilities. Instead of sending you hither and yon, Webmaster Toolkit has collected eight of the best free SEO web-based utilities on their clean, simple-to-navigate, fast-loading site.
If you're just beginning to investigate using targeted keywords on your site, the simple, lightning fast Keyword Research Tool is an easy way to test the waters. If you've already built a web page or two, run them through the Web Page Analyzer to see if you've made any obvious search engine blunders. It's also fun, and sometimes enlightening, to use the Search Engine Spider Simulator to see exactly how your page looks to the spiders.
And here's a bonus for more advanced webmasters: Check out the delightful little CSS Menu Generator (http://www.webmaster-toolkit.com/css-menu-generator.shtml). With it you can quickly create gorgeous text links that look like graphical buttons. Since search engine spiders love text links, with this menu tool you can experiment with making them much more visually appealing.
StickySauce.com's Search Engine Tips/Articles
Here you'll find over two hundred free articles and tips on “all things search engine.” This is a good place to get your feet wet by skimming articles on a wide variety of SEO topics, including SEO basics, the idiosyncrasies of individual search engines, and commentary on recent search engine policies.
While you can't really search for articles on a given topic, StickySauce's editors keep all the latest articles near the top. If you get bitten by the SEO bug and want even more free information, then check out…
SiteProNews has been publishing an excellent webmaster newsletter for over three years, and in the last year the editorial emphasis has shifted heavily towards SEO. Since SiteProNews publishes about three times a week, it's a literal storehouse of hundreds of high quality SEO articles from some of the most seasoned webmasters in the business.
Unfortunately, SiteProNews suffers from the same flaw as StickySauce. You can't really search the archives, since the articles aren't stored in a database (don't try the search box on the home page – it's an ExactSeek web search, NOT a site search). SiteProNews attempts to make up for lack of search ability by offering a clean, flat list of all the articles, with complete titles, for each year of publication.
At that, it's not a bad compromise. For a low tech time saver, you can simply print out the list. Then pull out your highlighter, choose your articles, and come back to the site to read plenty of first rate SEO advice.
Some Final Thoughts
Don't give up on SEO just because it seems a bit daunting. And don't get discouraged because you discover that so many people “cheat” by padding their sites with keywords without adding real value. People have been trying to outfox the search engines for years. Sometimes they even succeed. But the search engines employ too many brilliant engineers. Eventually they'll add one little tweak that sends the cheaters tumbling down the ranking ladder.
While SEO gimmicks come and go, working WITH the search engines never goes out of style. Once you become accustomed to adding basic SEO to every site you build, you'll soon realize how helpful it can be both for you AND your visitors.
When you include targeted search terms in the right places, you're being polite to the search engines. You're letting them know whether your site is truly relevant for a given search. And that makes life online better for all of us – webmasters and busy searchers alike.