In my book Web Design: 500 Hints, Tips and Techniques I tried to distil the essential points of search engine optimisation down into a 50 word chunk. Here's what I came up with:
Remember, good search engine results need just three things:
- Relevant text content
- Clean, standards-compliant code
- In-bound links
It's so simple it's a wonder everyone doesn't do it!
Of course, I'd been coming to that realisation for some time, but seeing it that clearly is really helpful; it illustrates that most of the verbiage dedicated to the subject of search engine optimisation is, frankly, just so much hot air.
Those three in more detail
'Relevant text content' is a no brainer. Of course it's text content, as Google can't understand graphical images. Yet. Of course it's relevant or it would be, er, irrelevant and that wouldn't help anyone. (Actually, relevant really means 'relevant to those pages on a similar subject which link to it' as well as 'relevant to the searcher'.)
'Clean, standards-compliant code' is more than just me having a dig at all those two-bit web designers who can't be arsed to do it properly! Clean means lacking extraneous gumph that Google would have to sift through before getting to the content; in other words, a good code-to-content ratio, which Google likes. Making your site standards compliant means that search engines are not going to trip over some nasty piece of code they don't understand. That's the beauty of standards; everyone understands them.
'In-bound links' are incredibly important. Although, much like a three legged stool, SEO would fall over if any one of the three was missing. These are simply links to your page from an external site. What they provide first and foremost is a way for Google and the like to actually find your site in the first place. The worldwide web is so named for a reason; everything is - or should be - linked together, kinda like a web, see? Secondly, they provide an assurance that the content is good; all these sites link to it, it must be good!
A couple of years ago I bought a new Martin acoustic guitar and wrote about it on my website. (Did you see what I just did there? I improved my Google ranking for that page by creating a new in-bound link. Tricky, huh?)
A few short weeks later I happened to notice that a Google search on 'Martin acoustic' or 'Martin acoustic guitar' brought my page up second only to Martin themselves. Given that thousands of guitar shops around the world sell these guitars I thought that was pretty cool. Of course, the page has all but disappeared now, but for a few months it was riding high. If I cared I probably could have kept it up there but it's just my blog...
The point is that I did nothing specific to get the page ranked high on Google. I simply wrote a reasonable length article on a given subject, put it in a website that was coded to web standards, and that happened to have a few in-bound links.
The three 'C's
In fact, while I'm busy trying to coin a catchphrase, I've come up with another one. This time, I'm going from 50 words right down to three; I hereby declare the Three C's of SEO:
Thank you, I'm here all week. Ok, the last one's a little tenuous but 'links' doesn't begin with 'c'.
Ignore the hot air merchants
"We can guarantee you a number one placing in Google!" screams the headline. The small print should read "so long as the search term is 'aardvark sprocket merchant' or something else equally useless and over-specific".
If you do the three simple things your site will naturally do well. That doesn't mean you can't 'optimise' it of course, and you should. But it's not voodoo, it's not magic, and it's not expensive. It is, for the most part, simply good practice and common sense.