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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

S-E-Ooooh, That's How You Do It!

My boss, Kevin, and I headed out to Seattle last month (coincidentally during the time that some of our Infragistics buddies were heading up the speaker list at DevScovery) to attend an expert-level SEO seminar given by the bright folks over at SEOmoz.  And, boy was it enlightening!

Now, before I go any further, I'm going to have to state right up front that (until late last month) I have been wandering through my professional web career knowing only a bare minimum about SEO.  I thought I understood basic concepts like linking and keyword placement - the more times you link to a page and repeat a word, the higher your search rank, right?  Unsurprisingly, it turns out to be a bit more involved that that. :)

There's no way I'm going to duplicate in a blog post or even a series of blog posts what I learned at that awesome seminar - if you're truly that interested, I would suggest signing up for the training or at the very least checking out the articles on SEOmoz.  However, I wanted to 'jot down' a few of my largest takeaways, because they really made me reevaluate my view on the way SEO works.  Since I have a knack for oversimplifying things (verging on naivety), I figured a bulleted list would do just the trick.  So, below you'll find my ridiculously simplified...

List of Things You Probably Already Knew About SEO But Didn't Realize How Important They Were (or at least I didn't...):

  1. Backlinks.  I'm sure it comes as no surprise that having other sites (especially the big/important ones) link to yours is beneficial, but I'd have to say the most unexpected thing I took away from this seminar was just how important they are!  From what I understand, these account for the vast majority of your PageRank-ings - I'm talking well over half.  That means you need to beg, borrow, cheat, and steal (wait, no... not those last two) to get everyone and their dog to link back to you (assuming their dog's site has a lot of traffic, of course!).  As always, the better their PageRank, the better your Link Juice.

  2. Oh, yeah - Link Juice and nofollow!   To be honest, I'd never heard the term 'link juice' before.  But after hearing it explained, it was just so incredibly appropriate I really became endeared with it.  Put simply, think of the traffic to any one of your pages as water flowing into a pipe.  You start out with 10 gallons of water coming into one pipe (this landing page) from which it is split up and diverted to various other pipes (pages you're linking to from the landing page).  Each of these splits divides and cuts down the volume of the initial 10 gal., such that if you have, say, 10 links on your page each of them gets 1 gal. of that initial 10.  Now, if you play that concept all the way through each page, constantly splitting up the water on every page, you can imagine how quickly that 10 gallon deluge can become just a trickle...  Obviously, we'd like to see some pages on our site get more traffic than others, so how do we  keep our existing links so people can still navigate our site, yet "divert the water" to the pages that we think are the most important?  Fortunately, the answer is pretty simple - the "rel='nofollow'" tag!  Placing this tag on any of your links basically tells search engines "this page really isn't important to me and I really don't want to waste my influence on it."  It's kind of like disavowing all knowledge of your pages... even if it quite obvious that they're worth something to you (since they still exist, after all).

  3. Then there's plain ol' good, properly-formatted, and relevant content...  Really, from what I could tell, those first two bullets are the major players in terms of tips & tricks.  The search engines are getting better at filtering out spammers every day through various techniques, so your ultimate defense is to create interesting content, and make use of standard best practices like putting your important keywords in your <title> and <hx> tags, concentrating on creating relevant content, and trying to keep your markup light and semantically correct.  Simple... right?  "Easier said than done" is more like it!

I had intended from the start for this to be a quick overview of what I took away from my recent training and nowhere near a "deep dive" into SEO.  But, to help you on your way, I've collected a few resources that might help you learn some more if I've happened to pique your interest... which I certainly hope I have!

Additional Resources:

Hope this all helps!  Oh, and please leave me a comment and let me know if it does - I'd love to hear about it!