Search Engine Optimization for Dummies

There is a really good SEO piece over at The Blog Herald which I found via one of my regular reads . Since switching from a flash format to a blog format for this website I have been getting more and more interested in this topic as I have seen a vast increase in the amount of Google juice I get. Rather then write my version of what others have already said I thought I would try and pool together different sources that have been of great help to me along the way.

A visit to the is very revealing when looked at in this context it is not a measure of google rank but it is a quick way to look at what top sites are doing. It becomes quickly apparent is that there is no one-way to skin this cat and the only thing that these sites have in common is they have great content. I am too new at this blogging thing to even pretend that I know anything about great content so I can’t help there, but there are some things we have control over which can greatly improve our websites performance.

Understanding What Search Engines See

Google doesn’t see nice styling and does not take a look images when deciding what your site is about, it sees your documents content in the context of its structure. So what gives a site its structure and how does it help your blog? Structure comes from HTML and each of the elements gives its content meaning. Use heading tags for headings, paragraph tags for paragraphs, link tags for links etc, Google understands this and uses this structure to make decisions about your content. Problems only arise when you start to do things wrong. If you use a strong tag for a heading Google presumes your know what you are doing and reads it as bold text rather then an important part of the page structure. So what are some of the important elements to keep control of?

Page Title

Roger Johansson writes:

By making your page titles simple, yet descriptive and relevant, you make it easier for search engines to know what each page is about, and people scanning through search results can quickly determine whether your document contains what they are looking for. The page title is also what is used to link to your site from search result listings.

Because of this, the title element is one of the most important elements on a page. Some argue that it is the most important element.

<title>Document title | Section name | Site or company name</title>

This goes in the <head> of you webpage, appears only once and should be relevant to the content of your page.

Pro-blogger Darren Rowse has a great piece that adds meaning to the importance of all of this.


Headings add structure and imply importance to content, headings come in six flavours.

W3C writes:

A heading element briefly describes the topic of the section it introduces. Heading information may be used by user agents, for example, to construct a table of contents for a document automatically.

You look at this pages outline (scroll down past all the errors more about that later) You can see how headings effect structure when compared to this pages outline My Dad’s site it’s old school HTML.

Shirley E. Kaiser writes:

Use heading elements for headings: H1, H2, H3, H4, H5, H6. Don’t use CSS, the STRONG element or other markup to fake your headings. See my article about this, Don’t Fake Your Markup: Accessibility Issues for CSS.

For example, this:

<h1>Our Company</h1>
<h2>Our Services</h2>

Becomes this:

Our Company

Our Services

Don’t fake your headings:

<strong> I am not a heading but I look like one</strong><br />
I am not a heading but I look like one
This may look like a heading but it does nothing to add structure to you document.

Domain Names and Search Engine Friendly URLs

This is far more relevant then I originally thought when I started writing this, a quick google search for blog tips reveals in bold green letters google highlights search terms in the web address. But how much weight does it hold? Quite a lot, just look at this search for Karl Rove. is right up there has no incoming links and a page rank of 6 (I just don’t get ranking sometimes). A domain name is important but if you have been using there is no reason to loose sleep, as there are plenty of successful websites hosted as a subdomain. Even a sub folder can be a very successful site. What can help if you don’t have a relevant domain name? is to use search engine friendly URLs:
Roger Johansson writes:

Use search engine friendly, human readable URLs instead. This will help both your ranking and your users. I’ve seen incredible improvements in search engine results from just changing the URL scheme of a site.

SEF URLs are probably the most difficult to control but most good CMSs take the pain out of this type of thing.

Image descriptions

When it comes to images and google I have found very little information about what to do compared to other elements within a site. Use descriptive file names when saving your images;


Rather then;


Use alt tags for all images, not only is good for people with images turned off but it also gives search engines something to go on when trying to figure out what is in the box.

<img src="johnny-at-the-park.jpg" alt="Johnny at the park eating apples" />

I have found that google also gives a lot of weight to the text around the images so use descriptions if possible. This can cause trouble with some CMS image galleries. On this site I want to have descriptions in all the image pages but unfortunately they appear in the thumbnail pages which is not what I want. For this I have had to use CSS to display:none, a bit messy but nessesary.

Some people would not feel that this was as important but for sites where the image is the content such as this one every little bit helps.

Valid XHTML/CSS and Accessibility

Internet old schoolers have different views on this and I tend to be fairly relaxed about it taking Mike Davidson’s point of view, this page validates most of the time but usually fails because of the links in the sidebar, I could fix it but I don’t. But when it comes to learning I have found validation to be invaluable, there is no better way to see what you are doing wrong, but plenty of bad habits validate;

<strong> I am a heading because I look like one</strong><br />

If you are like Mike and have been doing this long enough to wear the t-shirt that is fair enough, walk on the wild side. Some of the top sites use old fashioned HTML4 and tables, but if any of this stuff is new to you learn it right the first time. Get Jeffrey Zeldman’s book, visit CSS Zen Garden read “Developing with Web Standards” they are great. Or if you don’t have time read Dave Shea’s “Mark-up Guide” print it, stick it on your mouse pad, or print it on a t-shirt to impress your friends.

Links, Linking and Ranking.

Links from big people carry weight and getting people to link to your site is vital to your sites success, with good content I believe this will come. Avoid link farms, be honest and don’t spam some top ranking blogger to get a link, seems to be a pretty consistent message throughout the web.

When you are linking to someone else remember that link context helps. Artist’s blog as a link is more weighty then artist’s blog click here.

You don’t have to get a huge amount of incoming links to be successful in your search results, I will never be number one in google for “war in iraq” but I get the ones I want “artist’s blog” “painting waves” “oil painting clouds” by following the steps above.