Learning SEO: Search engine optimisation from a beginner’s perspective

As most of you reading this will know, search engine optimisation, or SEO, is the art of promoting websites in order to achieve high levels of traffic and visibility from ‘organic’ web searches. The ideal outcome of good SEO is to appear as high as possible in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) for key words and phrases.

I am not an expert on SEO. Until two weeks ago I couldn’t have told you the importance of good SERPS (or even what that meant!), how simple SEO changes can make a difference or even who Matt Cuts or Rand Fishkin or Aaron Walls are. I am most definitely not a substitute for top quality SEO training. What I can offer is a fresh pair of eyes and a beginners perspective on SEO and some of the most important things to take away in the early days when faced with massive treasure trove of information that is available.

Three core practices of SEO

There are three principles that are central to most SEO texts I have read:

  1. Understand how your pages will look to a search engine spiderMost search engines index content through the use of web-crawling software called ‘spiders’. Most of the time this is done without human intervention at all. As spiders only search text (which includes things such as alt variables in image tags), it is important for you to know how your page looks when only scanning the page source. This understanding allows you to tailor your content for machine scanning while still keeping it attractive for your human readers.
  2. Have the how-to knowledge and the access to change your pages in order to optimise results for each search engine you want to rank highly onSEO is not a set once and forget type of activity. It requires a lot of fine tuning and tweaking in the early days so you need to be able to have the access to make constant changes to how your pages are set up, which requires both the knowledge on how to do it and the access to your server to make the changes. One happy side benefit of these SEO changes is that they can often make your site easier for humans to read/search/understand as well.
  3. Stay away from Black hat activities if you are in it for the long haul The search engines are not at all shy about penalising or even banning sites they feel are gaming the system and abusing the search engine guidelines. If short-term ‘cut and run’ gain is your aim, I guess black hat stuff might be for you. If you are looking to build a long-term investment with authority and status, you should think twice before delving in to the darker arts.

A top notch collection of SEO tools to help you practice these core principles are available at SEOBook.

White Hat v Black Hat

If you’re as new to this as I am, talk about ‘white hat’ and ‘black hat’ SEO can be confusing. Just like in a classic Western flick, white hats are the good guys and black hats are the bad guys. If it seems very Spy vs Spy well, that is because it sort of  is when you think about it.

White Hats

White hats tend to follow the guidelines of a search engine and try and stay within the rules. The aim here is to have quality content for users as a base and then work out the best way to make the site attractive and accessible to spiders and other search engine crawling mechanisms. The aim of the game here is to build authority. White hat is the long term view with the long term payoff.

Black Hats

Black hat activity is all about circumventing the rules, often for short term gain. Short term gain is the key here as black hats have to keep one step ahead of the game as the search engines keep changing the rules and tweaking their algorithms to shut them out. Some black hat techniques include using hidden text (for example tiny fonts or text the same colour as background) and ‘cloaking’, or making a web page look totally different depending on whether it is being looked at by a spider or a normal web surfer.

There is an excellent conversation between a black hat SEO and a white hat SEO at SEOmoz that should provide you with a good overview of the different philosophies.

Looking forward

My short summary above covers only a small part of the SEO industry but is a good place to start for the complete SEO newbie like myself. In the future, I will look at some basic design and optimisation issues that can make a substantial change in your blogging philosophy while remaining simple enough that even I can implement them without too much hassle.

Photo credit: vivalibre574

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Comments

  1. I am trying to build a blog about ecommerce right now, and this article helps me to understand what the difference between black hat and white hat SEO is. Thanks!

  2. I am on a similar journey of discovery myself, so I look forward to reading your future posts on the topic.

  3. In my opinion one of the most important lessons for the beginner is Patience. It’s going to take some time to achieve results. Getting too caught up in certain SEO techniques can actually lead to worse results. You will need a plan to learn and make improvements over a period of time. Don’t be in a rush.

  4. smperris says:

    Patience is definitely a virtue, as far as I can see (if you’re a white hat, that is :D ) I think one of the main things is understand the principles and work with them rather than get too caught up in the technicalities of it all.

    Patience really seems to be one of the most important things in blogging in general.

  5. Believe me….as a beginner it is very very tough to stay focused and have patience. I really think that it is just that many of the beginners want to earn money really fast. But I am learning along the way. In this business, it takes a lot of patience, especially during the first 8-10 months after starting a blog or website.

  6. Anonymous says:

    The truth is, when Black Hat vs White Hat, the Black Hat would always prevail.
    Until the White hat “spy” come to found out the Black had acts. The Black hat guys would be 1000 miles aways from the White hat.
    I’m not here to recommand the Black hat tactics, I hate them too, because, I’m always click the page where the topics doesn’t relevat to our search result and waste our time. They are in fact a different spammer.

  7. Black Hat will use any measure to get what he wants. White Hat will use “legal” tricks and kind of ride the edge. Backlink software is usually white hat because it is legit to post on comments to create backlinks. Many people do this all the time without software. They just find blogs and writing comments to get more backlinks. Well, then programs came out that aide in the process, then people started getting mad. Why spend twice as long doing something that can be done easier?

  8. I think this is very dangerous. Once people start hitting the spam button, you will be known in the aksimet database and then none of you comments will make it through. That would be a petty. Off course, if you have a blog filled with pages that are stolen elsewhere, you would not care, but for genuine blogs or websites, I would stay away from it.

    Olivier

  9. Seo is a good chance for stay RICHMan on more time…….

  10. 1-800-HART says:

    I really enjoyed those links in this post! oh, yeah – and enjoyed the post too :D

  11. smperris says:

    @Anonymous: you are right when you say that Black hats will almost always be one step ahead of the game. That’s the nature of black hat activity I guess. Black hats tend towards quick gain today and be gone tomorrow before the consequences hit. What do they care if Google catches on and bans their spam-laden domain that was picking up the AdSense along the way? Domains are cheap and they’ll just start another up tomorrow.

    There is no solution that I can see. We all just have to live with it and hope that every time the search engines change the rules they don’t end up biting hard on the good guys as well. Unintended consequences are still consequences after all.

  12. EXCELLENT overview. Now I have somewhere to point folks that ask me the very basic SEO questions.

    Good form!

  13. PR checks come every once in a while, use permalinks, tags, ping RPCs, participate in niche communities, work daily, blog post daily, stay away from purchased links google bans those once in a while, be patient, try to push the envelope, observe better sites than you, etc

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