Review: The Truth about Search Engine Optimization

Rebecca Lieb’s The Truth about Search Engine Optimization provides a concise introduction to the basics of SEO in an engaging way. It’s avowedly not a technical book, but it manages to get across some complicated concepts in an accessible fashion.

Its non-techie language makes it a good choice to give to clients or marketing colleagues who you want to steer away from SEO scammers. The author provides solid advice focusing on the need to provide ‘strong relevant content for users combined with links, keywords and phrases that make it search-engine friendly’. Readers are given a good appreciation of what to expect from an SEO professional and will also learn plenty of things they can do themselves to improve their site’s performance in the SERPs.

Amongst the sensible points made, there’s advice to ‘never hire anyone who promises the number one slot on Google’ and suitably dire warnings of the perils of link farms and black hat SEO. Detailed guidance is given on building a link strategy and minimising the effects on search engine ranking of moving domains. There’s nice balanced analyses of the importance of PageRank, the pros and cons of outsourced vs. internal SEO in organisations and the benefits of user-generated content for search. There’s also a welcome emphasis on the benefits of standards compliance for SEO, which it’s great to see presented to a non-technical audience.

Alongside all the good recommendations in the book, there were just a couple of things I didn’t totally agree with. There’s one section which reads like it encourages viewing “alt” text primarily as a keyword-placement opportunity rather than as a useful description for people using screen-readers. (Elsewhere however there is good accessibility advice on posting HTML transcripts for audio files.)

Also, I thought the section looking at Flash from an SEO viewpoint was overly negative for a book published in 2009. In 2008 Adobe and Google cooperated to deliver a great improvement in SWF search indexing and Flash sites now don’t have to be the search engine pariahs they once were (as long as developers know what they’re doing). Todd Perkins’ recent O’Reilly book on Search Engine Optimization for Flash covers the current state of play in great detail. It would be a shame if site owners just read ‘The Truth about Search Engine Optimization’ and dismissed all Flash development out of hand.

Generally though, this is a useful book you can recommend to anyone as an introduction to SEO or use as a refresher to provide a checklist of points any SEO project should cover.

The Truth about Search Engine Optimization by Rebecca Lieb is published by Que.

Related posts

Other books on SEO I’ve reviewed are Building Findable Websites and Where Search Meets Web Usability.

Review: Drupal Multimedia

Drupal Multimedia

Drupal Multimedia offers an in-depth look at how to integrate images, videos and audio into a Drupal site. The intended audience is beginners and intermediate developers who want to learn how to better control and display media on their sites. Dealing with multimedia with Drupal often feels much more complicated than it should be, but this book definitely helps to make it more comprehensible.

Getting the learning curve right in the first chapter of an intermediate Drupal book can be tricky. I think ‘Drupal Multimedia’ does well here – assuming a bit of knowledge of Drupal, reviewing the basic building blocks of the system briefly, then diving right into installing the CCK and Views modules. Examples of using these are worked through, before moving on to discuss theming and overrides – again with simple examples. A lot is covered in the first forty pages, but without overwhelming the reader.

The second chapter begins to look at dealing with images, with good introductions to using the Image module and its related Image Gallery to easily create a simple gallery. There’s also a discussion of embedding images in articles with Drupal, which looks at how this can be done by enabling editors to use full HTML or, more usefully in many cases, how to use Image Assist to allow images to be added to posts more easily. Installing TinyMCE as a WYSIWYG editor which works with Image Assist is also covered. This chapter will be very useful to new users of Drupal, for whom the lack of a built-in editor and basic image-adding functionality is likely to be something they miss straight away. The next two chapters go into more detail about using images – looking at more complicated development and theming issues. There’s examples here of using the ImageField and ImageCache modules and coverage of how to customise your image output.

Video is covered in two chapters which look at dealing with both third-party and local video. Using the Embedded Media Field module for third-party video is covered, followed by a look at using the FileField and jQuery Media modules for serving local video. A chapter on file asset management covers options for managing media files, looking primarily at the Node Reference, Asset and Media Mover modules. Audio is covered in three chapters looking at audio nodes, audio fields and theming audio. These discuss the Audio module and also revisit the FileField, jQuery Media and Embedded Media Field modules.

The final chapter is an interesting preview of the future of Drupal multimedia. This offers a tantalizing glimpse into an easier future for handling multimedia with Drupal 7. For me, two of the biggest drawbacks of using Drupal for building and maintaining sites are the hoops you have to jump through to deal with simple file handling and the hideous complexity of the administration menus. A lot of the administration options are frankly unintuitive and difficult to remember if you’re not using them constantly. It’s good to learn from this chapter that the Drupal development community is actively working to improve things in these areas.

I got a lot out of this book overall – especially from the detailed recommendations for the use of particular modules. The author puts across complicated concepts very accessibly with well-chosen examples which build up satisfyingly to help you understand the big picture.

Drupal Multimedia by Aaron Winborn is published by Packt Publishing.

Related posts

I’ve looked at other books on Drupal in previous posts on Learning Drupal and Drupal 6 Themes.

65+ lists of jQuery plugins

No web design blog is complete nowadays without a post or two recommending particular jQuery plugins. However, it can sometimes be a pain trying to find a plugin you remember reading about months ago when you want to use it for a particular job. It’s also very useful to be able to compare what  plugins are available for a specific task and which come best recommended from other designers. Below is a “list of lists” of plugin recommendations I’ve put together which draws together resources to make locating and evaluating plugins easier.

Big categorised lists of jQuery plugins

These are probably the most useful lists for reference as they helpfully divide the plugins into categories.

The official jQuery plugins repository

45+ new jQuery techniques for good user experience (Smashing Magazine)

Noupe has several categorised lists: – An entire site dedicated to jQuery plugins with categories for user interface, navigation, forms and extensions.

240 plugins jQuery (

jQuery plugins (Chirill Trescencov)

100 popular jQuery examples, plugins and tutorials (Template Lite)

The ultimate jQuery plugin list (Kollermedia)

JQuery at its best (Spicy News)

jQuery plugins for forms

25+ jQuery plugins that enhance and beautify HTML form elements (Queness)

10 top jQuery plugins for form usability (Steve Reynolds)

7 jQuery plugins to manipulate TEXTAREAs (Steve Reynolds)

10 best jQuery datepickers plugins (AjaxLine)

How to make your forms better with jQuery (Cool Javascripts)

jQuery plugins for images

14 jQuery plugins for working with images (Six Revisions)

10 jQuery plugins for manipulating images (Cool Javascripts)

10 jQuery plugins for showing image gallery (Cool Javascripts)

Top 14 jQuery photo slideshow / gallery plugins (Blueprint Design Studio)

6 image manipulation plugins for jQuery you should know about (Shiny Blog)

10 best jQuery sliders (AjaxLine)

3 wonderful jQuery plugins to play with images (Baj Pakhi)

jQuery plugins for menus

10 best jQuery menu plugins (AjaxLine)

11 jQuery plugins to enhance HTML dropdowns (Steve Reynolds)

3 jQuery plugins to show context menu (Cool Javascripts)

8 amazing jQuery accordions (Cats Who Code)

jQuery plugins for tables/charts

jQuery plugins to show data in table format or chart format (Cool Javascripts)

jQuery plugins for browser issue fixes

15 jQuery plugins to fix and beautify browser issues (DevSnippets)

jQuery plugins for use with other stuff …

Power of WordPress and jQuery: 30+ great plugins (Noupe)

jQuery plugins for SEO (Tim Nash)

8 jQuery plugins that utilize Google APIs (Steve Reynolds)

7 of my favourite jQuery plugins for use with ASP.NET (Encosia)

Great jQuery plugins for Drupal (DrupalSN)

6 jQuery plugins to use within your content in a Learning Management System (Random Syntax)

General listings of favourite or best jQuery plugins

Personal selections of the best plugins for web design and development. It’s quite fun to browse through these and compare & contrast people’s choices.

37 phenomenal jQuery plugins and demos for developers (Speckyboy)

30 awesome design enhancing jQuery plugins (Line 25)

20 most interesting jQuery plugins – February 2009 (AjaxLine)

20 jQuery plugins for unforgettable user experience (DevSnippets)

20 amazing jQuery plugins and 65 excellent jQuery resources (Speckyboy)

Using jQuery to style design elements: 20 impressive plugins (DevSnippets)

10 best jQuery plugins – March 2009 (AjaxLine)

10+ most interesting and useful JQuery plugins – January 2009 (AjaxLine)

10+ useful jQuery plugins (AjaxLine)

10 useful JQuery plugins (Enhance the User Experience)

Top 10 jQuery plugins and resources (LogicPool)

10 must have jQuery plugins and extensions (Front-End Book)

10 most useful and essential jQuery plugins (Microgeist)

10 jQuery plugins every developer can’t live without (Refresh Events)

10 quick win jQuery plugins (Steve Reynolds)

10 Über cool jQuery plugins (Invisible Window)

10 jQuery essentials (php four)

7 jQuery plugins to really enhance users experience (Shiny Blog)

7 jQuery plugins that made our lives easier at ON Networks (Nick Lewis)

The 6 most useful jQuery plugins (Flexible Developments)

5 useful jQuery plugins which saved me a lot of work (Dev Blog)

Five jQuery plugins that are a joy to use (Pathfinder Development)

4 cool jQuery plugins (DesignerFied)

4 jQuery plugins (Fresh)

Top 3 jQuery plugins for web designers and developers (Noam Web Design Blog)

List of useful jQuery plugins (Mark Grabanski)

jQuery Plugins – Best for Web Designers (Hidden Pixels)

My favourite jQuery plugins (Simple.Friendly.Solutions.)

The best web 2.0 jQuery javascript plugins (Wiliam)

Top jQuery plugins for web 2.0 effects (Website Ideas)

Must have jQuery plugins (SKFox)

jQuery plugin favorites (Cody Lindley)

jQuery plugins (Caty’s Blog)

Review: Sexy Web Design

Sexy Web Design is a very readable look at the process of web design which walks the reader through a small example design project for an events site. The title’s a bit deceptive, as the emphasis isn’t just on pretty looks. There’s also plenty of advice about how designers can work with usability and accessibility in mind.

The author focuses purely on the pre-coding design stage of building a site.  However, he takes the sensible view that someone designing a website  needs to understand implementation issues so that the design won’t be unnecessarily difficult to code once the Photoshop comps are complete.

The book covers the whole of this design process, starting with getting an effective brief out of  clients. There’s good advice here about asking clients which sites they like or dislike and why – which it’s rightly said can be as informative as a design brief in itself.  There follows a good discussion on wireframing and an excellent section on aesthetics. The latter has a very succinct summary of best practice regarding layout and composition, with good links to  tools for choosing colour schemes and using grids.

Some of the most interesting parts of the book are the tips on how to effectively present your designs to clients via Photoshop comps and mock-up sites. This should be of particular help to a lot of people starting out, as compiling deliverables is an area which doesn’t tend to get a lot of coverage in other books.

As well as the designs for the example  site, there are well-chosen screen-shots from real sites which enrich the book a lot. Throughout, the author emphasises the importance of attention to detail and the designer’s responsibility to push at boundaries, while respecting useful conventions.

Sexy Web Design by Elliot Jay Stocks is published by Sitepoint.

Review: Where Search Meets Web Usability

Where Search Meets Web Usability is a practical guide to building  sites which are both search-engine friendly and easy to navigate around. Its selling point over other search engine optimisation books is its combination of SEO advice with tips and testing methods drawn from the discipline of web usability.

The book uses the concept of the ‘scent of information’ to put forward a unified theory of web-searching behaviour, which also draws heavily on a categorisation of query types into navigational, informational and transactional – categories which search engines use to anticipate the intent of a user’s search. These different query types are fully explored and there is also detailed coverage of how to estimate the benefits of search usability and how different types of web professional can work together to improve it. The final chapter contains a set of easy-to-employ usability tests for search usability which should be of real practical benefit when developing sites.

The authors are at their most interesting when looking at the limitations of the SEO and usability mindsets and advising how the two can learn from each other. Usability professionals are told to look more at how people get to web sites rather than just what they do when they get there. Stereotypical SEOers, on the other hand,  should spend more time considering whether users are satisfied when they get to a site rather than just concentrating on getting as many eyes on the page as possible. Usability types could take advantage of SEO keyword tools as a way of getting to understand the language employed by users, while SEO practitioners can benefit from speaking to actual users and employing usability testing to understand why their interaction with search engines and sites works out like it does.

Out of this clash of viewpoints, there’s some nice common-sense points made which you may not have seen argued before. For example, it’s explained why a high bounce rate could be a good thing in some circumstances – if people are getting what they want on the first page they visit. Equally, we see why a number one SERP rating can be a bad thing if it results in brand devaluation due to visitors not getting what they want out of the site when they find it.

So overall, its an interesting read and a refreshingly holistic view on a topic which feels like it’s been done to death recently.

When Search Meets Web Usability by Shari Thurow and Nick Musica is published by New Riders.

Related posts

Building Findable Websites by Aarron Walter is another very good book on SEO which also takes a wide view of the subject.