Review: Search Engine Optimization Secrets – SEO for 2011

Search Engine Optimization Secrets is a good introductory read for business owners who want to get up to speed with SEO quickly. Compared to some of the weightier tomes on offer about the subject, this is a manageable size and presented in a practical way, with useful checklists for many of the topics covered. The author’s scepticism about paid-for SEO tools is particularly refreshing in an SEO ebook, since many similar works exist to exclusively promote particular services.

One of the title’s main selling points is its currency. This is the 2010 edition of the book, which is updated annually to take account of new developments. (However, the ‘SEO for 2011′ part of the title is a bit optimistic for a book published in the first half of 2010.) There’s a special report on how to optimize your site for better ratings with Bing, coverage of Google Caffeine and up-to-date screenshots of the various online tools and services covered.

The worst aspect of the book for me was that the version that’s on sale is plainly unfinished. The copy I bought from Amazon a month ago still had editor’s comments included in the text. Being up to date is great in an SEO book, but it would still be nice to get a properly finished product.

Search Engine Optimization Secrets: SEO for 2011 is written by Mike Monahan and published as a Kindle ebook by MediaWorks Publishing.

Related posts

See other SEO-related reviews: Building Findable Websites, Where Search Meets Web Usability and The Truth about Search Engine Optimization.

Free content management white papers

I came across a nice collection of free white papers on Alterian‘s website the other day, including several about content management: ‘The Seven Deadly Sins of Content Management’, ‘Best Practice Implementation of Content Management Systems’ and ‘Using a CMS for Search Engine Optimization’. Others that I found interesting include ‘Creating a Web Strategy’ and ‘Build or Buy – The Route to a Successful Intranet’.

All the papers are free, but require registration on the site.

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: 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.

Review: Building Findable Websites

Building Findable Websites: Web Standards, SEO and Beyond by Aarron Walter is a book that I’ve got a lot out of. Its full of useful material which should be of real practical help to people involved in any facet of a web project. It has a refreshingly holistic approach which looks at website findability in the widest possible manner, avoiding the narrowly doctrinaire perspective of some writings on web standards, SEO or accessibility and including lots of examples which are immediately useful in the real world.

His wide-ranging remit means that the book will probably be most appreciated by webmasters or web project managers whose roles involve them needing to straddle a range of disciplines. Web developers, designers or SEO gurus may perceive some of it as unfocused as it switches rapidly between generalist explanations and low-level technical examples, with topics covered ranging over coding, server administration, marketing tips and WordPress implementations. However, this variety appealed to me and should ensure that most readers are going to learn at least something new about areas they may not know so much about.

After introducing the author’s concept of findability as a discipline, the book starts by discussing markup strategies. The importance of web standards and accessibility are predictably emphasised, but there’s also a spirited defence of the benefits of web standards for SEO which is interesting. The book then moves into a discussion of server-side strategies for findability with advice on domain names, search engine friendly URLs, redirects, 404 pages, optimizing performance and controlling search engine indexing.

The middle section of the book discusses content creation for findability and then includes a whole chapter on findability for blogs. This was probably my favourite single section and includes lots of specific stuff about using WordPress. There’s then a chapter on adding search to your site. This discusses a range of options, including both free and paid-for solutions. For me personally, the most useful tip in the book was on page 156 in this section. Here you can find out how to implement Google Custom Search Engine so that users who don’t have JavaScript won’t get an empty search results page, without having to direct all users to search results hosted on Google’s site. The apparent reliance on JavaScript had been putting me off using Google CSE where I wanted to integrate it into my own sites, so this was really useful to me.

The book continues with a look at solving findability problems with JavaScript, Flash and audio / video content. It then moves onto an overview of mailing lists before concluding with a chapter on “Putting Findability Into Practice”, emphasising the need to adapt the techniques introduced in the book to the specific needs of your own projects.

In general, the book’s got a nice readable style. The expected experience level of readers is pitched at “Intermediate to Advanced” according to the back cover and people just starting out may find some of the more technical stuff a bit daunting. However, there’s a decent effort made to explain even the more complicated concepts and beginners could still learn a lot. Good references are included to further reading and also to some relevant podcasts – which is something I really appreciate when authors include.

The companion site is a great addition to the published book. It includes a comprehensive list of links to useful resources and a further five chapters of the book available free. I thought the chapter on web traffic analysis was a particularly good introduction to the topic, but all of the free chapters are worth reading. There is also a Findability Strategy Checklist which acts as a quick reference for the topics covered in the book. This is a nice practical tool which could be useful for any web project.

Building Findable Websites: Web Standards, SEO and Beyond is by Aarron Walter and is published by New Riders.