Some folks believe that you need to pay giant dollars to a specialized
wizard consultant to burn the right kind of incense and play the right kind of games that will put you on page one of Google. Conveniently for these wizards consultants, Google changes its rules constantly, so a good wizard consultant spends a lot of his time casting runes and squinting into Magic 8 Balls to see what the rules look like today.
Other folks will tell you that SEO is all snake oil. There's no such thing as effective SEO, you just live with a pure heart and noble intentions, and Google will find you. In this worldview, Google is so smart that they will always learn to pick out the spam from the real stuff. If you have real stuff, you will be bathed in eternal Google love and go on to live happily ever after.
Both of these camps are dangerously wrong.
Content comes first
We all know it, but it bears repeating (and repeating). If you want to do well in the search engines, it is a very smart idea to pull together some really good content.
Your content has to be useful. It has to be relevant to what people are looking for. And you probably have to have a bunch of it. (It also helps if you update it frequently.)
Google likes Baby Bear, in other words. But Baby Bear alone doesn't necessarily rise to the top without a little technique.
SEO is just a set of techniques
Not magic beans. Not games. Not super secret tricks you have to spend thousands of dollars to learn. Just some straightforward techniques that put you in the best light and that let the search engines know what you're doing.
Playing games with Google is like playing games with the IRS.* If that's your idea of a good time, ok, but I'm a little more risk-averse than that.
But the right kind of SEO is just like maximizing legitimate tax deductions. Play by the rules, play within the system, but don't be a damned chump about it. Fortunately, there's a lot of simple white-hat SEO (that's SEO that doesn't depend on spammer tactics) that is about 10,000 times easier than finding out how much childcare you actually get to deduct this year.
(8/9/08 edit: SEO School is no longer available, but I'll keep the post up in case it gets reinstated one of these days.)
My friend Naomi Dunford over at Ittybiz figured out that there was a lack of simple, straightforward SEO advice out there, so she put together an eBook. It's written for normal people--you don't have to be a techie or a marketing geek. And it's full of advice you can act on right away. You can find out more about it on Ittybiz , or you can go right to the order page . It's pretty cheap, and it looks like if you enter the coupon code "MovingDay" before July 1st, you get it even cheaper. No Magic 8 Ball required.
* For my readers who don't live in the U.S., the IRS is our beloved national tax agency.