Some thoughts on SEO

Search engine optimization, or SEO is the art of optimising your content so that search engines will rank it more favourably. This post is some of my thoughts on the subject.

Many new bloggers become slightly obsessed with optimising their content. I started blogging in the games industry and was often asked not to refer to “the game” but the title as this would apparently improve rankings. In the same way, much to the frustration of those who attempt to encourage intelligent discussion on their blogs (such as myself(!) ), many commenters don’t use their real name as the name of their comment, but instead opt for keyword filled drivel. I don’t publish such comments, but many blog owners do, thus encouraging these misled people to repeat. One often gets the impression that these people (strike through) Best Plumber in Oregon are leaving commets in an attempt to increase their search engine ranking. Which leads me onto content.

A blog is only as good as its content.

I said that, by the way. It’s true though. The whole point of a blog is that it is a way of publishing content. Blogs such as Smashing Magazine and Nettuts are so successful because they have excellent content. Blogs such as Best Plumbers in Oregon aren’t because usually the content is very poor.

If you’re having to try to improve your search engine ranking that means your content isn’t very good.

Search engines are clever beasts. They can work out what is good content and so if you’re optimising your content then surely it’s not good enough in the first place? Surely you’d do better to spend the time improving your content and improving your ranking that way, instead of leaving comments under random names filled with keywords?

“Our themes can haz great SEOz.”

As the number of premium WordPress themes continues to spiral (including an excellent one launching soon), many themes struggle to find any features of any value to users and so fall back on “great SEO”. As a freature, it’s perfect as it can’t really be tested or proven either way. Search Google and you’ll find huge lists of themese with the specific purpose of SEO. Ironic really as you don’t see the sites containing these lists (and thus with the high rankings) using these themes. Looking at these themes, it just seems they’re an excuse for poor design. And what’s “great SEO” worth without the content behind it?

Designs are for life, not just for Christmas

A design should be using semantic code which a search engine can read and decide for itself what is best. It’s a search engine’s job to find the content, not the blogger’s job to show the content to the search engine. Changing your meta tag with a plugin is something that thousands and thousands of people do with the “All in One SEO Pack” plugin. Heck, it was one of the first plugins I installed on my first blog. I had no idea what it did or how to use it. I just installed it because I thought I order to get good rankings I’d need this plugin. I was wrong.

As long as your design is coded well, that’s all the “SEO optimization” you need to do. An awful lot of themes these days are, too. But for the average blogger, it’s hard to tell what is and isn’t these days; back in the day one would see if the theme validated, bit these days the better themes are often using CSS3 and the like which doesn’t validate. The only thing I can suggest is to see what the errors produced by validation; a bad design will have errors caused by unclosed elements, a good design will have errors caused by unrecognised elements.

So then. Hopefully this has been an interesting read and educated you that leaving comments with odd names isn’t worth it. That’s all really.

17 Responses


  • Erica M says:

    Thanks for the article. I am feeling my way around SEO while being laid off, and it is more of an experiment in blog traffic than anything else. I write a personal blog that contains useful content to only a fingerful of people. I’m having fun trying out the newest plug-ins while maybe earning enough extra money to pay my hosting fees.

  • I think you might be misunderstanding the point of SEO. Obviously, great content is more important than semantic markup or using proper tags. But all else being equal, the site that is properly SEO’d wins in the SERPs.

    The fact that “everybody is doing it” is all the more reason to be discriminating when choosing or building a theme. If you and 50 other people use your doctitle and meta description to target the same keyword, to gain a competitive advantage, you need to have all your ducks in a row. This means you need to chase backlinks, sure, but you also need to have better on-site SEO too.

    A site can be “coded well” and still have inferior on-site SEO. It’s always best to be 1 step ahead of your competition.

    FULL DISCLOSURE: I happen to have spent countless hours working on a new theme framework for StudioPress, which does include the best on-site SEO practices I could track down. I’d put its on-site SEO up against 99% of free/paid themes available and would guarantee it would win.

    • Alex Denning says:

      Fair point although you’re assuming that Google sees your way better than the alternative. Sure, it may have some impact, but my point is that Google isn’t stupid and the long term impact will quite probably be negligible.

  • I have one client in particular that is super concerned with SEO and then spend almost no time on the content at all. They just don’t want to spend the time to write thoughtful articles that users want to read. They keep coming back to me to code some new thing that will get them better results. Then I give them links to write better content, they say okay and we repeat.

    If only more client read this.

  • Topher says:

    Nice write up.

    You are completely correct in that Good well written content is one of the best SEO tactics you can have but in a completive vertical when everyone has well written content on the same topics then using other SEO tactics like Human and Search friendly Titles and Headlines.

    The more you know on how the search engine work and how the will rank your content the more effectively you can write good content that is not only useful to your human readers but also easily digestible to the SE spiders

    Like your blog and keep writing

    BTW if you think Smashing Magazine does not employ SEO tactics and have people that advise them on SEO then you would be very mistaken.

  • Jonathan says:

    I totally agree, so many people get caught up in good presentation techniques and forget to focus on presenting good content.

    Nathan, I think the key to being one-step ahead of the competition IS the content, not the code. While on-site SEO is important, from what I have noticed, Google is really good at reading poorly programmed websites.

    In my opinion, the key to search engine optimization is a strong brand. A strongly positioned and differentiated brand informs your identity, messaging and communications. In the same way, telling a unique and inspiring story on your website will naturally strengthen your search engine success.

    • Alex Denning says:

      Exactly. Even if you’re not number one in Google, at the end of the day it’s still actual people clicking on the links and if they see a site they recognise, they’ll click on that one.

  • I totally agree with Nathan Rice re SEO.

    It is not difficult or expensive to measure a theme once you have used it, plus a plugin or two to build a website.

    There are a number of tools out there that will analyse a website and give you a report that details its plusses and minuses with regards to the SEO.

  • I fully agree with Nathan and fully believe that if you want to win at search engine ranking game you must make sure that you have everything in place to succeed.

    That includes a fully optimized theme created by someone that knows what they are doing. That is your starting point, but there are other important factors too.

    Like Curtis, I have seen people who want to put a ton of effort into any little SEO tweak they can read about, not realizing that 80% of the SEO biz is nonsense.

    There is a finite amount of optimization you can do and if you are using a theme that has those components built-in, that leaves content and backlinks.

    So you should ensure that you have good content. To many people throw up a poorly written article instead of a well-written keyword-rich article.

    Then you must continue to provide that same high-quality content so that you build the backlinks to your site because people WANT to link to your content.

    Posting your own comments on other sites with keywords in the hopes that the other site approves your trackback is laughable.

    Google is much smarter than that. When it comes to backlinks, one-way links from authoritative sites is KING and the way to get these types of backlinks is only going to happen when your site/content is considered “good stuff”.

    Sites like SmashingMagazine have content that is good and lots of people refer/link to it. I doubt that, at this stage of their internet life, they have to do much more than the basic SEO and write articles that people are interested in.

    To win in the SERPs game, you must have all of the pieces in place or else you are just spinning your wheels.

    • Alex Denning says:

      you must continue to provide that same high-quality content so that you build the backlinks to your site because people WANT to link to your content.

      Very true. It’s all about the content 🙂

  • Nice discussion.

    Perhaps the dichtomoy of “either/or” between SEO and good content is misplaced. The solution lies in the “both/and” paradigm.

    Saying both good content and SEO is probably the way to go. The question then is really how many hours to devote to each.

    As a novice web guy and blogger, I spent several hours a week wrting and posting essays on my site. I spent the hour or two reading about SEO basics and hopefully applied what I learned. I am sure they could still be improved.

    But if someone finds my site and clicks to read an essay, I’d better have good content. Out of 100 invested hours, a couple go to SEO and the rest go to the (hopefully) day to day writing of comtent. Semper Pax, John

  • I think SEO is a pretty important practice. But SEO doesn’t help if you don’t have good content. In my opinion good content should be the first thing you have to worry about. After that you can try to get more traffic to it through SEO.
    Interesting article Alex 😉

  • When I started blogging (actually only a few days ago I decided to blog much more) I began with optimizing my theme to look like One Man’s Blog. I realized my content was horrible, so now I’m iproving it. Content is KING.