Many things have changed in the last few years, but the real foundation for SEO success hasn't changed much at all.
Yeah, sure, some important things work today that weren't even available years ago -- namely blog content and promotion, and social media promotion through Digg, StumbleUpon, Reddit, Propeller, Twitter, or what have you.
Yeah, we should always find ways to add fresh content to our Web site, optimize all digital assets that we have (images, video, etc.), but the real SEO basics are still often overlooked or not understood by many.
Over these next two columns, I'll outline some of the common failings of Web sites for "newbies" who are trying to figure out this thing we call SEO.
Help People Find Your Web Site
Have you built a Web site with absolutely no regard for what words people might use to find your products or services? Perhaps you were quick to launch a "pretty" (or better looking) Web site, but you have no "meat" to your content.
Too often, the CEO's marketing fluff gets littered throughout the content and the information architecture (the "outline" of your site, if you will) wasn't well thought out. It's much easier than you think to add this into the project plan.
If your company offers services, have a page dedicated to each one of them. If your company sells products, have a page dedicated to each product.
One you've built these pages, make sure that the title tag, description tag, header tag, and content use the words that people might actually use when searching for your products.
Make Sure Your Home Page Resolves Correctly
You should always strive to have your home page resolve to either http://www.example.com or http://example.com. Your home page URL shouldn't look anything like this: https://home.americanexpress.com/home/mt_personal.shtml (I'll keep referencing American Express' site as an example of what not to do until they resolve this).
Avoid having your home page resolve to http://www.example.com/index or anything other than what I've recommended, if at all possible. The reason that I'm "calling out" American Express for their home page URL isn't just because www.americanexpress.com redirects to a sub-domain (home) and then has the addition of the sub-directories (/home/mt_personal.shtml); it's also for their methods of redirection (temporary 302 redirects). Read more about this in my site review on American Express.
Create Quality Content -- and Lots of It
If your Web site has five pages of content, you aren't ready for SEO. If your site has a lot of pages, but there's no content or the content is buried within an image (not actually text content), you aren't ready for SEO.
The question is, "how much content do I need?" A really quick check on this can help you with this answer. Go to Yahoo, type "site:www.insertcompetitorsitenamehere.com" into the search box, hit "Web search," and you'll get a search result that shows you how many pages of indexed content your competitor has.
Now, before you start thinking of that competitor who always manages to outbid you on AdWords, stop. Conduct some searches, using keywords that prospects might actually use, and see which Web sites continually rank -- naturally/organically/editorially -- for these keywords.
Try compiling a list of five competitors. Do the Yahoo check on each of them and see how many pages of content they have indexed in Yahoo. That will give you an indication of what you might need to build. Perhaps they will even provide you with some intelligence on what you should do with your information architecture.