A Beginner's Guide to Search Engine Optimization

New to the sometimes confusing and seemingly arcane world of making search engine friendly web sites? A new book offers a systematic, common-sense approach to the art and science of SEO.

Search Engine Optimization: An Hour a Day by Jennifer Grappone and Gradiva Couzin is written for anyone who has a web site and has yet to embark on the time-consuming process of optimizing the site for search engines. Both authors are experienced SEOs, and the book reflects the systematic approach they've developed whenever working with a new client.

Refreshingly, this approach focuses not only on technical tactics, but also on the reasons why SEO is important beyond just achieving high rankings in search engine results—things like business goals, creating appealing marketing messages and designing human-usable web sites.

The book also avoids SEO techniques du jour, the kinds of tactics that are hotly debated in forums and that may or may not have any effect on your overall success. Rather, the book focuses on a solid, fundamental approach using time-tested techniques that work regardless of seemingly arbitrary algorithmic changes by the search engines.

The book is also very well written, using SEO-specific jargon only when necessary and always making sure to introduce new terms in clear English (there's also an excellent glossary at the end of the book).

The first part of the book focuses on an area many newcomers totally neglect, often to their detriment: laying an effective foundation for your SEO efforts. You need to clarify your goals and really have an understanding of the fundamentals of how search engines work and what types of SEO activities do (and don't) work before plunging in to your work.

And for anyone that works in an organization, the next key step is to create a strategy that works with your existing marketing, information technology, sales and other groups to make sure your SEO efforts support the overall goals of the entire team. Part two of the book focuses on developing this strategy, and also offers suggestions on working with other groups and selling them on the importance of effective SEO.

Only when this important groundwork has been established should you begin the actual work of keyword selection and optimization, link building and so on.

That's the focus of part three—developing and implementing a comprehensive SEO plan for your web site. This section takes a common-sense approach breaking the search engine optimization efforts for your web site into a 12-week process, and as the subtitle implies, dedicating an hour a day during this period to a specific goal-based task.

The authors provide useful tools for managing this process, in the form of spreadsheet-based worksheets to help you plan and organize your various tasks. Again, the emphasis is on providing simple but effective tools that someone new to the process can use. That said, these worksheets are truly useful, and you may find them becoming integral parts of your overall SEO toolkit.

Throughout the book the authors offer useful tips as asides. "Pearls of wisdom" tips are obviously tactics gleaned from experience, while "slacker" tips are great for letting you know when you can get away with less work or when you shouldn't obsess over a certain activity.

There are also longer case studies and expert opinions from other well-known SEOs such as Aaron Wall and Patricia Fusco scattered throughout the book.

In all, Search Engine Optimization: An Hour a Day is an excellent overview of SEO and provides solid advice and guidance for anyone just getting started. The book is also useful if you've done SEO in the past but haven't kept up with the current state of search engines and the kinds of SEO techniques that work today (and want to know what to avoid to stay out of trouble).

Want to know more? Visit the companion website for more information, book excerpts and downloadable copies of the worksheets described in the book.

Search Engine Optimization: An Hour a Day
by Jennifer Grappone and Gradiva Couzin
Sybex (a Wiley imprint), $29.95
ISBN: 0-471-78753-1

About the author

Chris Sherman is a frequent contributor to several information industry journals. He's written several books, including The McGraw-Hill CD ROM Handbook and The Invisible Web: Uncovering Information Sources Search Engines Can't See, co-authored with Gary Price. Chris has written about search and search engines since 1994, when he developed online searching tutorials for several clients. From 1998 to 2001, he was About.com's Web Search Guide.