Despite being a quick, almost breezy read (how often do you read that said about a book on SEO?), The Truth About Search Engine Optimization packs a tremendous amount of valuable knowledge into a compact barely-200-page space. Author Rebecca Lieb has produced a work that will benefit experienced SEO practitioners as well as newbies while being highly readable and largely non-technical. The structure of the book—10 sections divided into 51 brief chapters—keeps things moving along at a brisk pace without leaving out the most important information on each topic addressed.
Why is it important for executives not directly involved in search to understand more about it? As Rebecca explains in the book’s foreword and introduction:
“SEO…is the foundation, the bedrock of online marketing. It isn’t just the foundation of search marketing; I submit to you that it is the foundation of all marketing. This is exactly because we live in a world where increasingly, Google dominates the search landscape and Google has taught people to love search…In the 12 years or so since search engine marketing has been in existence, we have learned this one truth: Al media, all marketing, and all communications have one thing in common—they all drive people to search. And in a recent study conducted by Jupiter Research, of all the people who were stimulated by an offline cause to go online and search, some 40 percent of them actually made a purchase…A well-optimized website, therefore, is something akin to the Holy Grail of marketing. It provides the right message to the right person at the right time…Search long ago became the second-largest online activity (after email). Search has evolved from merely providing answers to stated problems and queries. Today, it’s the way most people navigate the Web.”
In her chapter on “learning to do the Google Dance,” Rebecca notes the similarity between SEO and public relations: both can help you influence the information that prospects find about your company and its products or services, but not control that information. Maybe your news (or your website) will make the front page, or maybe it will be buried several pages in. As she notes, “If you want to guarantee that your message will appear (exactly)…the way you want it to and where you want it to be, buy an ad.” In other words, SEO, like PR, can be important in terms of influence, but it’s unreasonable to expect complete precision.
(Interestingly, on the topic of PR and SEO, Rebecca writes that “Although many PR professionals still don’t know about or understand the concept of SEO PR, a handful of SEO-savvy boutique PR agencies have sprung up recently. These PR agencies specialize in optimizing and releasing news for their clients with the goal of increasing search engine visibility.” Actually, KC Associates, the agency I work with, has been doing this for years, and though we focus on b2b technology clients, I’m not sure we qualify as “boutique.” And having been around since 1988, we certainly haven’t “sprung up recently!”)
To put the challenge of SEO into perspective for marketers, PR professionals and line of business managers who may not appreciate its difficulties, the author notes that “with hundreds of billions of sites out there—and more every day—no matter how obscure or arcane your website is, chances are you have more than a healthy amount of competition. Heck, more than 2 million page in Google’s index are about beekeeping.”
Though the book doesn’t specifically address web presence optimization, it does touch on elements important to SEO beyond meta tags and directory links. For example, email can play an important role (through maintaining an online archive of search-friendly archived newsletter content), as can personal and corporate reputation management, online advertising (ads are links!) and social media activities.
There is a wealth of wisdom packed into this compact book: search is something to consider from the very start of a website project, not as an afterthought. Companies can no longer afford to build static “brochureware” websites—to be successful in search, sites must “now be ever-growing, changing, and evolving platforms for publishing content, news, and information about products and services.” Search is no longer simply even about website content, but has fragmented into local search, video search, blog search, image search and news search among other categories. Search is an ongoing activity, not a one-time event: results aren’t achieved overnight, and developing quality links in particular is a process that happens over time. Although, as noted, the book isn’t overly technical, the importance of technology isn’t ignored: the author touches on the importance of being careful with drop-down menus, using CSS in place of tables where possible, maintaining a relatively flat file structure and utilizing breadcrumb navigation to help both search engines and human users better understand your site’s layout.
From a pure how-to standpoint, Website Optimization: Speed, Search Engine & Conversion Rate Secrets by Andrew King is a more thorough technical work. And if you read closely enough you’ll find some minor errors in this book such as “most SEO specialists recommend that the brand or company name be the very first word or part of the first phrase in every title tag.” Yikes, no! The first few words in each page title tag are the most critical for search; since your site is likely to show up well in searches for your company or brand names regardless of how well-optimized it is, that extremely valuable search real estate should be reserved for generic industry terms. She also defends the insidious nofollow tag, though acknowledging it is “an imperfect tool.” She praises Furl.net, a worthy site which is unfortunately now gone from the Internat landscape (the perils of writing about the web! That can happen to any author.) And she recommends keeping analytics in-house, even if SEO efforts are outsourced: I disagree only because understanding what is happening on a website is so critical to ongoing SEO improvement efforts that analytics are best managed by the SEO team or consultant.
Still, these are minor quibbles. Overall, The Truth About Search Engine Optimization is a highly readable and strongly recommended book for anyone involved in website development, marketing, PR, or other functional business areas interested in understanding the challenges and importance of search engine optimization without getting bogged down in technical minutiae.
NOTE: Still with me? Thanks! Here’s a reward: the publisher sent me an extra copy of this excellent book, so I will give it away to first person who tweets this review. Your tweet MUST include @TomPick, ad I’ll be the sole judge of the winner based on what shows up in my Twitter #replies feed. I’ll even pay the postage to send it you.