Like the fitness and diet business, the web and the tech industry are rife with SEO shamans, schemers, and frauds. Anyone who tells you they can guarantee results, or imply that they have a magic SEO formula, is lying in an effort to steal your money, or worse: They will employ illegitimate techniques that temporarily boost your rankings -- until the search engines find out, which they eventually will, and then your site will be penalized.
This page argues that high-quality content is the foundation of effective search engine optimization. The simple fact of the matter is that SEO for content-based web pages requires highly focused writing and editing that pays strict attention to a number of details simultaneously. Most of those details, however, boil down to this simple maxim:
Present high-quality content that delivers on the promise of the title, description, and keywords in your metadata and the first heading on your web page.
By high-quality content, I mean content that is written and edited to meet the standards of professional publishing -- content that could be published as a magazine article or as an entry in an encyclopedia. The content is clear, direct, organized, factual, and informative. It abides, for example, by the rules in The Chicago Manual of Style and Words into Type.
The content must have breadth and, more importantly, depth: For SEO, the topical depth of a page is far more important than its topical breadth. All other things being equal, fact-based information with detailed technical content that's written from a neutral point of view will trump marketing-oriented information every time.
You should, by all means, engineer your content to include your keyword target in your title, to contain in-depth information about your keyword target, and to include several natural recurrences of the keyword in the text. But still, topicality and depth are key: Stay on topic, provide details.
You can use long-standing publishing standards to foster high-quality content. The following stylebooks, for instance, can help build a standards-based editorial program to create solid content:
The Chicago Manual of Style; Words Into Type; Microsoft Manual of Style for Technical Publications; The New York Times Manual of Style; The Associated Press Manual of Style; and The Apple Manual of Style.
Word usage, syntax, sentence construction, inter-sentential construction, and structural organization usage are governed by the following books, all well-regarded books on writing:
Style: Toward Clarity and Grace, by Joseph M. Williams; The Elements of Style, by Strunk and White; On Writing Well, by William Zinsser; and Watch Your Language, by Theodore M. Bernstein.
Another approach is put in place a system of continuous publishing so you can constantly revise and improve the content of a page (or your whole site) and then overwrite the published version with the latest version. Doing so helps tune your content to achieve your SEO objectives.
Last Updated: Oct. 21, 2011. First Published: Oct. 21, 2011.