the item

The Art of SEO
The Art of SEO

the questions

  1. How to run a killer startup
  2. How to tell people about your business

more about the

the consensus

Great reference book and the standard text to learn how to get people to find and use what you're making.

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the review

Ever since the 1990s, my resume has been over 12 pages long.

You might say, "What?!? Everybody knows resumes should only be a page or two in length. People won't read that much text! That's awful!"

That's right. People won't. But computers will. And it was a seriously rocking resume.

You see, I learned early on that recruiters have thousands of resumes in their systems, and each job had a mostly random assortment of skills, methodologies, software products, and job descriptions. They had to use computers to match the resumes to the jobs. It was just too hard to do otherwise. Since computers searched by keyword, resumes that had more keyword matches would appear ahead of those that did not. My first page was a specialized, targeted easy list of bullets to a human reader about why I was the best person for a particular job (Or just why I was a great person. My modesty does not bear close inspection.). The other pages were a detailed account of each job, the software products, the methodologies, the job descriptions, the time periods, and how I made a difference there. All of it was in a very human-friendly (and useful) format. By putting something in for both the human and the computer, I was able to help the human a lot more than if I had simply written the resume stricty for humans or strictly for computers.

This led to a lot of exciting gigs, and it was a great introduction to beginning to learn Search-Engine Optimization, or SEO.

You see, no matter what I had done in the world, no matter how good of a consultant I was, unless somebody read my resume none of that would matter. Likewise, even if somebody read my resume, unless that person got real value from reading my resume, none of that would matter. So it was in my best interests to create a resume that could easily be consumed by both humans and computers. It was something I had to know and do in order to get good jobs.

SEO is just like that, only for websites.

SEO is the art of configuring your web content so that people using search engines can find it more easily. Just like my resume, no matter how good your web content is, unless people can find it and get some valuable use out of it, it's not making an impact in the world. That means SEO is for anybody who is creating web content for other people to consume: apps, blogs, corporate sites, startups, charity organizations, people selling ebooks -- whatever -- they all need to know SEO if they want more people dropping by. That means -- like it or not -- SEO is for all of us.

The authors of this book really know their business. It's chock-full of good advice and tips on improving SEO, both on the server and in the content. It wasn't without it's flaws, however.

I have to admit I found parts tedious, though. Not completely boring, but dull enough that I had to struggle with absorbing the information. Several times I found myself skimming over entire sections. Why would I need to learn SWOT again? Why would consulting best practices be in a book about SEO? Why do I need a review of these tools? I already know them.

I think part of my problem was that this is a book designed to help SEO professionals start out their careers. That means it's both broad and deep. So it has advice on consulting, team organization -- even advice for how clients can find good SEO employees or consultants. That's great information, but for some reason it wasn't what I was expecting. I was expecting just pure SEO information.

There also was a bit of re-hash. If I read one more time how good Google Webmaster tools are, or how 301 redirects are better than 302 redirects, or how an accidental NoIndex in a bots file can ruin your day? I think I would have ran screaming from the room. Three or four times? Plenty.

But please don't think this was a bad book. Far from it. In the computer world, those of us who read a lot have to learn to plow through material that sometimes seems dry. Many times, the best foundational books are as much reference as narrative. I consider this a foundational book about SEO, and, like many other books of this nature, that means it can get a bit dry at times.

As an aside, more and more I see books that look a lot like blog postings stuck together. This is probably something that sounds cooler to do than it actually is. There's a lot of repetition, there's a lot of lists. Seems like every few pages there was a "There are 17 ways to do X" followed by a very detailed list of the 17 different ways. That type of information is descriptive, not instructive. Also this book was strange in that it had a lot of links -- not really sure what to do with a link on a Kindle I'm certainly not going to start web surfing from a book, but it was good to have the various material sourced. (I found out later that the book has it's own web site. Puzzle solved.)

Which leads me to think that this book is probably just as strong as a reference manual as an end-to-end work. I'm not used to using my Kindle for reference manuals -- I like my reference manuals dog-eared and lying open around the desk, thank you very much -- so I naturally I would recommend that others purchase the hard copy of the book unless they are comfortable with using their kindle like that.

I found this book to be a solid overview of SEO. In fact, the book it reminded me most of was Petzold's first edition of "Programming Windows": the book that everybody had to read back in the 90s in order to really understand what was going on inside a windows program. "The Art of SEO" is just like that for SEO. It's a gateway book. A badge. I wouldn't want to work with anybody in the SEO world who hadn't read it and could converse about everything in it.

To be fair to the topic, however, parts of SEO drives me nuts. Unlike my resume, creating web content that is SEO optimzied has become so complicated that it's not a simple matter of doing a few things in order to help both yourself and the consumer. Lots of folks abuse SEO in order to trick folks and make money, and the search engines respond by making their programs more complex. The system has gotten so complex and non-understandable to me it resembles magic much more than science.

Indeed, SEO is like sending your resume in to see how it ranks -- where the ranking program is held secret, the people helping you don't trust you, and you have to mail in your resume and wait 3 months to see how it performs. Not exactly a friendly or easy environment to work in for those of us used to 3-minute C++ compiles.

It seemed to me that a lot of times there was good information written between the lines. What a strange world where the guy you pay to write the book wouldn't tell you if there was a easy way to do what you want even if he knew it! It's because of fear of abuse, of course, but it makes for crazy reading. There were a few times where I really felt connected to the writer -- such as the comment that Google probably overstates their ability to find paid links -- but I got the distinct impression that there was a lot that was unsaid. This isn't a ding against this particular book -- it's the nature or the industry.

My own conclusion from visiting this bizarro world is to be careful to separate what search engines and other folks think people want from what you think people want. After all, the entire point of being a publisher is to have your own unique views on what people want. Call me old fashioned, but I wouldn't rely on a bunch of smart programmers to do that for me. The search engine guys will say something along similar lines: "Write for the reader, not the search engine" but of course that's easy for them to just say. In the real world if nobody finds your content there is no reader to write for.

But I'm really not trying to rag on anybody. Search engine guys must have an incredibly difficult job. I don't envy them -- it sounds like hardcore coding. And I sure don't envy SEO consultants who are dealing with logical, reasonable people who just want to know how to reach the top one spot in Google search. SEO ain't like advertising, and it aint' like marketing. It's probably most like PR work, only different. So there's a huge learning curve for everybody involved with it no matter where you come from. One guy said this book was probably good for marketers. 'Nuff said.

And it all changes. One year widgets with links are good. The next year they are bad. The following one they are good, but only in certain situations. Then the story becomes that the principle was always the same, just the implementations of the rules varied from time to time. Many times it felt like we were getting our fortune told or consulting the Oracle at Delphi more than learning a science -- the book was full of links to interviews and articles that famous person X said, as if by somehow parsing the tea leaves the rest of us could figure out exactly what to do. Very strange business indeed. You don't find C++ programmers sitting around reading interviews with Bjarne Stroustrup's to figure out how C++ works, yet this type of prognosticating seems common in the SEO industry.

But everything about SEO is like that, making it very frustrating for programmers coming at this from a logical, boolean standpoint. This isn't "Learning C", and There is a reason why the book is titled "The Art of SEO" It's not clear cut. If there's a problem, sometimes it sounds like a bunch of guys at Bing or Google sit around and just decide whether or not they like your site. If they like you, you stay in the index. If not, you don't. Then they go and make up rules afterwards. Maybe. And if you're lucky you'll hear about them. If your site gets dinged you can fill a form out -- but don't expect them to tell you why and don't expect to actually talk to a person. Even if you learned SEO perfectly today, in ten years all of what you knew would probably be garbage.

It all drives me to distraction. In fact, the entire business of trying to satisfy both a human reader and some set of random unknown computer programs that you just hear thirdhand rumors about would be fodder for a wonderful farcical comedy -- if tens billions of dollars and a huge chunk of the world's economy didn't depend on it.

So if you're a logical thinker, and have problems with fuzziness, buckle up. It's going to be a rough ride. But I can't emphasize enough how important all of this is. Organic search engine results lead to more opportunities to grow than any other thing I've come across. They are a true "force multiplier" for your startup idea. You can either try to chase down every person in the world to tell about your content -- or you can learn to help them find it. And as much as I rag on the system, everybody is doing the best job they can. Getting people to what they want while staying ahead of the con artists is just a really tough problem.

"The Art of SEO" doesn't give you all the answers, but it provides you with an understanding of what all the questions are. It gives you a bunch of places where you can go to work today, like in-site anchors, optimizing your server, interpreting your server logs, or checking for canonical problems. An understanding of all of this is what translates great content that nobody sees into great content that everybody likes. It lets you understand how much of a difference just a few bytes can make in how many readers visit. It gives you skills in tweaking stuff that multiply everything you do. And for that it is easily one of the most valuable (if frustrating at times) books I have read. I'd buy it again in a heartbeat, and probably spend the entire time reading it grumbling to myself.


the buzz

Nothing to see here, please move along
Nothing to see here, please move along
Nothing to see here, please move along
Nothing to see here, please move along
Nothing to see here, please move along
Nothing to see here, please move along
Nothing to see here, please move along

A well-designed, easy-to-navigate website is useless if no one can find it. If your company is going to succeed in the web economy, optimizing your site for search engine visibility is essential. In this book, four of the most noted experts in the field of search engine optimization (SEO) provide you with proven guidelines and cutting-edge techniques for planning and executing a comprehensive SEO strategy.

The authors clearly explain SEO fundamentals, while correcting many common misconceptions. If you are new to SEO, you'll get a complete and thorough SEO education, as well as an array of effective tactics, from basic to advanced. Seasoned practitioners will find this book useful as a complete reference to SEO best practices.

  • Explore the underlying theory behind SEO and how search engines work
  • Learn the steps you need to prepare for, execute, and evaluate SEO initiatives
  • Examine a number of advanced strategies and tactics
  • Understand the intricacies involved in managing complex SEO projects
  • Learn what's necessary to build a competent SEO team with defined roles
  • Glimpse the future of search and what lies ahead for the SEO industry

the video

Spehan Spencer talks about the reasons behind the book and the benefits you can gain from it

What is this?

A while back I wrote an article on my blog listing all the books that hackers recommended to each other from the site HackerNews. The purpose was to provide a place to list book recommendations so that people didn't have to type in the same list over and over again. (HN gets several requests for book recommendations a week. I also get at least a couple each month). It was very well received, and many posters and commenters either asked that I make a site or sent me an email asking me to do so.

How is this any different from the list on the blog?

This list has more books. This list is sortable both by what question you have and your skill level. In addition, once you sort the list, you can save the link with your sort and send it to somebody else. So, for instance, when somebody wants a book for noobs learning to program, you can make a link for that and then reuse it

How did you collect these books?

Initially the list came from Googling "best book" and taking the books from the first few pages returned. Later, I added all the books that were mentioned "You left that out!" when Jacques posted the link. While adding those books, I came across a Stack Overflow link where programmers were asked to list their favorite tech books, so I included those too.

If I ask you to put a book on here, will you?

It depends.

These books were all gathered by finding places where hackers hang out and are suggesting books to other hackers and other hackers agree with them by voting up their suggestion. If I can find an example of this for your book, I'm happy to include it.

How are the books ranked?

I did the best I could with ranking. I am sure there are many things you do not agree with. It would be possible to add voting and personal ranking -- that would make the system much better. Heck, you could rank the books yourself and use it as a customized book list to show to people who want your advice. I'd like to do that, but if I've learned anything is to not let your featureset get ahead of the users. This first version will test the waters to see what kind of interest the community might have.