The Truth about “The Truth About Search Engine Optimization”

By Bryson Meunier, Natural Search Associate Director, Content Solutions

At last month’s Chicago SEO Meetup, one of the attendees asked me if there was a book that he could read that would be a good primer to SEO that would allow him to learn the basics. As I often do with beginners, I recommended that he start with the Google Webmaster Guidelines, as they are something like the bible of white hat SEO, but he wanted something different. He was older, he explained, and he wanted an actual book that he could sit down and read.

Fair enough. The problem was, I didn’t learn search engine optimization from a book. I learned it at conferences, and from spending hours reading articles and debates in forums about the best ways to optimize for search engines and users. I learned it by years of doing and knowing what works and what doesn’t — the way that many professionals hone their craft. I validated my knowledge by being the first Advanced SEO graduate of SEMPO Institute, learning in Resolution Media’s training program, and continuing to challenge myself by attending industry events, following 135 authority blogs on advertising, technology, video, mobile, analytics, emerging media and search; and simply doing SEO full-time on a daily basis. To me, there’s no way that one book could help anyone be an SEO, so it’s difficult to recommend one.

But I don’t think that gentleman was asking for a book to help him be an SEO. He was simply asking to understand what SEO is and why it’s done in simple language that non-technical people can understand. For him and people like him I can now recommend Rebecca Lieb’s The Truth About Search Engine Optimization as a good starting point.

Lieb’s book is one of many SEO primers that one can buy, but it stood out to me because of who the author is, and the attention it has been getting in Search Engine Watch and Search Insider. I read it with the intention, not of learning anything new, but of finding a book that I could recommend to others looking to understand more about SEO, and I’m happy to say after finishing the book that it is exactly that.

The book is written in an easy to read style and could be finished on a longer plane ride. It contains 51 “truths” about search engine optimization ranging from “SEO is not an afterthought” (truth 6) to “Think twice about new technologies” (Truth 15) to, my favorite, “Mobile SEO is more important than ever” (Truth 50). It answers all of the basic questions that a newcomer to SEO might have about what SEO is and what they need to do to get started, including the pros and cons of in-house versus agency SEO versus a hybrid model. Toward the end of the book, Lieb touches on black hat spam tactics, but advises readers to avoid them. Her approach is white hat, her explanations may even be clear enough for my mother to understand (no offense Mom; love you), and her points are generally accurate and on target.

Generally is the key word here, as there are many areas in this book that are debatable (e.g. reciprocal links valuable? Keyword density?) and some that are just factually inaccurate (e.g. is not owned by Google, and the mobile SEO section is largely nonsense that people were talking about three years ago with some post iPhone info thrown in), and many that will be outdated in a year or two. The writing was also the sort that you see on Clickz and Search Engine Watch, and uses a lot of the search colloquialisms (e.g. link love, link juice, etc.) that I think are more appropriate for blogs than books. It’s also not the book to teach you how to do any of the 51 things that it mentions, but the one that makes you aware of what these 51 things are, and why they’re important.

Nonetheless, if you’re in the market for a general primer, this one’s not bad—actually pretty good because it was published so recently. Oddly, it doesn’t mention anything about Twitter or semantic search, which are both already hot topics this year and may change the SEO game again, but it gives you a decent overview in a clear, general style and—though I read it on my iPod Touch-- is available in the pre-Kindle olden times reading material format that many like my Chicago SEO colleague are looking for. If you are of like mind, you will probably find this SEO book valuable in helping you understand the basic truths about search engine optimization.

If you’re new to the game and don’t mind reading online, I’d also recommend adding the following to your reading list:

Google 101

Google Webmaster Guidelines

Google Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide

A Simple SEO Checklist


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