The last thing I ever wanted to be was an SEO snake oil salesman. But as an ASP.NET Web Devigner (Devigner = Developer + Designer), it's not something that I tend to ignore. I recently took on a project to improve the SEO of our local Tourism website. I'm not going to delve into the project details here, but suffice to say that a project like this can offer much insight in normal times but I probably couldn't have picked a worse time to decide on SEO strategies for a website. The last few months have seen radical shifts in SEO priorites in general, and Google's algorithms in particular. Don't forget: SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages) now return real-time results from social networking sites such as Twitter - more on the implications of this below.
Against this backdrop, I decided on an initial analysis of the site using the new IIS SEO Toolikit - get this tool and use it! This identified about 650 no-no's so I spent a week eliminating these one by one and wrote some code to take care of the meta tags and the like. The most important decision I made was to agree with the client to monitor the site for SEO hits, good or bad, for the coming six months. It behooves any contractor to take this course when they know in advance that they may not know anything at all!
Google had no choice but to find some way to reduce the amount of spam clogging its data centers and apply some qualititative heuristic to measure the relevance of sites. So, they recently re-wrote their entire algorithm (codename "Caffeine") which caused no end of panic among the SEO heads! To this end, page rank seems to be playing a much smaller part than ever before. And whatever small part it is playing will be very much influenced by a site's performance. In fact, performance is going to figure heavily in how well a site fares with Google overall. I can see myself getting more involved in this since it is going to effect clients' pocket books in a very discernible way - my prediction for 2010!
WHAT'S GOING TO MATTER
If you're signed in or not, Google can use your search history to tweak the relevance of your own searches. Signed in, you can opt to turn it on or off. Signed out, a cookie records your search history for 180 days. I'm not a big fan of this because I want my results to be the natural consequence of my ability to creatively grep precisely what it is I'm looking for. But that's just me and I can readily see how this step is necessary for Google to provide "meaningful" results to people. Personalization lends even more credence to the diminishing importance of page rank.
This is the number of successful transactions divided by the number of total unique visitors. Think of an E-Commerce site where you can use advanced Google Analytics tools to measure conversion rate formula as the number of sales divided by the total number of unique visitors. Check out Google's Conversion University.
* Universal Search
Remember, that search results now include video, images, blogs, books. I have been running some tests for the blog results and my impression is that the big sites with large traffic are just getting stronger. Even entering the title of my blog (The ASP.NET Community Blog), does not show me in the first ten pages of results! I've seen other developers complaining of a lack of transparency - but then again, we're talking about search algorithms which are as tightly guarded as a duck's arse and that's watertight. No surprise there, but it's still unsettling because the cause and effect of SEO tweaks seems to be even less predictable now.
THE REAL IMPLICATIONS
1) Sites with basic SEO errors will be penalized.
2) Sites with poor performance will be penalized. If you stop and think about it, there must be a huge increase in the amount of content that Google has to index in light of real-time results pouring into their data centers every second. Something has to give. Check out the peformance of your site using the Google-recommended WebPageTest application.
Best Practices for Speeding up your Website