How to be a Google Guru (in 30 Minutes) – A Guide to Improving your SEO

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Roger Warner

10. 10. 2007 | 25 min read

How to be a Google Guru (in 30 Minutes) – A Guide to Improving your SEO

25 mins left

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Let’s face it, search matters in B2B technology marketing. Just about every purchase involves a Google search at some point, often at the very beginning.

If you’re website doesn’t come out high in the Google rankings, it’s time to get to work. You can hire expensive consultants, spend a lot with the Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) agencies… or you could read this paper and do it yourself.

It will give you a simple set of non-technical guidelines for improving your web site’s performance in all major search engines. Regardless of your level of familiarity with the subject, it will arm you with new thinking on how to tackle the your SEO challenges more cost-effectively.

In short, this paper will help you to ‘SEO like a Pro’ – without major investments in external consultancy services… because SEO is not a black art. It’s simple. There, we’ve said it. Now we’ll show you how to do it.

Framing SEO: What it is and How to Approach it

For the sake of this paper, we’ll refer to Google as our target search engine. Google enjoys an overwhelming market share as the most popular search engine, and the principles that drive it are largely employed by other search engines – eg, Yahoo, MSN, etc. We’ll work to the premise that what’s good for Google is good for the rest.

We also need to make a distinction between ‘natural’ search and ‘paid for’ search. Natural search results are those returned by Google in the main (white) content area of your browser. ‘Paid for’ search results are those returned in the highlighted content cell at the top of the page and the sidebar to the right. They’re referred to as ‘Sponsored Links’ by Google and are generated, as you’d expect, on a paid for basis – ie, the more money I pay Google, the higher my ‘Sponsored Link’ will appear in a listing.

This paper is all about enhancing your natural search performance. Obviously, this is the more strategically important of the two as these results are perceived by users to be ‘unbiased.’

Why search matters

Before we describe the core principles of SEO, it’s worth considering why it should be so important to us.

Regardless of what type of business you’re in, your web site is now your primary point of contact with customers old and new — and the majority of these interactions will be mediated by a search engine, because ‘search’ is how we happen to navigate the web.

Your goals ought to be to exploit the way Google is used to:

1. Drive relevant and qualified traffic to your web site; and….
2. Learn more about how people perceive your products and services via their search behaviour

Note: the primary emphasis here is on understanding people, not technology. You first need to grasp how people are using Google – the technology stuff comes later, and relates to how you’re able to align your web site with these usage patterns. In short, we’re talking about understanding the language that people use to search for you, and the psychology behind this.

As such, SEO is first and foremost a marketing activity, not a technical activity. It works on the basis of helping search engines find you via the provision of superior web site content and adherence to solid web principles. Over time, this practice should also help you to better understand how and what you’re selling, as your SEO tactics will need to be guided by the language and behaviour of the people who are searching for you.

Everything else is of secondary importance when it comes to enhancing your Google rankings. Importantly, this means that ugly web sites may perform better than good looking sites. From a design perspective, your challenge is to ensure that the look and feel of your site is compelling enough to retain interest, whilst at the same time adhering to the implementation practices that we’ll describe below.

Another important point to note is that SEO for SEO’s sake is a bad idea. Your goal should be to attract qualified users to your site, not just any old rabble. This is because the flip-side of increasing traffic is that it carries specific costs – such as rising bandwidth and the amount of resources that you apply to the effort in the first place.

For example, a mobile network infrastructure company that Velocity works with needs to attract prospects that are interested in their specific technology – people who are interested in ‘femtocells’ as opposed to ‘mobile phones.’ If we were to optimise the site on the latter search term, we may well increase overall site traffic, but we would be unlikely to increase the company’s revenues.

So, to ensure that your SEO work is cost-effective, your primary aim is ‘conversion.’ You’re really only interested in generating the traffic that generates a sales lead, downloads a white paper, signs up for an event or registers some other form of interest in you.

For this reason, your SEO efforts ought to be focused on the web pages that ask people to register, buy, download and subscribe….as opposed to your homepage. (Directing users to your homepage will result in unnecessary wastage (or drop out) as they will undoubtedly find something else to do other than click through to the pages that really matter…..although, of course, you may also want to encourage general browsing).

In sum, our advice is to treat SEO as follows:

  • SEO is a marketing exercise, not a technology exercise, and should be done by marketing people.
  • Understanding and practising good SEO is first and foremost about understanding how your users behave when searching, and then applying this logic to how your web site is constructed.
  • Your approach to SEO should be governed by conversions – to purchasing, etc. Therefore your home page is NOT your most important web page, your conversion page is.

SEO Principles: the Complex Bit

When someone conducts a search, Google presents them with a series of links based on relevancy to the search term. Obviously, it’s your aim to feature at the top that list so as to incrase the chances of having people click through to your site.

This much is clear. But to promote this likelihood, it’s necessary to understand how Google actually works.

Google uses its ‘PageRank’ algorithm to evaluate and sort its search results. Much like Coca-Cola, the inner workings of this algorithm are a closely guarded secret. However, its general working principles are well documented (see and

Google describes PageRank as something that “relies on the uniquely democratic nature of the web by using its vast link structure as an indicator of an individual page’s value.” In practice this means that Google “interprets a link from page A to page B as a vote, by page A, for page B.”

In addition, PageRank also analyses the page that “casts the vote,” and assumes that “votes cast by pages that are themselves ‘important’ weigh more heavily and help to make other pages ‘important.’”

In essence, Google practices a form of web-based karma, whereby it values your page more if it’s well respected – ie, linked to – by other web pages. So, the number one factor that determines your position in a Google search is the number of external web pages that link to you.

Now, if this were to be the sole determining factor, then we could all pack up and go home right now. Your job would simply be to propagate the number of linking pages out there on the web, whilst focusing on gaining links from the more important web sites (ie, from CNET, as opposed to the Kennel Club of Bow).

But Google is smarter than that because it “combines PageRank with sophisticated text-matching techniques to find pages that are both important and relevant to a search.” What this means is that Google looks at how pages are linking to you and how relevant to the search term your page content is. In other words, there are good ways and not so good ways for pages to link to you, and – critically – the way in which your web pages are composed will have an enormous effect on whether or not Google thinks they are relevant or not.

This, then, is the technical bit. In order to influence Google and encourage it to view your pages as relevant, you need to know how it thinks….and, armed with this knowledge, you also need to tell people how to construct their links. We’ll deal with this shortly.

In the meantime, you should also note that your site must first be discovered, or ‘indexed’, by Google, and that Google does this via the use of software that crawls the web looking for, reacting to, and evaluating links (according to the PageRank algorithm).

This software is called a crawler, a spider or a search bot – but most commonly ‘bot’ for short. When a bot discovers your pages it ‘indexes’ them by storing a copy of them on Google’s servers. In turn, when someone conducts a search, it is these copies of your pages that Google presents to users as a series of links, ranked by relevance to the search term.

OK, so that’s all the science we need to know for now. It’s really not that complex. As mentioned before, the key to better SEO lies primarily in understanding how your users are searching for you, and applying this logic to the way that your site is built. You see it’s all about keywords!

Think like your customers (key words Part 1)

The point of ‘keywords’ is to convince Google that you are what you say you are, and that you’re therefore relevant to a user’s search query. And it’s at this point that traditional marketeers tend to run for the hills or hastily organise a focus group…..because the only way to convince Google that you’re relevant is to use the exact same language as your customers and prospects.

Now, it’s worth reflecting for a moment on what this really means. Remember your last marketing summit, where senior management assembled with sharpened pencils and powerpoints to streamline your corporate messages? Well, skip that stuff, because Google doesn’t care for it – in reality, one company’s ‘personal messaging and productivity optimising platform’ is really just an average users ’email software.’

You get the point…. The skill in identifying key words lies mainly in being brave enough to describe your products and services in the real, everyday language that people actually use.

Here’s a general formula to keep you honest: if the answer is X, then what was the question? Or, if I sell email software, what kind of questions might users be asking in order to discover me? Perhaps something radical like ’email software for Windows’??!!

Naturally this is heresy for traditional marketing thinkers…..For where’s the differentiation? Where’s the USP? And here’s the rub – successful SEO depends on not being different, but on being the same. Or just samey enough if you practice it well enough. Because however unique you may wish to treat each individual customer, your customers don’t really want to treat you in a unique way. That’s just asking them to work too hard – to remember a different message or word for every company under the sun.

In cognitive terms, we merge concepts into groups and create labels for them – and that’s good enough. So, email is email and nothing more.

There are exceptions to this rule of course. If you are Pepsi or Budweiser then you have the marketing budget to bend minds and make people think just like you want them to. But, for the rest of us, we have to move with the crowd and identify ourselves in ways that are already part of your target audience’s psyche.

The trick is to find a sweet spot and go for it.

But where to start? Well, focus groups may be an idea, but a more cost-effective approach is to investigate your search logs to see how people have arrived at your site (ie, see which search terms they’ve been using historically). Or there are a number of freely available tools that can show you the popularity of specific search terms and associated data such as the number of pages on the web that contain those words.

Here’s another crude equation that can help (we use it here at Velocity): first of all, you need to establish whether or not your keyword is relevant by understanding how many search terms are conducted on it per month (let’s call this number ‘A’); then you need to get a sense of who you’re competing against, or the number of pages already out there that use that same phrase or word (B).

So, in order to establish how hard it will be to attract interest and rank well in Google, it’s a case of dividing the number of searches (A) by the number of pages that might provide a search result (B)….and perhaps making that number a percentage term to give you a notion of probability.

As mentioned, the tools listed at the end of this paper will get you these numbers, but what you need to discover is a place where your chosen key words can co-exist happily amongst the competition – giving you as much chance as possible to be discovered.

For example, the phrase ‘Open Source Content Management System’ is relatively popular as a UK search term (over 74 searches last month). Coupled with this, the phrase ‘Open Source Content Management System’ has a reasonable presence on the web (59 million related pages are indexed in Google).

As such, using our formula, the chances of a user stumbling across any given ‘Open Source Content Management System’ page is 0.0001%. By comparison, the term ‘open source CMS’ was searched for 130 times in the same period, and yet there are only around 6.5 million pages indexed with that term….meaning that users have a vastly improved 0.002% chance of finding any given ‘open source CMS’ page.

Now, don’t be put off by the decimal points here, because there will always be more web pages than searches (think about it, if there was only one web page per search, then SEO would be so damn easy….and I wouldn’t be writing this paper!). Just treat this as a simple way of establishing what kind of market you’re playing in and how hard it might be to grab peoples’ attention.

The next step, then, is to take this maths and apply a bit of science to it in order to improve your chances of getting spotted – ie, to change that 0.002% number into something more positive (since the previous formula was based on a very even playing field – without taking any ‘optimisation’ practices into account).

To give us this competitive edge we need to understand why, in the eyes of Google, no two pages are created equal and apply some smarts to the way in which we build our web site. In other words, we have to….

Think Like Google (key words Part 2)

We’ve already stated that it’s not ‘rocket science,’ so we’ll keep the technical stuff to a minimum. In a nutshell, all you need to do to make Google happy is ensure that your content is King (or Queen!).

As mentioned, Google is not human. It uses bots, not eyes, and so in general it prefers words to pictures (ie, jpegs, Flash animations and video).

It also likes your content to be updated as frequently as possible, to give it an excuse to come visit you more often and ensure that your page ranking is as up to date as it should be. And it likes to be lead very, very clearly through your content, just to make absolute sense of it and to be sure that you are what you say you are (again, there’s no scope for subtleties – you’re communicating with a bot, not a real human being!).

As such, here’s some content rules that Google likes:

  • Focus your content efforts on the pages that really matter. Pick a few and stick with them. They should be the ones that you really want people clicking through to as a result of a search. (This is unlikely to be your home page, and more likely to be your key products pages).
  • More is more. Update your content as often as possible. Make it dynamic. Suggestions: write a blog; post press releases for anything remotely interesting (don’t save all the news for the annual report!); write opinion pieces and white papers (guess where this one’s going to appear soon!?); and if you have a ‘back catalogue’ of content (manuals, user guides, old articles, etc), then use it….anything to add to the volume of your content and the frequency at which it’s published!
  • Where possible, let your site users take the strain of content production: create discussion forums for them; enable them to post reviews and/or comments to your pages; again, anything that adds to the volume of content on your site and its frequency.
  • Use those keywords and use them well. Optimise your pages around your key terms in a sensible way, ensuring that humans as well as bots can read them. Common sense should prevail here – and you may find that you get penalised by Google if you ‘stuff’ your pages with too much key word content. As a measure, if your colleague can make sense of your pages then its good for Google. If s/he can’t then it’s not.

With this in mind, here’s some technical guidelines on how to implement your content:

  • Try to make your site name and/or your index page a keyword. You can see this by the text that appears at the top of your browser – it will always give you the name of the page that you’re browsing. And if your pages have no name, then shame on you….name them! Ideally, your content management system will enable you to do this as an editable piece of content, and you won’t need to re-code anything at all.
  • Help humans and bots to understand you by structuring your composite page elements consistently and elegantly. For example, your style sheets should have a clear delineation between headers, in terms of font and text size, and your images should all carry alternative text tags so that they can be read by machine readers. In addition, your links should also be labelled with descriptive title tags and scroll bar tags (ie, the text that appears in your scroll bar when you hover over or click on a link).
  • Exploit your page structure in terms of key word usage. Your page is composed of a hierarchy of elements, as described above – page header, header styles, navigational links, images, bold text, etc. Like a human, when a bot scans a page these are the elements that make a first (and lasting) impression. Use keywords within them – embed key words in your navigational scheme, use keywords as page headers, use them as image ‘alt’ tags, etc…. as a rule, use keywords for as much of your descriptive and/or directional content as possible, and think in hierarchical terms – eg, a keyword as a page title is worth more than one buried in your page content.
  • When thinking about how long your pages should be, again, think human. As a guideline, 300 words is a good length to keep each page – this makes them easy for bots and people to read. Any less text and it becomes difficult to optimise your key words without making the page look stuffed. Any more text and your content will become unwieldy – both to read and in terms of its production (of course, the creation of content is an overhead!)
  • ….and finally, just because you’re publishing a web site, don’t be limited in terms of distribution. Get your content out there using RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds, so that users can pick it up in formats other than directly via your site. RSS, for example, allows people to receive your content directly within their RSS ‘reader’ application of choice, without having to visit you. Publishing content in this way also allows other web masters to take it and re-purpose it for their own sites – ie, they can plug your RSS feed into their site, and (re)present it to their users….which should be encouraged since this will create more web pages that link back to you. In fact, ‘online PR’ also works in a similar way, and we’ll discuss this below…

OK, so much for the content production 101’s – all of the above advice is designed to help Google see you more clearly. The next thought is to help Google understand you….

Dress for Google: Some Site Design Tips

As mentioned above, it’s a shame, but because Google is geeky by nature, it doesn’t always appreciate beautiful web sites. It’s just not wired that way.

Instead, Google prefers to take its time to get to know you via some formal design and implementation principles – and beauty is very much in the eye of the beholder because ugly sites can, and often do, win.

When it comes to site design, your aim is to engage Google’s search bots for as long as possible in order to help them to get familiar with you. Here are some things to avoid:

  • Overuse of Flash: because Flash doesn’t subscribe to the ‘say it with text’ rule. Now, don’t get this wrong, because Flash is a wonderful thing – it helps to beautify and communicate – but don’t do all of your talking with it, because search bots can’t get at all those precious key words that Flash files contain within.
  • Overuse of image files for key page elements: because, as already explained, Google bots can’t read images as easily as they can read text. Which is disappointing, because often your navigational labels may look better when rendered in a snazzy font with little icons by their sides….but if you go this route, you’re not helping Google to ‘read’ you.
  • The use of files over web pages: for example, the use of a pdf download page rather than rendering all of that pdf content as html pages. As before, the trick here is to help Google to read you….and what Google likes to read best is html. So, whilst pdfs may be great for downloading, sharing and printing, why not render that content through a ‘print friendly’ design template? Or why not present both html text and the option to download as a pdf?
  • Overuse of password protected zones: because, in the same way that you’re locking humans out, you’re also locking Google out. So, think carefully about the balance of content that you’re putting behind these firewalls. If you’re a magazine or a publisher you should at least put a snippet of your password-protected content on view to Google and the public. This way a sub set of the key words get indexed and become searchable. (Alternatively, you can always talk to Google about how to enable its bots to get behind your firewalls, without compromising your premier content).

In short, when it comes to good, SEO-friendly design, the things to avoid are all the things that are bad for general site accessibility…which means you need to try to present your content in a way that bots and other software programs (eg, text-to-speech apps) can ‘read.’

Further guidance on good accessibility design can be found via the W3C consortium’s Web Accessibility Initiative (WIA) at: If you follow this advice then Google will love you!

Having listed the taboos, there are a number of design and implementation best practices to be encouraged. These are the type of things that encourage bots to spend more time indexing you and getting to know you.

For example: Submit your site map to Google, in a Google-accessible (XML-based) way. This way, Google can really get to grips with what you are. For further information, see:

For page navigational elements – such as your main navigation scheme and title links for ‘push boxes’ (eg, a listing for ‘Latest Press Open Source CMS News’) – use key words wherever you can. As mentioned above, Google will view this stuff as carrying more ‘meaning’ than standard page text.

Also, try playing around with your navigation scheme – it may be beneficial to users and bots alike to have some level of repetition going on within the page. See for a great example of this. At the bottom of the page, they have a very subtle ‘quick link’ navigation scheme that repeats the main scheme…so that users can jump straight to ‘CRM News’ etc. And now look again at these links. Yup, is a CRM application vendor. These links promote ‘CRM Support, CRM Events, CRM Investor Info’, etc…. all in the name of great SEO.

You should always encourage the use of human-readable urls. Once more, this helps both bots and humans to understand what’s going on on the page (from a human point of view, just think about how we receive links – often in the body of emails – and so is of much more use than!!!). An extension of this thought is to build key words into your url schemes. Any decent CMS should enable this.

You should also encourage both users and bots to explore your site in more depth by providing what is known as ‘deep links’ on your key SEO pages. For example, present a listing of your last six blog entries on a key landing page (with headlines that are all optimised). This will prompt search bots and users to go follow them and index/read even more of your site content.

Metadata should always, always, always be optimised around key words and this should always be designed into your page layouts to maximise its effects. For example, if you use custom metadata for page descriptions – such as a press releases synopsis – then you ought to ensure that this is rendered as the intro text on the main press release listing page. This way, bots and users are told what the page is about before they go and click on the page link….and this content can be optimised accordingly.

The use of internal page linking should be encouraged, particularly when using key words as the link description. Again, as an important piece of page content, a link helps Google to understand what you’re really about and get to the pages that really matter.

OK, so that’s some basic design and implementation advice. Let’s stick with the ‘relationship’ metaphor for a moment, because the next element to consider is how to attract attention to yourself… and the best way to do this is to be promiscuous.

The ‘Give to Get’ Rule

Now, getting your name known around town and within Google is not as sordid as you might imagine. As mentioned above, the first principle of SEO is to increase the number of web pages that point to your site (or your optimised page). There are a number of ways to do this:

  1. Become notorious: spend lots of money on advertising via Pay per Click (PPC – to be covered in a separate, upcoming white paper), banners, offline ads, offline PR, etc…such that you capture the imagination of searchers everywhere through paid-for placement of links and have them search for you – robot-like – in the language that you prescribe.
  2. Become even more notorious: monumentally succeed or screw-up…such that everyone writes about what you’ve done online and links to your web site. (Actually, this might be the sordid option!
  3. Become charming: encourage lots of other web masters to link their pages to yours. This is otherwise known as a partner or reciprocal linking plan, and is encouraged highly. It takes time and effort, but using the ‘good web karma’ / Google PageRank logic that we previously mentioned, it can be hugely beneficial – in the sense that working hard to make the BBC link to you will have a positive pay off. (Whilst working less hard to persuade the Kennel Club to link to you is of dubious merit.) Whichever route you take, always try to ensure that the reciprocal links are relevant – ie, the BBC should only be a target if you are a in a related industry. And remember what Google described as its ‘sophisticated text-matching techniques’ because accepting links from nefarious sources on the web (there are plenty on offer) does not tend to pay – for example, setting up or participating in ‘link farms’ or cloning your sites into ‘rings’ that all point back to the same source using the same content. Our advice is don’t do this because Google will find you out. (This is in fact your second sordid option!)
  4. Become smart: use some freely available tricks and tools to get your name out there as much as possible and have pages linking back to you.

We’ll focus on option four. Here are some low maintenance and cost-effective ways of punching above your weight and generating links back to your web site:

  • Submit your web site to Google, and other major search engines (see the ‘Tools’ section at the end of this paper for links and guidance on how to do this).
  • Add your site url to the Open Directory Project ( I won’t elaborate here – but it’s important because Google uses it as the basis for some of the ways in which it indexes sites.
  • Submit your url to as many free business directories as you can (eg, Yahoo), and as many paid-for directories as you can afford (eg, the Yahoo Shopping directory). For all of these submissions, your aim is to get listed, and hence create another web page with a link back to your optimised page (reminder – this may not always be your home page, but your action or ‘conversion’ page).
  • Encourage your team to maintain their own web properties and have these link back to your site. For example, have people refer to your site via their e-cademy profile page, or via LinkedIn, or SoFlow, or FaceBook. Have them build a Squidoo lens ( that links to you….Encourage them to maintain their own personal blogs and to say complimentary things about your products and services, and have them link to you using appropriately (optimised) language.
  • Issue your press releases via free online distribution hubs such as ClickPress, PRLog and others, and fill your press releases full of links to your key pages. (Note: this is an entirely machine automated process, and, unlike normal PR, its goal is not to generate media coverage but to generate new web pages with links.) See the ‘Tools’ section below for a list of online PR distribution services.

Further to this, you should note that there are good links and bad links, as already mentioned. Here’s an example:

  1. Good: Visit Velocity for their magic tech marketing white papers!
  2. Bad: Visit Velocity for their magic tech marketing white paper, here!

You don’t need to understand too much about html to tell the difference, other than the fact that example 1 optimised the link around the phrase ‘ tech marketing white paper,’ whereas example 2 optimised the link around the phrase ‘here.’

Now in terms of these links’ value to our business, example 1 is better because it’s imparting some level of understanding and association within the code, whereas example 2 tells us nothing of who and what Velocity is all about.

A great example of how this plays out can be seen by Googling the phrase ‘click here.’ You’ll notice that the Adobe Acrobat download page comes out on top. This is because people have been placing pdf’s on their page next to a link that tells users to ‘click here’ to get Acrobat Reader if they don’t have it already.

Now, this is a fun example because just about everyone already has the application. But personally, I’d be kicking myself if a partner web site decided to link to my product in the same way (by using ‘click here’ as the descriptive element of the html) because I know that when people search for a tech marketing white paper, ‘click here’ is not the term they’re going to use!

So, it’s important to ensure that external and internal links are constructed properly, and that where possible you can influence web masters to do it your way, using your keywords.

So much for design and implementation and getting your name and links out there. There is one other significant way to help boost your SEO, and that’s….

Conclusion: Start Now!

To summarise, most of the things we need to care about in SEO are the same things we should be doing to make our web sites more accessible and more readable (and I would say enjoyable) for everyone.

The key here is that good SEO requires an absolute devotion to ensuring your content is kept on track at every possible point – and this means placing key words in page headers, navigation labels and the like, as well as describing your products and services in a language that makes sense to normal human beings.

The design and implementation tips that we mention ought also to be common practice to any decent web developer / designer, and the fact that a content management system can help make this stuff second nature ought not be a surprise.

So, to conclude. SEO isn’t a black art. It’s not even a grey area. It can be practised effectively by everyone and, to cover the key elements, this needn’t be an exercise that requires a stack of cash or a bunch of overpaid, under-aged consultants!

Useful Tools

O’Reilly PDF guide to SEO:
Google Toolbar (to measure a site’s PageRank):
Alexa Toolbar (to measure a site’s comparative performance):
Overture Inventory (for investigating key word popularity):
Google Analytics (for measuring your site’s performance – eg, top pages, search terms, etc):
Opentracker (as per above, but with some extra cool tools – eg visitors by company): (for submitting your site freely to search engines):

Useful Web Sites/Online Tools word-density/ word-information/

Useful Publications

SEO Watch:
SEO Book –
Search Marketing Gurus –
SEO Moz –
SEO Buzz Box –
Search Marketing and Optimization –
Search Engine Roundtable –

Online Press Release Distribution Hubs

PR Leap:
PR Log:
Sane PR:

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  • seo

  • web-marketing

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  1. Charlie Salter

    July 14th, 2008

    Nice piece but can’t believe you haven’t even referred to the ‘SEO Bible’ (your term, not ours!) E-consultancy’s Best Practice Guide on SEO:

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