Search Engine Optimization is at the same time a simple concept (help the search engines find and rank your pages) and a very complex one (proper use of redirection when changing domain names, Google downranking, duplicate content and hundreds more topics that are covered online in many places and also at conferences like the SES Conference Series, Webmasterworld PubCon, or the SMX Conferences.
Arguably the best source for basic SEO information is Matt Cutts’ blog, and he always has great summaries of the conferences at which he gives talks. Here’s a great post from Matt today after Danny Sullivan’s SMX Seattle Conference. Google has added some information to their famous (and infamous) webmaster Guidelines, which should be read by every webmaster as they are the best *basic* information about how to structure a site to be ranked properly. You’ll also want to read Matt’s SEO posts which offer a lot more specifics and technical advice.
Although several years ago you would *also* have been well advised to read up on some of the tricks of the trade such as various schemes for keyword optimization, I would argue that for most webmasters tricks are more likely to be counterproductive than productive. This is a really rich topic because there remain many techniques that fall into a sort of gray area of optimization where ranks are affected, but crossing the Google draws between acceptable techniques and unacceptable can lead to severe penalties. Since Google does not draw a clear objective line we have the ongoing gray area of optimization.
Many SEO techniques relate to *linking* strategies and *keyword optimization*. It is an area where I believe Google has in many ways fueled the rise of the very content they hate by making the rules too vague and (more importantly) allowed adsense advertising on pages that don’t meet reasonable web quality standards. Early in the game I was often frustrated when I would improve on a bad page only to have it drop in ranks due to algorithmic quirks. I soon decided to leave crappy but high ranked pages alone, fearing they’d be downranked if I changed them. This in turn caused problems as Google tightened up quality standards. Google is great about transparency in several areas, but algorithmic search penalties are not one of them.
I should also say there are some exceptionally good SEO folks out there who always have amazing advice when I bump into them at conferences. David Naylor and Aaron Wall, and Todd Malicoat all have remarkable insight into the complexities of Google ranking as does Vanessa Fox who used to work for Google and Danny Sullivan who runs the SMX series of SEO Conferences. My general advice about SEO is to do it yourself or in-house, but there are a handful of people like this who know the game so well that the normal rules about avoiding SEO folks do not apply.