SEO is simultaneously one of the most important and least understood parts of building a good website. There is no shortage of companies out there claiming they know all of the secrets to getting to the top spot on Google search results, but SEO really is not that complicated to do well if you follow just a few basic principles.
Principle #1: Google is Always Right
Just do a quick search for SEO and you will find thousands of articles with all sorts of ideas about what the secret is to getting to the top spot on Google, but the real secret is really easy. Give Google what Google wants. Any of advice that you receive that sounds like trying to trick Google into ranking your site highly is bad advice. It is bad advice because Google has a much larger budget than you, and they make money by making sure they give users the best results possible. Rest assured, Google will catch you with your hand in the cookie jar.
On the other hand, if you are being a good citizen of the internet and giving Google what it wants, then all of Google's budget trying to produce the best search results is working for you. All of this leads to the obvious question of what does Google want? Google wants websites with up to date content that relates specifically to the things that its users are searching for. So this makes SEO very simple, just produce good content that users will actually want. That is the very reason that I am writing this article right now.
Principle #2: Standards are Standards for a Reason
Follow the rules and you will be rewarded. Doesn't get much simpler than that. There are plenty of good resources out there about HTML standards, but here are a couple of the most important things to do to improve your SEO:
Page Titles: Every page on your site should have a <title> tag with the actual title of the page and the name of the site. For example, if the user is viewing the Contact page, the title should be "Contact | Site Name". This will show up in the tab/window in the browser, and it will also be used as the default name if a user bookmarks a page. This will also be used by search engines as the title of the results.
Header Titles: Every page on your site should have a <h1> tag with the actual title of the page. This should match the title in the <title> tag minus the site name. If there are sub-sections on a page, use <h2> tags for their titles.
Descriptive URLs: The URLs for your pages should include the title of the page. The URL for your Contact page should be something like example.com/contact. URLs like example.com/blog/5 are really bad. A much better URL would be example.com/blog/article-title.
Domain Redirects: Your website should only appear at one URL. All other URLs that go to your website should be redirected to one standard URL. For example, our website is always at www.covenantdesign.com. If you go to covenantdesign.com, it will redirect you to www.covenantdesign.com.
Principle #3: Build Your Online Reputation
There are a lot of different pieces that go into this. Everything from maintaining the same domain name for a long period of time to building a community of people around the web talking about your website. A lot of people go way too crazy here trying to get other sites to link to their site to the point where they violate Principle #1. At the end of the day, this isn't something that you can just manufacture overnight, but it is something you can nurture over time by producing good content, interacting with the users visiting your site in various ways, and connecting with other related websites.
And that is all there is to it! Follow these few simple principles, and you will have better SEO than most websites out there.