The Power of Natural SEO

Posted July 16th, 2006 by Mike Cherim

SEO or Search Engine Optimization is a critical component of a properly developed website. Or, rather, it is if you want to be found and indexed. You see, there are approximately two billion websites on the Internet, so being found by those who may be looking for you or what you have to offer, if that’s what you want, can be a huge challenge. But it is doable and is actually quite simple. There are two basic methods of getting this done: The crappy way and the good way. I will discuss the latter.

Don’t Try To Cheat

But first, so you know, I will touch on the crappy way — also referred to unethical SEO. This method involves hiding special content, adding unnecessary links, and filling otherwise readable content into a mass of keywords. Doing it this way is risky and wrong. Google, for example, may remove your site from search if these unethical practices are employed. Even though these tricks work for a bit, being removed would completely defeat the purpose. Thus we want to do it right, and there is a better way. A right way.

Doing It The Right Way

Google, as well as others, prefer sites that employ an ethical and natural SEO. In other words, they really want to see a site that produces good, solid content and focuses on that. That doesn’t mean you can’t address SEO, it just means that your site needs to offer something more. They like sites with value, not just keywords. This is easily done by simply making a good standards-compliant and accessible website and then adding relevant content. If you do this, you really need to do nothing more than to a carefully populate certain elements, choose the right words, and give it some time.

True Accessibility

I mentioned “accessible” in the paragraph above. You may wonder how having an accessible site is going to help search engines index your site. To understand this you have to think of search engine spiders as blind users. Thus, tabular construction, frames, and ignorance to standards and proper element use and ordering is going to do nothing helpful for you. It will impede your mission of being found. See your pages without styles, without media like Flash, and have images disabled, then you’ll get a better idea of what you’re really offering.

This Site Could Be Better

This site happens to be well indexed, but is far from what I would consider a good example (I’ve learned a lot since I made it). It’s well-indexed because I have given it time and have regular focused content. Over time everything gets indexed and found. In other words, be patient. Building a site today, and expecting it to be at the top (and stay that way) tomorrow is unrealistic. So, let’s be real. I’ll explain what you can/should do, and what effect it’ll have.

The Flowing Semantic Page

Creating a well ordered semantic page is the best way to go. Don’t use structures, like tables, that may, if not used as meant to be used, impede indexing progress. Other examples, like Flash only pages, frames, content-containing images that aren’t properly backed up, also challenge indexing and often make locating specific content difficult to link to as well. A properly formed and marked-up page is good for everyone, spiders included.

The Popular Title Element

One of the most important things to consider when creating a web site, a web page specifically, is to write a telling title element, one which accurately describes the content. Here it is necessary to be concise using the most appropriate words that you want to be found by, but done in a tasteful way without artificial ingredients and fillers. Search Engine spiders digest content quickly and spend very little time on any given page. The title element is one of the first things they see and the first they eat up. You need to make sure they see the best you can give, but to do this right, you must be accurate and honest. Some developers get cute and use symbols as a title element. This isn’t a good thing to do; «==:::==«{ Über Dude }»==:::==» used as a title isn’t über at all.

Meta Keywords

Not much stock is taken in keywords nowadays. Most search engines either ignore them or don’t give them much weight. They are hidden content, not affecting the look of the page. Thus they’ve been seriously abused for years. But this doesn’t mean that you should forgo using them. Do use them, and be wise. It will not cause harm, just be honest with their use and hope something out there will pay attention to them.

Meta Description

Unlike keywords, the meta description is used often, more so lately than I’ve seen in the past. I know of a few sites that take submissions and use the meta description for a default text description of the site. Marking a site in Ma·gnolia is an example of this. Write the description and do it well. A good description can be helpful. Again, be honest with its use knowing something out there will pay attention to it.

The h1 Main Heading

After the title and meta data, and maybe some skip links, one of the first things on your page to be read should will be the <h1></h1> heading element. Use this wisely. Like the title, this should probably say something useful about the site. You may, however, be torn as you may want to use this element for the domain name or the site’s name (as I did here… ignore that). That’s okay, with a little styling and some finesse, you can add a sub-heading, or heading extension to this. Just be sure that if there is an image overlying the text, the image needs to reflect this accurately. Hidden content is bad, unless spiders can read it in the source, and human visitors can see it on the page. To see a good example of this, see my Accessible SeaBeast Theme. Note what’s written in the image, then disable images to see the matching text content (it’s even styled). If you can’t disable images, you can view source to find the element. This is what you’ll find (re-formatted here for better viewing):

   <a href="" title="Blog Home">
       SeaBeast Theme Demo
       <small><br />
          An Accessible WordPress Theme by Mike Cherim

The CSS used in this type of image-replaced heading is fairly complex, but in a nutshell I style the h1 element, and then the h1 small. The small element visually de-emphasizes the extended part of the heading when seen, the break puts it on two lines, and the empty span contains and positions the overlying background image. There is also an embedded image to offer some visuals to the unstyled page and to pre-load the focus/hover state of the masthead image for those users with slower connections. I consider this an ethical method, but care has to be taken you don’t abuse it. Think of it as a long heading and write it accordingly. Use it to describe the site and the page if you wish, but don’t push it. To see another example of this, this time with the visible text on top, check out

The Page’s Other Headings

Headings have more significance than lesser content, as they should. Thus they should be telling. The headings should in essence lend summary to the content that follows them. The headings should also be ordered appropriately. Though some will disagree, I feel that there should only be one h1 heading, for the page, then it can be followed with number of h2 headings, followed by lesser headings as needed. Be accurate with how you write them, and make them good and descriptive. This practice offers benefit to nearly all user groups.

Content First, Other Stuff Follows

This blog is an example of Content First (though my site isn’t). View the page without styles and you’ll see that right after the main h1 heading you get the main heading for this post followed by the post content. The content of lesser importance, namely the sidebar with its navigation and other links, comes after. Content is King, so put it ahead of the peasants. I make all of my sites this way now. If you want to see more examples, the SeaBeast theme (linked above) is a good example, and so is All the newer stuff (see my Projects).

Page Rank and Popularity

Page rank shouldn’t be confused with search engine results. Page rank is more or less a measure of in-bound links. This, however, is by default a measure of site popularity, and I feel this does correlate to SEO in that a more popular site is given a preference for a timed period. Page rank stays with a site, but the affect this has in the listings is temporary. It times out so to speak. Google and others do present fresh content for a rather short period but it does give it some leverage. Fresh in-bound links seemingly generate an upward movement. This demonstrates, if nothing else, that fresh, relevant content prompting these in-bound links can be beneficial.

Adding a massive list of irrelevant links to your site, or even hiding them as some do, is not a good practice. This is akin to trying to cheat the system. If you really want to succeed with harnessing the power of natural SEO, real SEO, trying to manipulate search algorithmic logic is not the way to go.

Content, Get Your Fresh Content

I make an honest attempt to stay on a fairly rigid schedule with posting fresh, relevant content on just about all of my sites. I try to add new content on at least a biweekly schedule. I’m actually more relaxed about it here on my blog, but on the others I actually work at meeting a quota. I do this because I want these sites to all be popular and well indexed and this is how it’s done. It’s not easy to launch and maintain a successful website. It takes work. If this idea is new to you, unless you were fed with a silver spoon as a baby, get used to it. Good things come to those who put forth the effort. Remember the dot-com bust? I think too many people saw the web as a free ride at the time. Put up a site and they will come, many thought, I’m going fishing. They were wrong. Like most things in life, what you get back is proportionate to what you put in.

Choosing the Right Words

In this article I’ve mentioned more than once relevancy as it relates to content, headings, and the rest. This does not mean littering a post with relevant keywords in a random fashion. However, I don’t mean you shouldn’t be choosy about what words you use either. Let’s say, for example, you’re posting content about a PHP Style Changer script you wrote. Should you call it “The Slick Stylitator,” or should you call it a PHP Style Changer? What do you think people will search for? If you think people are going to type “Stylitator” into the Google search field, you are sadly mistaken. Don’t be cryptic.

Let’s take this one step further: In good writing it’s often preferable to not re-use certain phrases too much. Keep the writing alive by giving it a little color. In the case of the PHP Style Changer example, it’d be good to write things like “this script can switch your CSS or Cascading Style Sheet with another” for both flow, descriptive word variety, and indexing purposes. By doing this you’re covering multiple bases. Other words or combinations you might want to incorporate into the natural content in this example might include “swap,” “preferences,” “style customization,” and anything else you might be able to use. But don’t litter, just write what you will normally write, and try to put the main idea into other terms that may be preferred by some readers/searchers. Think about being found when you compose!

In Summary

If you follow the steps outlined herein and you’re using broad terms in addition to specific terms on a properly ordered and constructed site, and you’re keeping it relevant and fresh, you should find yourself near or at the top using some pretty good terms. Give it time and be honest — and do think about SEO, You’ll be nicely surprised with what can happen. It absolutely amazes me that I am at the top or close to it with nearly all of my sites using some fantastic search words and short combinations. I did this by creating accessible websites first and foremost. Seeing the results of this, I began to key in on what was providing my results and now I actively put the “O” in SEO, but I refuse to cheat. I prefer to do it naturally. It does work — almost like magic.

11 Responses to: “The Power of Natural SEO”

  1. Luminus responds:
    Posted: July 18th, 2006 at 12:42 pm

    This is a very insightful write-up on SEO. I’m gonna bookmark this for reference and try and implement te steps you’ve outlined.

  2. Stephen Lang responds:
    Posted: July 19th, 2006 at 8:19 am

    A very helpful article -thanks. I agree with likening search engine spiders to blind users and always use this comparison when trying to ’sell’ accessibility to people (I won’t take credit for it - I’ve heard it elsewhere!)
    It’s always remarkable that people will ’sit up and listen’ about accessible websites when they realise it can be a benefit to them (i.e. with SEO it can contribute to a higher page ranking).

  3. Borislav Dopudja responds:
    Posted: July 22nd, 2006 at 11:39 am

    Nice article. I have added it to my own “Cheating Google” article which deals with Accessible design and Google Page Rank.

    Cheating Google aticle.

    Stay well! :)

  4. SoNet Journal » Blog Archive » Naturally Accessible SEO responds:
    Posted: July 23rd, 2006 at 8:16 am

    […] blog where has just written an informative post titled: The Power of Natural SEO. Though most of it is well known SEO convention I was more interested in reading it b […]

  5. ken responds:
    Posted: July 26th, 2006 at 5:10 am

    Like SEO 8 tips this one also speculating the extremes of SEO.

  6. Vinnie responds:
    Posted: August 1st, 2006 at 8:34 am

    Hey, cool, I just Googled “Natural SEO” and this blog’s on page one

    That is cool… surprising what a well written article and a few good ‘natural inbounds’ can do for you…

  7. cmircea responds:
    Posted: August 30th, 2006 at 4:31 pm

    A greate article. Indeed relevant content and backlinks are the most important elements in my opinion.

Sorry. Comments are closed.

Note: This is the end of the usable page. The image(s) below are preloaded for performance only.