I had a chat with a new client the other day about why we don't consider "Search Engine Optimization" an optional extra, or even a service that we offer.

This morning there was a great string of posts on Merlin Mann's twitter:

If you're "insulted" by criticism of SEO, go write a novel or work at a food bank. With all respect, find a job worth fake-defending. [link]

Shorter: "SEO" is either 1. Common Sense (clean code, good urls & titles); or 2. Cheating (most everything else). Learn "1"; Exorcise "2". [link]

Once worked at an SEO-optimized bar. Sign said we were an emergency room but our house special was 1 oz. of urine and 9 ads for other bars. [link]

These led me back to this post by Derek Powazek (@fraying on Twitter), which sums up the issues we have with the SEO industry, (and then continues to deride SEO people generally, which is fine too, they don't do much which makes me feel like defending them from derision.)

The One True Way

Which brings us, finally, to the One True Way to get a lot of traffic on the web. It’s pretty simple, and I’m going to give it to you here, for free:

Make something great. Tell people about it. Do it again.

"Spammers, Evildoers, and Opportunists" by Derek Powazek.

This is precisely how I respond to clients who ask me about "SEO".

We do our job properly. We create sites which adhere to web standards, and work super hard on figuring out how to best present content so it's attractive, intuitive and findable. When everything is set up, we train our clients how to create their content so both people and search engines can understand it.

That's "SEO".

If your site has been built properly, then there is no need for additional "optimization". If you aren't getting visitors, or you're not appearing in search engines, then there are two possible problems:

Your site is broken or badly coded

Get a developer to have a look at your site, and tell you if it's coded to web standards. If they're any good, they'll be able to hit your domain, view the source code, and tell you in about 3 seconds whether it's good.

If you don't know any web developers, and are too shy to ask us about it, then paste your URL into the W3C Markup Validation Service (Here's the validation for OxygenKiosk.com). If there's a couple of errors showing up, it's probably fine. Standards can get a little wonky when they come up against the reality of web content created by inexperienced writers, or things like youtube embeds.

If you're seeing tens or hundreds of errors, then there's a good chance that your site could do with an overhaul. For that, you need a web developer, to fix the foundations of your site for the long term.

Your content isn't doing its job

If your site is validating reasonably well, and you haven't hidden sections away so people can't find them, then have a look at the actual content of your site. Is there any content there? Any discussion of the subject matter aside from "Buy this product and/or service"? Anything that someone interested in the subject might want to share with a friend who's also interested in said subject?

If not, then it's your job to make something interesting. I hope that you're running a business because you're genuinely interested in the field, and hopefully you're actually keen on finding out new things, and sharing what you've found! If writing words isn't one of your superpowers, then you need a copywriter. Someone who can look at all the awesome stuff you're doing, and turn it in to words that people will enjoy reading.

Maybe your business isn't about finding or creating new things. Maybe you do one thing really well, and you just want people to know about that thing you do. If you're selling products, is there a section of your site which lists what you're selling? Can I grab a link to your product or service, and email it to my mum, saying: "Hey mum, I've just found someone who sells that thing you were looking for. Check it out!"

If I'm able to do that, she will totally buy it, and your site has achieved its goal.