SEO = Snake Oil ->Build Accessible Websites Instead


    I am seeing a large number of new websites here in Vietnam, including my own, talking about SEO, aka search engine optimization.  Many are offering services to help your optimize your website.  Be weary of these sites, you can learn how to ‘optimize’ your website yourself.

    The key is not to build a SEO website, instead, change your terminology.  The important key here is to build an ‘accessible’ website that meets ‘web standards’.  If you can build an accessible website that validates XHTML and CSS (hence meeting web standards), guess what, you will have a so-called SEO website.

    To validate as XHTML, you will have to follow certain guidelines that abided by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).  In short, some of the things the W3C requires for XHTML is that you add alt and title elements to your images and hyperlinks tags.  You should also add abbr and acronym elements for abbreviations and acronyms, respectfully.  By adding the alt elements to images, you are helping make your website more accessbile to ALL internet surfers including those with hearing and visual disabilities.  If you have time, you try adding the longdesc element to which contains a full description of images.

    These are actually the ‘keywords’ you here SEO pundits talk about it all the time.  I know what I am talking about too.  My websites tend to do very well in Google, MSN and Yahoo.  I never hired anyone or used any software to get my websites ranked so well.  I just design my websites to be more accessible by abiding with XHTML and CSS W3C guidelines. was not validating as XHTML with my new template until I fix some mistakes in the code.  My Amerasian Foundation website has been in the top spot on Google for nearly 5 years now.  The original website validated as XHTML 1.1, now it is running on WordPress but still validates as XHTML 1.0 Transitional.

    If you need help making your website more accessible, read this book online by Joe Clark:

    If you want to learn more how to develop a website that meets current web standards, I recommend the following resources by Jeffrey Zeldman and Eric Meyer:

    After I move into my new house/office in a couple months, I plan to spend more time working designing more accessible websites.  WordPress makes it easy for the new guys but I really want to see if I can design a nice site with Django.

    In the meantime, if you really want to spend money trying to figure out how to ‘optimize’ your website, give me a call.  You can waste your money on buying me a cafe sua da for advice 🙂


    1. A lot of companies out there did not know how to make their websites compliance with standards 🙂 you should not have time to drink cafe sua da with so many phone calls 😉

    2. I’m not really sure if I agree with you on this one. SEO and XHTML, CSS have a lot in common, yes, but there are parts of SEO that have nothing to do with XHTML (e.g. xml site maps, consistent URL handling, data hierarchy, et cetera).

      BTW, title tags are not required for XHTML validation, and proper tagging is somewhat of a science.

      I agree that you should do the whole standards compliance dance, yes, but this doesn’t mean you can forget about some proper SEO and all will be fine for everyone. Both are important, and to be a top-of-your-game web developer, you need to know both.

      My 2¢.

    3. Another way to get good “SEO” that isn’t really much of a trick is to use sensible url’s. For example, the url on this blog entry is:

      But ?p=982 is not very search engine friendly. Google ranks text in the url higher than text in the body. I like the way Plone turns the title of a piece of content into the url. For example, my latest blog entry is called:

      So if someone googles for junkmail or credit or something they are more likely to find my relevant blog posting. My main personal website url used to be but a year ago I changed it to be because I wanted to be higher in the google search ranking when someone searches for “Tracy Reed”. I used to be number 1 on google until IMDB and lots of other places started putting movie information online at which point the actress by the same name was on top and I was on page 3 or 4. But then I changed my domain name to put Tracy Reed as part of the url and now I am number 7 on the first page. So url’s that actually contain relevant keywords and not a bunch of random letters, numbers, and symbols are a very simple and effective way of implementing some SEO.

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