The Zen of Search Engine Optimization (Guest Post by Reg Charie)

Recent discussions about Search Engine Optimization have brought a lot of questions about the technical side of SEO so I asked SEO expert Reg Charie to explain the technical side to us.  You can reach Reg by going to his website at All you technical junkies read on:

Not knowing the exact rules governing the algorithms used by search engines to rank our pages means the SEO practitioner must study the results on the SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages). One must dissect each page and meditate on the use and positions of the elements which have a potential effect on the ranking position. For instance if you Google “SEO Services”, (no quotes), the top 3 results use a form of CSS image replacement for their logos. This presents their keywords in <h1> tags to the search engines and text only readers, while the logo contains their keywords to display for the visitors. The fact that the top SEO sites use a form of h1 -> image replacement instead of an image and “alt” tags intuits that they have learned that Google “prefers” this form of display.

Google says to make pages primarily for users, not for search engines. Let us meditate on what this means:

  • They don’t want you to try to manipulate their search engines
  • They want you to write your content for your users
  • Users and search engines see the content differently. Users interpret the visual, search engines the code

Ergo, you must give Google an exact code conversion of the visual. Google also says not to deceive your users or present different content to search engines than you display to users. Be careful that your semantic markup is accurately represented in the visual interpretation.

Now we must consider how far Google goes to interpret the visual; the mainstream emergence of stylesheets (CSS) has posed new problems. It used to be that the visual display was all taken from the on-page code, now the display can be modified by the stylesheet; this means that off page code can determine the size, color, emphasis, and position of a keyword phrase or text string, and go as far as moving it to a position that displays “off-page”; this would be great for keyword stuffing if Google did not check the CSS file to see if this is being done.

Since the CSS file can directly change the visual output, and since Google *needs* to rely on the visual to determine the relevance of your presentation, we need to consider which of your CSS settings are taken into account.  We know they can and do penalize for off page displays of keyword stuffed content, perhaps they also do for any movement of content to an off page display? What would they look at in the CSS file? Modifications to h1 text is the first. Standard default settings for text in <h1> </h1> is to display at a 24 pt size, the <h2></h2> pair at 18. Font size would be looked at as it is a visual determination of importance, as long as the <h1> tag pair displays as the largest text on the page it would be accepted. Would Google care about font color? It does impart a special meaning, but we don’t know for sure. I would lean to saying yes. Aside from size and color, emphasis is looked at. You can emphasize a keyword phrase by making it into a link (Anchor text), putting it in bold or strong or using italics or the <em></em> tag pair. Google has already stated that they treat italics <i> and emphases <em> differently although they look the same visually. Using semantic elements to mark up structure; examples here:

Example Code for em and strong:

<p>what she <em>really</em> meant to say was,

“This is not ok, it is <strong>excellent</strong>!”</p>

Would this have a different effect on Google’s interpretation? <p>What she <i>really</i> meant to say was, “This is not ok, it is <b>excellent</b>!”</p>

Visually it is identical, semantically it is different. I am betting that Google would see it the same way but ‘prefer’ it to be written as it is in the first example.

Some of you might think that assuming a set of computer instructions has preferences is a bit far out, but the Zen of SEO intuits that Google is MUCH more than that; it is an Ai or Artificial Intelligence. Look at what it can do:

  • Choose between millions of pages written on the same topic and display them according to relevance to the search term
  • Tell the difference between “fans” of a rock group and the rock group using “fans” to cool off
  • Speaks and translates many languages
  • Has a spatial understanding and can go to any point on earth (or in space apparently), from inputted co-ordinates and display what is there.
  • Absorbs the entire contents of many diverse libraries
  • Has huge interlinked computing resources with data centers in most countries

Direct intuitive insight tells me that when writing copy to treat the search engine like a person and make certain it “sees” exactly the same things as the human, even to understanding the nuances.

Reg Charie is a Search Engine Optimization expert and the creator of The Zen* of Search Engine Optimization ( and is the author of the new book “The SEO Fast Track to Internet Profits”.