I teach a fundamentalist search engine optimization philosophy. I have been actively optimizing sites now since 1999, which in the grand scheme of things isn't all that long, but in the realm of the Internet that is a good deal of time, and certainly longer than most.
In this time I've achieved many great rankings, I've had rankings suddenly vanish, and I've been witness to countless theories that end up being wrong, all of this has formed my opinion that fundamental SEO is the way to go.
Search engine optimization is a shady industry. There are many clueless individuals trying to make a buck through passing themselves off as an expert. Even worse, there are very many people who honestly think they are experts but who have only been in the industry a short amount of time. Finally, there are those people who do not come from backgrounds that emphasize logic, critical thinking, and scientific observation. (I talk more about this here. Take all that, and add in a healthy dose of Internet anonymity, and you end up with a lot of bad information out there.
Compounding the problem is that search engines are not in a constant state, they are extremely complex and frequently changing. So even if you manage to navigate your way through the mess of misinformation that is search engine optimization by the time you find something valuable and helpful it may be outdated either already or in short time.
The answer to this is to ignore the theory du jour and instead focus on the fundamentals. Anything beyond fundamental search engine optimization, as I define it anyways, is in a shady gray area and the search engines actively work to combat those methods as they are often used by spammers. So, the only truly safe method (and by safe I mean stable, you're unlikely to get a huge drop in ranking in a future update) is to use fundamentals.
The rest of this article is meant to be a guide to the fundamental approach to search engine optimization.
Before we get into in the meat of search engine optimization it is important that everyone is on the same page. Some readers of this article may be entirely new to this industry and so some definitions are in order.
There is often significant confusion as to what exactly is a search engine if you talk to anyone outside of the search engine optimization field. For instance many people define a search engine as a website where you can perform a search, this is not accurate. The correct definition of a search engine is a service that creates an index of the World Wide Web through automated means. A site that simply offers a search service, and doesn't manage its own index, is simply a search portal. There are also pay-per-click (PPC) search engines, which are really more similar to advertising networks only that the ads that they buy and sell are search listings, not graphical ads. Then there are directories, which do the same thing as a search engine but do it all manually and group the listings into topical categories. Finally there are meta search engines, which are search portals in that they do not run their own index, but they do offer unique results because they generate their results from multiple indexes in a sort of compilation.
To offer some examples, AOL.com is a search portal, they do not run their own index. Google, Yahoo, MSN (Live.com), and Ask.com are all search engines, they have their own index. SearchFeed.com is a PPC engine, it only has paid listings. DMOZ.org is a directory, their listings are all done by hand. Dogpile.com is a meta search engine.
Now Yahoo has a directory too, and Google rebrands DMOZ data on their site. Additionally both have PPC results, but these are all extra, they are fundamentally search engines.