Last year, I reviewed the book Ajax and PHP by Cristian Darie. Since then, he and I have kept in touch. When he asked if I would like to read his latest writing endeavor, Professional Search Engine Optimization with PHP, I was immediately interested. He joined Jaimie Sirovich in co-authoring this one, and they are also writing a companion version on SEO with ASP.NET. Their ASP.NET edition will be available in August of 2007. First off, here's a bit of background info about the authors.
Jaimie Sirovich is a self-titled "SEO Egghead" and is a hybrid programmer turned search engine marketer. What makes him uniquely qualified is that he understands the tech side of SEO and isn't just a slimey snake oil salesman who spouts off conjecture. He holds a bachelor's degree in Computer Science.
Cristian Darie is a software engineer and PhD student, currently studying distributed application architecture for his dissertation. He has published several books on a variety of web topics - including: Ajax, ASP.NET, PHP and SQL. Needless to say, he is himself quite the server-side programmer as well.
The book starts off by defining who it is written for: PHP programmers and search engine marketers. Programmers will benefit because this book talks about the factors that help improve readability of URLs for both humans and search engines. For instance, using Apache's mod_rewrite to create:
As opposed to:
Marketers will benefit from this book because rather than rely on the myriad of disinformation that is available (leading one another in circular logic), they can start to understand things from a more concrete perspective and begin to make more accurate assessments. If it's true that All Marketers are Liars, then at least they will sound more convincing when it comes to SEO.
Once the basics are out of the way, this book delves into more tangible code examples, showing how to use .htaccess redirects as well as HTTP responses to your advantage. They also cover the concept of cloaking, such as employed by the New York Times, allowing search engines to index their content, but not cache it. This enables them to rank high in relevant search results, but also requires a subscription to read it. Apparently, Google turns a blind eye for big business, but potentially punishes smaller sites for such practices.
They also explain how to use "white hat" methods such as IP sniffing, to make sure that international readers receive pages that are relevant to their particular locale. While not always 100% accurate, this can assist in returning pages in the correct language for a particular country or region.
Additionally, they explain how to use sitemap XML and text files to describe to Google and Yahoo, respectively, the information architecture of your site. This is helpful for sites which are inherently inaccessible due to excessive use of Flash or Ajax. While it's certainly no substitute for semantic code, at least search engines know you have more than just an index page.
Overall, this book is great. I appreciate their description of both accepted and unethical SEO, rather than obscuring dirty "black hat" tricks. Acknowledging these methods exist is necessary in order to spot them. While I don't go out of my way for SEO when developing a site, I certainly don't want to knowingly or ignorantly do anything that would hinder a site's visibility.