Continuing our Web Directions South content, we asked SEO expert Scott Gledhill what developers can do to improve their search engine ranking on their own sites.

We presented a larger, more complete interview with Scott last week.

SEO is not an exact science; nobody outside of the major search engines is sure exactly how page ranking algorithms work, so take these tips with a grain of salt.

We asked Scott to outline the five easiest things we can all do to improve SEO and he came up with the following list. Scott cautions that other SEOs might not agree with his stance.

1. Web Standards

The importance of standards can be argued when you’re targeting human beings, but it’s when you’re considering Web crawlers that they become absolutely crucial. Standards are the only guidelines a search engine Web crawler has for knowing where information resides on a Web page. Developing your Web site with valid XHTML and HTML in mind goes a long way towards making search engines pick up your content.

2. Accessibility

Scott says “an accessible Web site is crawled more efficiently by search engines and will also increase general numbers by being universally accessible.” We think that about sums it up.

3. Metadata

Keywords, the former giants of search engine optimisation, are now largely disregarded by Web developers. They still have their place, says Scott, “Keywords metadata are not so important anymore, but I would still include them if you can automate the process.”

More vital are taking advantage of the title element and description metadata, often overlooked because they don’t render directly into the browser — but Web crawlers notice them. “Unique title elements per page will make a huge difference with search engines and a unique description for each page will make the summary look much more attractive and clickable to users on the search engine results pages.”

4. Check your URLs

Duplicate content filtering is a big issue for a lot of Web sites that syndicate or republish content, as well as blogs — it’s the policy of the big search engines to only use one URL for each piece of content, and filter any others.

“It’s best if you can control this behaviour, rather than letting the search engine’s algorithms figure it out for you.” Scott suggests, “Pick one URL and use it consistently across your Web site.”

5. Linking Quality

“Creating quality links internally and getting them from external resources is invaluable”, says Scott. “Using keywords or relevant text (no “click here” or “more”) to move traffic internally will increase the value of your Web site when done logically and contextually.” You make internal links yourself, so it’s easy to control their content.

“External links are harder to get but by building content that is valuable for users you will slowly gain text links pointing back to your Web site and this is still a major factor in long term SEO success.”

“Many companies will also take this one step further and call on companies to trade links and take on RSS content from your Web site. This is usually more involved with the marketing aspects of SEO, but is highly effective.”