As Search Engine Optimization or SEO has become a more understood term there is still a lot of confusion about what it really is and how to go about getting the best results. I believe that one of the best places to start learning SEO is separating on-site SEO vs. off-site SEO.
Starting with on-site SEO it is important to know that a good, well built site with a flat link architecture (or as close to this as possible) is an important start to any SEO campaign. Other factors that make up good on-site SEO would be clean or human readable URL’s, congruent content from the top of the page to the bottom of every page including page title, meta description and keywords (although keywords are not used by Google I still use them). The links into each page needs to match the content and the links pointing off of the page need to have a similar theme expanding relevance and link authority to other pages within the website. So the entire site needs to have a top level theme and then chunk down into smaller more specific pieces. With all of this in mind it is always my goal to have any page accessible in 3 to 4 clicks or less as this helps with site usability and SEO.
As for off-site SEO you need to look at the entire Internet like one giant website. Taking the concept from above and expanding on it. So in other words find pages and sites that have similar meaning to your target website and either link to them or if you have the ability to get them to link to you. Of course with real time search and the evolution of social sites like Twitter and Facebook, off site SEO campaigns wouldn’t be complete without a social element. With the goal of any web surfer to find the best quality content it has always been in the best interest of the search engines to serve up the highest quality and trusted sites. They do this by determining the age of the URL, back-links to the site (especially from other trusted sites), the relevance of the site itself, and confirming click through rates from browsers. Now with the availability of real-time data and social chatter available for just about every subject under the sun it would be negligent to ignore the importance of social media in any off site SEO campaign.
So in summary, it is important to manage both your on site and off site SEO to ensure long term success.