I’ve been kind of neglecting the SEO part of this blog, so lets get started. The most important page on your college site is your Institutional homepage. For Wofford roughly one third of all pageviews are this page. Because of this importance it is vital that this page is not just optimized for a human visitor, but also for the search engines to bring traffic to your site. Search engines bring tens of thousands (average month is upper 40,000 hits for example) of visits to Wofford’s site a month.
What is SEO?
SEO stands for search engine optimization. The Wikipedia definition of SEO is:
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of improving the volume and quality of traffic to a web site from search engines via “natural” (“organic” or “algorithmic”) search results for targeted keywords.
Basically this is saying there are some standard procedures that you can apply to a site or a page to help it rank better in search engines for relevant searches. This is important because so many people rely on search engines to find information online and the easier you can make it for them to find the information then the more people that are likely to visit a page.
Some Other Terms To Be Familiar
- SERPs stands for the search engine results page. Meaning that when you search for a term you are returned with page upon pages of results. The higher your page is in the SERPs the more likely it is to be clicked on. Most people click on results that are on the first page so if your site is showing up on page 5 then it’s still very unlikely to get any visitors.
- Nofollow links are link tags that are tell the search engines to not pass value to the resulting page.
- Meta Data is “data about data”. Pages use meta data to tell search engines what is on a page.
Let’s SEO our Homepage!
There really is much more that you can do than what I’m about to explain, but this should be a short reminder in case your page is forgetting any of the basics.
Your page title should be both descriptive and include keywords relevant for your institution. This is one of the most important elements that a search engine looks at to rank a page and should be well thought out. A tip do not include Homepage in your title, this is assumed. “ABC University Homepage” will not cut it. Be a little more descriptive than this, but still keep it fairly compact.
The Future Endeavour blog made a great post about Best Practices for Page Titles a while back. The only thing I would add to it is they recommend the dash and I usually use this standard too although a lot of people will recommend the pipe “|”. Bottom line is it really does not matter just have some sort of separation.
The two most important meta tags to include are a description and keywords tag. These tags tell a search engine what this page is about. Commonly the search engine will pull the description tag to display on the SERP. Make sure that the description is relavent. It’s true that Google no longer uses Keyword meta data to help a page rank, but other search engines still use keywords. Also keep in mind that bots have a tendency to quit reading keywords after about the 8th one so don’t go overboard.
Check out this article, How To Use HTML Meta Tags, for much more detail. Technically Page Titles are Meta Tags, but I think they are so important they need to be separated. Also Robot Tags and others are mentioned, but by far the two most important are description and keywords. It should also be noted that Google no longer uses the keywords, but that doesn’t mean other search engines don’t and it’s still a best practice to get in the habit of tagging for them. You never know at some point another search engine might get on top that recognized them or Google might at some point start using them again?
Believe it or not this is important. What does your page look like if style sheets are disabled? Is it a crumbled mess? Search engines don’t see style sheets so you want to make sure that your important content on a page is at the top. This applies to all pages on a site. It’s ok to have menus and link lists farther down the page.
There are many of them out there but Yellowpipe’s has a Lynx Viewer that you can run on your site to see what your site looks like text only and how the bot crawlers see your page. Also the Web Developer add-on for Firefox has a function that will completely disable CSS on a page. I’ve mentioned this add-on before as it also allows you to do lots of other things like validate a page for CSS, validate for HTML, and quickly generate a Speed Report to name a few great functions.
So there you go some very important details to incorporate into your page designs. Although we only looked at the homepage everything mentioned can be applied to deeper pages and ultimately should be. For the most part, Search Engine Optimization is not overly complicate, but it is easy to get bogged down in tweaking. The most important thing to remember is to build for usability and the SEO will usually follow.
I realize I left a ton out, but that’s another post for another day.
- SEOmoz Beginner’s Guide to SEO - this is definitely the place to start for anyone who’s seriously interested into getting into and understanding SEO. Read it completely through… then call me in the morning.