Search engine optimization (SEO) is a common theme of website-redesign projects these days. Many RFPs dedicate an entire section to the topic, which can be quite confusing to those who do not completely understand it.
Let's walk through a few steps to understanding and approaching SEO... The major work needs to be done by the owners of your website's content, and your search rankings depend on your adhering to a few well-established rules.
Keyword Management and Content
In a world where content is king, keywords are the power behind the throne. A basic rule of thumb to follow is this: No more than two keywords per page, and no more than three pages per keyword. Confused? Let me explain.
First, a keyword is not necessarily a "word." It can be several words that appear together and are subject-based, such as these: "Record of the English Language," "Online Dictionary," or, simply, "OED."
Second, use your keyword, in context, within the text of your page. Write for the reader, not some unknown bot, and focus on that keyword within the content. Yes: repeat the keyword, in context, throughout the text. No, don't simply repeat the keyword over and over again. Bots are made and programmed by engineers at places like Google—you're not going to outsmart them, so don't even try.
Third, build your list of keywords, and develop pages around them. Always think about the Long Tail and remember not to forget about less popular and slightly obscure keywords.
A note on content: Write your page content for the people who are reading it. Your content should...
- Be roughly 500 to 1,500 words
- Include images, titles, and well-structured paragraphs
- Be relevant to the keywords
- Include links to other pages within your site, or to other sites
Think Twitter here. You have 140 characters to summarize the topic on the page. Don't simply repeat the page keyword; rather, tell people what's on the page and why they should read it.
In your HTML, you should have the ability to tag your content (H1, H2, etc.). You want to have your keyword in your H1 tags.
Pictures, Meta Keywords, URLs
The next few items are often controlled by your content management system (CMS). Hopefully, your CMS is robust enough to help you with the following items, especially since they truly affect SEO. If, however, you are managing your templates directly within the HTML, you need to remember to do these important steps.
- Picture Tagging. Every image on the page should have a filename that matches the keyword of that page. The ALT text should be the same as the image name and should, therefore, have the keyword in its name.
- Meta Keywords. These don't matter to Google, but they might matter to other, smaller, search engine bots. So make sure you use them.
- Friendly URLs. Some CMSs are behind the times; but, if possible, your URL should contain your keyword.
A good URL: http://www.yourdomain.edu/Public_University_in_Chicago
A bad URL: http://www.yourdomain.edu/X5567Y3
Unfortunately, if your CMS does not allow keywords in the URL, there is little you can do (except get a new CMS!).
The most difficult part of SEO is often your linking strategy. The theory is simple: If many sites link to yours, then you must have something relevant to say; therefore, your ranking improves. Obviously, the converse might also be true.
I am not going to address your outside linking strategy in this article; that is for another time. However, you do need to have an internal strategy for linking, so consider the following:
- Internal links. Anchoring text off of keywords within the header is always wise.
- Inter-site or cross-linking. Your reader is likely to want to move around your site quickly, and cross-linking enables them to do that.
- Outside links. There is nothing wrong with linking to other sites if it makes sense to do so, such as linking to additional resources for your readers. Ideally, you'd want to keep your readers on your site, but if there's an opportunity to guide or direct them to relevant material—take advantage of it.
(A version of this article first appeared on the iFactory's interActivity blog.)