2013 Indiana State University. Best Practices: Search Engine Optimization Indiana State University

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1 Best Practices: Search Engine Optimization Indiana State University

2 Table of Contents Introduction..4 What is SEO How do search engines work The big picture The key to SEO Title Tags 5 What is a title tag How to make proper title tags Meta Tags..7 What is a meta description tag How to make proper meta description tags URLs 9 What is a URL How to make proper URLs Special Note: 301 redirect Images 11 Why should images be optimized ALT tags Filenames and captions Special Note: Image formats Content Introduction 13 2

3 Content 14 Why is content important How to write proper content Special Note: Gunning fog index Content Organization..16 Why is organization important How to organize content properly Call to Action.17 What is a call to action When is it necessary How to write a proper call to action Links.19 What are links How to create proper links Special Note: Anchor text Special Note: Title attributes Special Note: rel= nofollow Search Engine Marketing..21 Keywords How to choose keywords How to use keywords properly SEM ad campaign SEO Resources..23 3

4 Introduction This booklet should function as a quick guide to best practices for search engine optimization (SEO) within Indiana State University. This book is not an exhaustive manual; rather it is a starting point for common SEO practices, giving practical tips and helpful hits, referring readers to more in- depth sources for more information. While this booklet will answer most (and the most common) questions about SEO, the goal is to present the University s sanctioned SEO practices, not answer every question. What is SEO? Search engine optimization (or SEO) is the practice of making a website as efficient as possible so that it will gain high ranking on search engine results pages (SERPs). Various elements on and off webpages contribute to search engine page ranking. Adhering to a set of proven best practices will dramatically improve search engine rankings and site consumer- friendliness. How do search engines work? Think of the World Wide Web as a library. Each book is a website, each page is a webpage. In an old- school library, the books are organized based on a numerical system that tells the librarian which book is where and what it s about. In a search engine, all the websites and webpages are organized based on what keywords the site contains. The search engine sends out robots (also called spiders), that behave like assistant librarians and crawl each website s content to determine what they re about and how helpful the site is. When someone types a word into the search box of an engine like Bing or Google, the search engine retrieves content based on matches between the searcher s keywords and the entire database of keyword- organized websites. Then, like a good librarian, the search engine returns with the content it deems most relevant to the searcher s needs. The big picture At the beginning of SEO, when search engines were brand new, the idea was to climb to the top of SERPs as quickly as possible. The top- ranking pages got the most clicks, therefore making the most money. People took advantage of the system, writing nonsense content filled with as many keywords as possible and employing all kinds of other black hat (wrong) SEO tactics to get the most clicks. As search engines became more sophisticated, these sites were knocked off SERPs in favor of sites with good content and high customer value. People continue to find ways to exploit search engines, and search engine creators frequently change the rules and devise more stringent requirements to combat this. The key to SEO The good news is that there is a foolproof way to make sure a website stays on the good side of search engines. The key is customer service. Creating a website that caters to the customer in every way, from helpful, well- written content to easy- to- navigate site organization, never fails to impress search engines. The original goal of search engines was to make all kinds of information easily accessible to consumers. If providing useful information to seekers is the main goal of a website, search engines will rank it well. 4

5 Title Tags What is a title tag? A title tag is a short description of a webpage that appears in the <head> section of the page. It is not visible on the page, but it is visible on browser tabs and in SERPs. The images show a title tag on a browser tab, a SERP, and the webpage HTML. Why are title tags important? The only part of a webpage more important than the title tag is the content of the page itself. Title tags are the first thing customers see on a SERP, and they re an important part of how search engines categorize pages to put in search results. How to make proper title tags A title tag should include a concise description of a webpage s contents. It should include the keywords that the page focuses on, as well as the company brand. The format of title tags should be uniform across the website, but they should not be identical. For example, Indiana State University should not have the title tag Indiana State University More from day one as the tag for every page on the website. This title would be useless to search engines and to people viewing SERPs because it gives no information about the page s contents. Instead, a good title tag should look like this: Academics and Majors Indiana State University. In this title, the keywords are prominent and the company brand is included. Sometimes it s not obvious what the page keywords should be. For example, the ISU A- Z page (right) doesn t have a clear topic. In that case, the point of the page should be the focus of the title. Search ISU A- Z Indiana State University There is no hard and fast rule about which keywords to choose. Good words will usually be obvious. If not, try to think like the customer. What words 5

6 would they search for to find this page? Use those words in the title. (For more information on choosing keywords, see the section on keyword usage.) A title tag should not exceed 70 characters in length. The search engine will truncate the tag in search results if it is longer than 70 characters, or the engine will make up a new title tag entirely. Do Not - Use the same title tag for every page of a website - Exceed 70 characters in the title tag - Use words that don t describe the page content - Use a different format from the rest of the site (You can t tell what the secure cloud access is for, just that it s secure.) Format: Primary keyword and secondary keyword Indiana State University Length: Does not exceed 70 characters Content: intuitive keywords, university name, unique to page, descriptive of page content Appearance (HTML): <title>primary keyword and secondary keyword Indiana State University </title> 6

7 Meta Tags What is a meta description tag? A meta description tag is a short description of a webpage that is embedded in the <head> section of a page s HTML. Though it s not visible on the actual page, search engines use meta tags in SERPs. The images show a meta tag in a SERP and in HTML. Why are meta description tags important? Search engines don t take meta description tags into consideration when ranking webpages. However, that doesn t mean meta tags are less important than any other aspect of the website s SEO. The goal of SEO is to help searchers find the best content. Meta text is integral to that goal. This tag is the text that appears under a result, as shown earlier. It is a short description of the page s data that should encourage the searcher to click the link. If webpages don t have meta description tags, search engines will substitute text from the page s content or pull information from a website index. This is usually undesirable, since the substitute text is not optimized. How to make proper meta description tags As stated, a meta description tag is a short description of a webpage s contents. It should not exceed 160 characters, since search engines truncate the description at that length. It s important to include a high- quality meta description tag in each webpage. If one is not provided, a less reliable tag will be found. For example, a poor or substitute meta description tag may resemble the image shown, which is the text from the top of the page, rather than an optimized meta tag. Meta description tags should include keywords the page focuses on. This is not a place to keyword load. Instead, it should be an easy- to- read, easy- to- understand summary of a page s contents. It s very similar to a tweet; only necessary information is included. This page is a good example: 7

8 Do Not - Use the same meta tag for each webpage - Exceed 160 characters - Use words that don t describe the page content - Keyword load Format: Keyword and explanation of how the keyword relates to the reader. What about the keyword will the reader find on the page? Length: No more than 160 characters Content: Tweet- like summary of contents: Everything the searcher needs and no more. Appearance (HTML): <head> <meta name= description content= This is where the meta text goes. It is visible in search engine results and tells the searcher what the page contains. > </head> Spelling & grammar: Should use proper English, should contain no spelling errors, and should be punctuated correctly 8

9 URLs What is a URL? A URL (uniform resource locator) is the web address for your page. It s the always associated with your page, and displayed in the web address bar and in SERPs. Both are pictured. Why are URLs important? URLs are important for a number of reasons. Good URLs lead to organized site structure. They should give users an idea what will be on the page, and they help search engines crawl the page better. When people share a website, they usually give the URL, making it even more important for the URL to be simple, intuitive, and memorable. How to make proper URLs Because URLs serve the wide variety of purposes listed above, they need to be simple. It s not always possible to make them short, but making URLs easy to read and remember should be a priority. URLs should contain words that are relevant to the site and page content, make sense to searchers, and not be too long. For example, a URL like this WxCVT htm is confusing, hard to remember, and hard to type directly into an address bar. These URLs should be changed so that they are shorter and more understandable, such as the one pictured above, Another factor is the symbols used to separate words in a URL. Spaces, underscores, plus signs, etc. are hard for web applications to interpret correctly. At all times, a hyphen should be used to separate words, if separation is necessary. Special Note: 301 redirect 301 redirects are set up to refer people to the preferred or dominant page of a site from a less- preferred version of a page. If a website contains duplicate pages, setting up a 301 redirect (or an rel= canonical link element) to take users to the preferred version of the page is suggested. Do Not - Use underscores instead of hyphens - Make URLs long and hard to remember - Leave long or number- loaded URLs as they are - Mix upper- and lower- case letters in a URL 9

10 Format: The page name is suggested, or some intuitive variation thereof. Include a keyword, but don t just use a string of keywords. Lower case is preferred. It should resemble (or keyword- phrase) Length: Try to avoid making URLs longer than 40 characters. However, this is a suggestion. Don t shortchange searchers to stay within a character limit. Content: Intuitive information about the page. This name should be easy to remember or easy to interpret. Appearance: keyword/sub- page- keyword Stability: Do not change URLs unless absolutely necessary. If a change is needed, set up a redirect from the old URL to the new URL. 10

11 Images Why should images be optimized? Search engine spiders can t see images. They pass right over them when crawling a page. This is a problem because images often contribute to a page s message, sometimes even convey most of the meaning. If a crawler comes across a picture, it won t be read or indexed unless it is properly optimized. Correctly optimizing images can improve a site s SEO ratings and increase a page s chances of being found through the images on the page. Optimizing images is also helpful for people who are using screen readers or have slow connections and have turned off image viewing in their browser. ALT tags Search engines can only read text. In that case, if we want images to be crawled, they must be translated into text. ALT (alternative) tags are like nametags for pictures so that crawlers can understand the images. ALT tags can be inserted in the HTML of a page. They look like this: An ALT tag should be a key phrase describing the picture. It shouldn t be a default IMG_008.jpg, nor should it be an obscure reference such as library_picture1. Make sure everyone can understand what the image is without seeing it. A good practice is to include two keywords and one short phrase describing the picture. For example, ISU students in library with coffee. Avoid keyword loading: ISU- fun- event- books- exciting- freshman- torch- fire- signing Filenames and captions Filenames have a similar purpose to ALT tags. Crawlers can see both the filename and the ALT tag in the HTML of a site. The filename shouldn t be exactly the same as the ALT tag, since it will probably be shorter. Filenames need not be longer than two or three words, preferably a keyword and descriptor, ISU- library- students.jpg. Captions serve a slightly different function. Neither the ALT tag nor the filename are visible on the page, but a caption is displayed. A caption should succinctly explain the picture for readers. A caption should not say, This photo, taken last Thursday, depicts two students interacting over coffee in the library. Instead, a good caption would say, Two students enjoy coffee in the Cunningham Memorial Library. Special Note: Image formats Before uploading images, make sure they are in a universal format, such as.jpg,.gif, or.png (make sure the extension matches the file type). For instructions on changing image file formats, visit Pictures- to- JPEG- or- Other- Picture- File- Extensions. 11

12 Do Not - Keyword load in ALT tags, filenames, or captions. - Use long phrases or words to describe a picture - Upload an obscure photo file type Format (ALT): Keyword1 Keyword2 Descriptor Phrase Length: 2-6 words Content: keyword and phrase describing the photo Appearance (HTML): <img src= file- name.jpg alt= good alt text for SEO height= xx width= xx /> 12

13 Content Introduction The technical search engine optimization of title tags and meta tags is extremely important. Content, though very different from off- page optimization, is just as necessary and more difficult because there is no simple procedure for producing effective content. More than any other part of the SEO process, content writing is about the reader. Search engines are now engineered to put the most searcher- friendly content at the top of the SERP, rather than the content with the most keywords. Therefore, the goal of creating a website and optimizing it should be to help searchers and customers. The key to writing good content is writing for the readers. What will make most sense to them? What questions will they ask? What are the accurate answers to their questions? Anticipate what readers need from your content and make sure you provide it. Search engines reward websites that cater to the customer. 13

14 Content Why is content important? Content, as already mentioned, is the heart and soul of a website. It s what readers come for and what they stay for. All other SEO practices are preparation to make sure the content is discoverable. Great content makes customers want to continue reading, and encourages them to share the website with others. People and search engines alike judge websites by their content, making good writing a necessity. How to write proper content There is not one foolproof method to writing good content. However, there are some universal rules that help the process. First, always write with the reader in mind. Ranking in search engines for specific keywords is important, but never more important than writing the best copy for readers. Search engines reward reader- oriented text, so make sure that webpage copy is geared toward readers before any other (electronic) audience. One way to do this is to make sure you write at an appropriate reading level. The Gunning fog index is a good measure of copy readability. A score between six and eight is desirable for maximum readability. Always stick with the main idea on a page when writing text. Creating an outline before writing content helps focus ideas and weed out unnecessary ideas. Choose two or three keywords or one key phrase to focus on per page. This is helpful for search engine rankings, and helpful for readers. Use clear organization when writing (also assisted by an outline), and always look at content from a reader viewpoint, editing accordingly. Always place keywords in intuitive places for readers, not to cater to search engines. Rather than helping SEO, search engines frown on this practice. Special Note: Calculating the Gunning fog index Choose a passage of text of around 100 consecutive words. Divide the number of words by the number of sentences. Count the complex words (words greater than two syllables). Follow the formula below. 0.4[(words/sentences)+(complex words/words)]=reading level For more information, see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/gunning_fog_index Do Not - Post unedited content - Free write content - Veer from main idea - Focus on more than three keywords - Post content with a fog index greater than eight. - Keyword load for search engines. 14

15 Create an Outline before writing Stick with the main ideas Fog index of no higher than eight, preferably between six and seven After writing, set the text aside. Come back and edit once. Edit one more time prior to posting content Always use conventional punctuation and grammar Adhere to the Chicago Manual of Style 15

16 Content Organization Why is organization important? How content is organized shows the reader which information is most important and how to read the text. Specific organizational practices are helpful for search engine crawlers, and well- organized content is reader friendly (making it search engine friendly). How to organize content properly Content organization is an intuitive process that aims for reader satisfaction. Most of the practice is purely mechanical: write short paragraphs, leave an empty line between paragraphs to show information grouping, use bullets and numbering whenever appropriate, etc. HTML organization practices are vital to SEO: use H1 tags for headers (<h1>section header here</h1>, bold (<strong>bold text here</strong>) when applicable, and italics (<em>emphasized text here</em>) when necessary. Search engines look for this set apart text to help identify page keywords and content. If the search engine sees well- organized text, the page will move up in SERPs. (That is not to say that every time a keyword is used it must be bolded. Only when it makes sense to do so.) Beyond technical organization, content should be presented in a way that is most helpful to the reader. Vital information should be presented first, with a logical progression to the end. Each paragraph should begin with a main idea related to the overall page goal, and every sentence in the paragraph should relate to the main idea. The first paragraph should give readers an idea of everything the page contains, and the last paragraph should echo the first paragraph, recapping the page and giving an action statement (see section on calls to action). Do Not - Include anything in the content that isn t directly related to the goal of the page - Create long, unbroken blocks of content - Neglect <H1>, <strong>, and <em> tags when applicable - Make promises in the opening paragraph that aren t fulfilled by the end of the content Use <H1> tags to title separate content sections Keep paragraphs short (three to five sentences) Separate paragraphs with a line of white space (</br>) Use bold and italic HTML tags where applicable Put main ideas at paragraph beginnings Make sure all content relates to the page s goal Intuitively organize content, making use of bullets and numbering, according to reader needs Echo the opening paragraph s content in the closing paragraph Close with an action statement Use subheads and internal navigation if the page is long 16

17 Call to Action What is a call to action? A call to action is a statement or question at the very end of a page s content that encourages reader response. The response can be anything from visiting another page to applying for a scholarship. Why is it important? Calls to action are not directly related to SEO ratings crawlers don t index calls to action. However, calls encourage reader interaction with a page, which is helpful for SEO. People don t usually act online without direction. Calls as simple as apply now will increase the likelihood that readers will, in fact, apply. When is it necessary? Obviously, not all pages have an actionable goal. Sometimes the point of a page is simply to be read so as to convey information. If that is true, then no call is necessary. In other cases, however, the point of a page is to encourage readers to respond in some way. On these pages, a call to action greatly increases the likelihood that the page s goal will be accomplished. How to write a proper call to action Writing calls to action requires that text writers be very familiar with their goal. What is the point of the page, and why are they writing copy? If the answer is to convince the reader to do something, then the call to action should be directly related to that goal. There are two common calls to action: the question and the command. The question requires the reader to answer, whether by physically typing in the comment section, or mentally coming to a decision that may influence them to choose the company s product in the future. The command, on the other hand, politely directs the reader to engage more deeply with the content or page goal, by clicking a register now button, visiting another page of the website, or a similar action. Both methods are effective depending on the type of page and desired response. Deciding which method to use in a given situation is not usually difficult. Commands are usually obvious: if there is a definite step the reader should take after reading the content, then a command call is the best choice. Questions are more ambiguous, but are generally useful in any instance that a command would not be. Do Not - Include a call to action when one is not warranted (on an directory page, for example) - Use impolite or overly demanding commands - Place a call before the end of the text - Use a question or a command when the other is more strongly indicated - Give a pointless call to action - Give a call that doesn t relate directly to the page s content 17

18 Include a call whenever possible Make actions simple when using a command call Make questions sufficiently easy to answer while still fully engaging the reader Give a call directly related to the page s content and goal Place the call at the very end of the content Make sure it is possible for the reader to accomplish the action called for 18

19 Links What are links? Links are connections between webpages. Internal links connect different pages of one website, while inbound/outbound links connect different websites to each other. Outbound links connect your website to someone else s, while inbound links connect someone else s website to yours. In HTML, a link looks like this: <a href=< > on-page anchor text </a> Why are they important? Links give webpages credibility with search engines in a number of ways. Inbound links act as votes, telling search engines that the linked website is credible. Outbound links are useful to readers. When used effectively, outbound links demonstrate to crawlers that a site is reader- friendly. Internal links connect various pages of a website together, ensuring that each page is crawled by search engines, giving websites better SEO ratings. How to create proper links Links are created in the HTML of a webpage. The URL is inputted with an href tag, after which the anchor text is placed (the text that shows up on the webpage). The link should look like this: <a href= >University Speakers Series</a>. Special note: Anchor text Anchor text is the clickable words on the webpage that takes readers to the linked webpage. Because search engine spiders take links into great consideration, anchor text is important. Rather than simply providing the web address as the clickable link, the anchor text should tell the reader what the new webpage is about. For example, instead of inputting the link as the text should be helpful words such as this site about X. If the URL is already self- explanatory, then at the very least the anchor text should exclude the Special note: Title attributes Title attributes can be added to links to provide readers with more information about the link destination. The attribute is displayed when readers mouse over the link. The title attribute looks like this: <a href= Title= Calendar of Speaker Events > University Speakers Series</a>. The title attribute should not repeat the anchor text, but rather provide more information to help the reader decide to visit the link. Title attributes have little or no bearing on SEO ratings, but should be included if they enhance the reader experience. Special note: rel= nofollow Whenever one website links to another website, it counts as a sort of vote to search engines. If a website wants to link to an outside page (outbound link) without voting for that page, the attribute rel= nofollow will tell the crawler not to follow or place value on that link. In HTML, a nofollow attribute looks like this: <a href= rel= nofollow >anchor text</a> 19

20 Do Not - Use an entire URL as anchor text - Use irrelevant words as anchor text - Duplicate anchor text in the title attribute - Use a title attribute when it is not useful - Keyoword load title attributes - Use nofollow attributes on internal links Use both internal and outbound links whenever it s helpful for readers Use relevant anchor text Use helpful title attribute text when indicated Use nofollow attributes when necessary on outbound links 20

21 Search Engine Marketing (SEM) Search engine marketing improves webpage SERP placement through Internet marketing. Strategies for SEM include keyword targeting, on- page optimization, and ad campaigns. Keywords Keywords are fundamental to the search process they are the building blocks of search. In fact, the entire science of web-based information retrieval is based on keywords. The best practice is to use your keywords naturally and strategically. What are keywords? Keywords are the words people type into search engines to find the content, websites, and other information they want and need. Keywords are often not word- for- word titles; rather they are associated words or phrases that describe what the searcher is looking for. For example, someone searching for pictures of a bichon frisé may search for fluffy dog pictures instead. Why are they important? Keywords are central to SEO. Search engines categorize pages based on their keywords, and bring the pages up in SERPs based on keywords that match queries. Keywords communicate to both readers and search engines what a website is about so that engines can index effectively and readers can make informed decisions about what sites to visit. The better a site is optimized for keywords, the more likely it is to rise in SERPs and be found by searchers. How to choose keywords First, consider what your page s primary goal is. Then decide what keywords searchers are likely to use when they search for the information that your page provides. Test your keywords by searching for them in a major search engine. Is the content that appears similar to your content? If not, is it because you are providing something new, or because the keywords are irrelevant to your page? Google s keyword tool is helpful when identifying keywords and keyword phrases for your page. 21

22 The ideal keyword is one that has high search volume and low competition for SERP placement. However, just because a keyword doesn t have a high search volume doesn t make it irrelevant or a poor choice. Choose keywords that accurately encapsulate the message of your page, and optimize your page for those keywords (in a reader- friendly way). The results will follow. How to use keywords properly Though keywords have always been important in SEO, regulations surrounding keywords are getting stricter as time goes by. In the beginning, some sites focused on ranking for certain keywords instead of producing good content. Search engines are smarter now. This practice, called keyword loading, is no longer endorsed or effective. In this age of SEO, creating useful, user- friendly content is the top priority. Keywords should be included when they make the most sense. The keyword or key phrase of a page should be included somewhere near the top of the page, possibly in the header, but it s only necessary to include the keyword or phrase two or three times in the content as needed. Keywords are still important for SEO, but as they relate to helping searchers find relevant content, rather than as a rank in themselves. Do Not - Keyword load on any part of a webpage - Choose irrelevant keywords - Choose more than two keywords to focus on per page Use one keyword in title tag if possible Use a keyword once near the top of the content Use a keyword two to three times in content Use a keyword once in alt tags Use a keyword once in the page URL if possible Use a keyword once in meta description text (for SERPs) SEM ad campaigns Ad campaigns are promotional activities that use keyword research and paid search engine placement to increase traffic on a webpage. Google Adwords is one of the most popular search engine marketing tools. If you would like to begin an ad campaign, please contact for more information. 22

23 SEO Resources Call to Action Action-Copy-That-Gets-Visitors-Clicking.aspx Complete Guide to SEO Content Google Keyword Tool c= & u= &ideaRequestType=KEYWORD_IDEAS Google s SEO Best Practices Guide ogle.com/en/us/webmasters/docs/search-engine-optimization-starterguide.pdf Gunning Fog Index Images Links Meta Tags Penguin 2.0 Information SEM 23

24 SEO Myths SEO-Myths-to-Throw-Out-the-Window-Immediately.aspx Title Tags URLs 24

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