Search Engine Optimization - how to get better results for your site

We often get asked “why doesn’t my page come up first in the search results?”.  And although search engine algorithms are intentionally kept secret (see sidebar) there are some good practices which help the search engines correctly interpret your page.

Follow Good Web Practices

The search engines look for standard web coding practices to decipher your page. It assumes you are using Headers ( <h1> , <h2> etc ) to outline your page structure. Your h1 announces what your page is about – it’s not just a friendly greeting. If you waste your header statement with “Welcome to our site,” you’re not telling the search engine – or your users – anything valuable. Instead tell them why they should be here: “Web Services provides technical assistance for Western’s website developers and website content managers” is a lot more useful than “Welcome to Web Service’s Home Page”. 
The search engines will assume that your h1 says the most important thing about what you do.  There must be only one H1 on each web page. The H2s  through H5s should be used sequentially in the same way that you would use indents in a document outline. Don’t skip from h2 to h4 – you’ll confuse the browser, the search engine, and possibly your reader.

Why is Google Secretive about its Rating algorithms?

Google makes 500 or so changes to its search engine algorithms each year in an attempt to evaluate meaning in the written word and return to you the most important or informative sites on the query you submit. If company A figures out the secret algorithms and “cheats” by matching the algorithm, they believe they’ll be #1 in the search listings.

But the flaw here is that part of the algorithm is certainly how many people are using the site. You know when you’ve found useful and informative sites – the content is good. It matches what you expect, and gives you the information you’re seeking. If company A tricks you into visiting their site by manipulating the algorithms, you won’t go back again.  In fact you might lose faith in Google results if the sites that appeared to be #1 didn’t have useful information.

Google wants its top sites to be truly the best sites on that subject, not the ones that put in the right words to appear to be the best site. You also want them to succeed at this or you wouldn’t find Google very useful. So let’s not try to bamboozle Google into listing us first, let’s improve our content so that we really are becoming a better resource.

Page content - tell them something they want to know!

In the old days of the web, everyone wanted to be a signpost: a list of links was considered valuable. However in today’s world where marvelous search engines are around every corner, you have to actually share valuable information before your site is seen as important to the search engines. Tell the user something valuable about what they came looking for, don’t just point them someplace else. Specifically, if you don’t include the words your user is looking for in the body of your page, then you’re not a good match for their search. If you expect them to look for something, talk about it by name in the content of the page.

Page Content / text

  • Include at least 100 words of visible text per page - not just links!
  • Use your keywords in this text at least once, ideally 3 times
  • Make sure your content is clear - that the user understands exactly what you're offering. Pictures and diagrams can help the user understand - content helps the search engines find you.

Keyword use in page

  • Use early in visible content - first paragraph
  • Use in Headings tags <h#>
  • Use each keyword at least once or ideally 3 times in text
  • Use keywords in a NATURAL manner - the keyword should be the way you talk about your product
  • Bold or italicize keywords when possible and natural
  • Use keywords as the text link to your other pages - in this case the keyword should be the keyword for the linked-to page, not the one you're on. Likewise, cross link throughout your site using the relevant keywords for each page.
  • Use keywords in the "alt" attribute of the image tag for important images
  • Label the filename with the most important keywords "biology_major.shtml"

Use your HTML <head>...</head> section well

This is where most search engines get the information they use when they display the Search Engine Results. If you don't supply the correct fields the search engines will usually pull the information from the content nearest the keyword they're matching - will this represent you well? It's better to supply the correct meta fields to make sure the search engines display the right information.

Description: Google Search Engine resultsFig: 1-1 Look at your search engine results: each part comes from a specific part of your page

<title>...</title> this is used in the Search Engine Results page (see above) so should clearly define what keywords this page is about
The Title should be:

  • uniquely descriptive for each page of your site – “ATUS Web Services: SEO fundamentals” , not just “seo”
  • clear and motivating to user to click on link
  • no more than 10 words - ideally 5-7 with organization name if it fits
  • leave out unnecessary words (of, web, the, and... )

<meta name="Description" content="Your descriptive sentence or two goes here.">
The meta Description tag should be:

  • up to 25 words focusing on clearly describing the page content
  • with keywords as early in the content as is natural
  • it is not useful to repeat keywords or organization name

<meta name="Keywords" content="keyword1, keyword2">
The meta Keywords tag should :

  • contain no more than 12 keywords or 250 characters
  • have keywords listed in order of importance - most important early in list
  • have all keywords echoed in content of page - it's not a list - it's how you talk about your product / service

Summary

The clarity of your content, the careful organization of your page, and adherence to good web standards all help search engines – and your readers – figure out what your site’s purpose is. The Western Template helps you with some of these standards, and we can help you with the rest. Find out more about the Western template at wwu.edu/templates or contact Web Services at webhelp@wwu.edu for more assistance.   

Page Updated 03.24.2014