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Optimizing Searchable Content on Your Website

Provided below are tips for improving your website and content for the Google Site Search (GSS) engine.*

Please note that these tips align with common sense Best Practices for any website content development.

Create Unique and Accurate Page Titles

A title tag indicates to both users and search engines what the topic of a particular page is. When using OmniUpdate, this title tag is created automatically when you create and name a new page. Ideally, you should create a unique title for each page on your website.

Good Practices for Page Titles

  • Accurately describe the page's content - Choose a title that effectively communicates the topic of the page's content.
  • Create unique title tags for each page - Each of your pages should ideally have a unique title tag, which helps Google know how the page is distinct from the others on your website.
  • Use brief, but descriptive titles - Titles can be both short and informative. If the title is too long, Google will show only a portion of it in the search result.

Avoid

  • Using default or vague titles like "Untitled" or "New Page 1."
  • Using a title that has no relation to the content on the page.
  • Using a single title across all of your website's pages or a large group of pages.
  • Using extremely lengthy titles that are unhelpful to users.
  • Including unneeded keywords in your page description.

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Improve the Structure of Your URLs

URL structure is part of creating your websites original site architecture, however, as you add content to your website (new directories and pages), you should take care to create logical names and locations for new content. Creating descriptive categories and file names for the documents on your website can not only help you keep your site better organized, but it could also lead to better crawling of your documents by search engines. Also, it can create easier, "friendlier" URLs for those that want to link to your content. Visitors may be intimidated by extremely long and cryptic URLs that contain few recognizable words.

Good Practices for URL Structure

  • Use words in URLs - URLs with words that are relevant to your website's content and structure are friendlier for visitors navigating your site. Visitors will remember them and be more willing to link to them.
  • Create a simple directory structure - Use a directory structure that organizes your content well and is easy for visitors to know where they are on your website. Use your directory structure to indicate the type of content found at that URL.

Avoid

  • Using lengthy URLs with unnecessary parameters.
  • Choosing generic page names like "page1.html".
  • Using excessive keywords like "teaching-classes-teaching-classes-teachingclasses.html".
  • Having deep nesting of subdirectories like ".../dir1/dir2/dir3/dir4/dir5/dir6/ page.html".
  • Using directory names that have no relation to the content in them.

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Make Your Site Easier to Navigate

The navigation of a website is important in helping visitors quickly locate the content they want. It can also help search engines understand what content the webmaster thinks is important. Again, this is a feature that would have been set up in the early design of your website. As your website's purpose and content evolve over time, you may feel the need to make adjustments to the standard navigation [right-side navigation] or quick links. This type of adjustment needs to be coordinated with a support person at Web Services.

Good Practices for Site Navigation

  • Create a naturally flowing hierarchy - Make it as easy as possible for users to go from general content to the more specific content they want on your website. Add navigation pages when it makes sense and effectively work these into your internal link structure.
  • Use mostly text for navigation - Controlling most of the navigation from page to page on your website through text links makes it easier for search engines to crawl and understand your website. Many users also prefer this to other approaches, especially on some devices that might not handle Flash or JavaScript.
  • Use "breadcrumb" navigation - A breadcrumb is a row of internal links at the top or bottom of the page that allows visitors to quickly navigate back to a previous section or the root page. Many breadcrumbs have the most general page (usually the home page) as the first, left-most link and list the more specific sections out to the right.
  • Consider what happens when a user removes part of your URL - Some users might navigate your website in odd ways, and you should anticipate this. For example, instead of using the breadcrumb links on the page, a user might drop off a part of the URL in the hopes of finding more general content. He or she might be visiting http://www.institution.edu/news/2008/upcoming-classes.html, but then enter http://www.institution.edu/news/2008/ into the browser's address bar, believing that this will show all news from 2008. Is your website prepared to show content in this situation or will it give the user a 404 ("page not found" error)? What about moving up a directory level to http://www.institution.edu/news/?

Avoid

  • Creating a navigation based entirely on drop-down menus, images, or animations (many, but not all, search engines can discover such links on a website, but if a user can reach all pages on a site via normal text links, this will improve the accessibility of your site) .
  • Creating complex webs of navigation links, e.g. linking every page on your site to every other page.
  • Going overboard with slicing and dicing your content (taking twenty clicks to get to deep content).
  • Using lengthy URLs with unnecessary parameters.
  • Choosing generic page names like "page1.html".
  • Using excessive keywords like "learning-classes-learning-classes-learning-classes.html".
  • Having deep nesting of subdirectories like ".../dir1/dir2/dir3/dir4/dir5/dir6/ page.html".
  • Using directory names that have no relation to the content in them.

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Offer Quality Content

Creating compelling and useful content will likely influence your website more than any of the other factors enumerated here. Users know good content when they see it and will likely want to direct other users to it. This could be through blog posts, social media services, e-mail, forums, or by other means. Organic or word-of-mouth "buzz" is what helps build your website's reputation with both users and Google, and it rarely comes without quality content.

Good Practices for Content

  • Write easy-to-read text - Users enjoy content that is well written and easy to follow.
  • Stay organized around the topic - It's always beneficial to organize your content so that visitors have a good sense of where one content topic begins and another ends. Breaking your content up into logical chunks or divisions helps users find the content they want faster.
  • Create content primarily for your users, not search engines - Designing your site around your visitors' needs while making sure your site is easily accessible to search engines usually produces positive results.
  • Use relevant language - Think about the words that a user might search for to find your content. Users who know a lot about the topic might use different keywords in their search queries than someone who is new to the topic. For example, a senior student might search for [dds], an acronym for Dartmouth Dining Services, while a new student might use a more general query like [dining]. Anticipating these differences in search behavior and accounting for them while writing your content (using a good mix of keyword phrases) could produce positive results.
  • Create fresh, unique content - New content will not only keep your existing visitor base coming back, but also bring in new visitors.

Avoid

  • Writing sloppy text with many spelling and grammatical mistakes.
  • Dumping large amounts of text on varying topics onto a page without paragraph, subheading, or layout separation (page structure).
  • Rehashing (or even copying) existing content that will bring little extra value to users.
  • Having duplicate or near-duplicate versions of your content across your website.
  • Embedding text in images for textual content (users may want to copy and paste the text and search engines can't read it).
  • Inserting numerous unnecessary keywords aimed at search engines, but is annoying or nonsensical to users.

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Write Better Anchor Text

Anchor text is the clickable text that users will see as a result of a link, and is placed within the anchor tag <a href="..."></a>. This text tells users and Google something about the page you're linking to. Links on your page may be internal—pointing to other pages on your website—or external—linking to content on other websites. In either case, the better your anchor text is, the easier it is for users to navigate and for Google to understand what the page you are linking to is about.

Good Practices for Anchor Text

  • Choose descriptive text - The anchor text you use for a link should provide at least a basic idea of what the page linked to is about.
  • Write concise text - Aim for short, but descriptive, text—usually a few words or a short phrase.
  • Format links so they're easy to spot - Make it easy for users to distinguish between regular text and the anchor text of your links. Your content becomes less useful if users miss the links or accidentally click them.
  • Think about anchor text for internal links too - You may usually think about linking in terms of pointing to outside websites, but paying more attention to the anchor text used for internal links can help users and Google navigate your website better.

Avoid

  • Writing long anchor text, such as a lengthy sentence or short paragraph of text.
  • Writing generic anchor text like "page", "article", or "click here".
  • Using text that is off-topic or has no relation to the content of the page linked to.
  • Using the page's URL as the anchor text in most cases (although there are certainly legitimate uses of this, such as promoting or referencing a new website's address).
  • Using excessively keyword-filled or lengthy anchor text just for search engines.
  • Creating unnecessary links that don't help with the user's navigation of the website.

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Format "Headings" in Your Content Appropriately

Headings are used to present structure on the page to users. There are six sizes of headings available to use in formatting your content, Heading 1 through Heading 6. In OmniUpdate, Heading 1 is reserved for the page title and occurs automatically when you assign your page a title. Heading 2 designates the next item in the hierarchy of importance, and so on, ending with Heading 6 as the least important. Since heading tags typically make text contained in them larger than normal text on the page, this is a visual cue to users that this text is important and could help them understand something about the type of content underneath the heading text. Multiple heading sizes used in order create a hierarchical structure for your content, making it easier for users to navigate through your document.

Good Practices for Heading Tags

  • Imagine you are writing an outline - Similar to writing an outline for a large paper, put some thought into what the main points and sub-points of the content on the page will be and decide where to use heading tags appropriately.
  • Use headings sparingly across the page - Use heading tags where it makes sense. Too many heading tags on a page can make it hard for users to scan the content and determine where one topic ends and another begins.

Avoid

  • Placing text in heading tags that would not be helpful in defining the structure of the page.
  • Using heading tags where other tags like <em> and <strong> may be more appropriate.
  • Erratically moving from one heading tag size to another.
  • Excessively using heading tags throughout the page.
  • Putting all of the page's text into a heading tag.
  • Using heading tags only for styling text and not presenting structure.

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Optimize Your Use of Images

Images may seem like a straightforward component of your website, but you can optimize your use of them. All images can have a distinct filename and "alt" attribute, both of which you should take advantage of. The "alt" attribute allows you to specify alternative text for the image if it cannot be displayed for some reason. In OmniUpdate when you upload an image to the production server you are presented with a field to include an "alt" attribute.

Why use this attribute? If a user is viewing your website on a browser that does not support images, or is using alternative technologies, such as a screen reader, the contents of the alt attribute provide information about the picture.

Good Practices for Images

  • Use brief, but descriptive filenames and "alt" (alternate) text - Like many of the other parts of the page targeted for optimization, filenames and alt text are best when they're short, but descriptive.
  • Supply alt text when using images as links - If you do decide to use an image as a link, filling out its alt text helps Google understand more about the page you're linking to. Imagine you're writing anchor text for a text link.
  • Store images in the dedicated "images" directory on the production server - Instead of having image files spread out in numerous directories and subdirectories across your website, consolidate your images into this single directory. This simplifies the path to your images.
  • Use commonly supported filetypes - Most browsers support JPEG, GIF, and PNG image formats. It's very important to have the extension of your filename match with the filetype, as there can be display problems if they are not.

Avoid

  • Using generic filenames like "image1.jpg", "pic.gif", "1.jpg" when possible (some sites with thousands of images might consider automating the naming of images).
  • Writing extremely lengthy filenames.
  • Stuffing keywords into alt text or copying and pasting entire sentences.
  • Writing excessively long alt text that would be considered spammy.
  • Using only image links for your website's navigation.

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Reference Material

* These tips are excerpts from "Google's Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide, Version 1.1, 13 Nov 2008" (the latest version at Google Webmaster Central) and have been modified for OmniUpdate users.

Last Updated: 2/21/13