24 Mar 2012

Optimising your website for discovery: On-page SEO

Web publishing and social marketing is now a routine aspect of many librarians’ jobs. Whilst librarians may be pretty adept at ensuring other people’s research and information is visible and easily accessible, I sometimes wonder if we occasionally forget about the electronic content we publish ourselves. My guess is that library blogs, websites and other online resources (subject portals etc.) often receive very little attention in terms of search engine optimisation (SEO). However, these techniques and tools can be a valuable way to increase the visibility of the content you publish to people who typically use search engines such as Google as their main access point. This post is part of a three part series, which firstly looks at some on-page techniques of SEO.

Thoughts on web publishing #1 (The basics)
On-page techniques for content marketing

On-page techniques essentially comprise ‘stuff you can do with your site’ to help search engines (and consequently people) find your information more easily. This ‘stuff’ might mean metadata you can include with your content, structuring your data more efficiently so it is easier for search engines to crawl, or creating valuable content which helps to drive traffic. As these are elements that you have control over, it is important to make sure you have the basics covered.

Include a relevant title tag and meta keywords in the head of all your pages

Make sure to include the title element in the head of your page. It should ideally contain the key phrase you want to target. The tab at the top of your browser window displays the title element from an end-user point of view. You will notice for blog posts (including this blog!) the page title usually incorporates the blog post title, that’s why it is important to think about which words and phrases you use when you title your blog posts. Meta keywords and description tags no longer tend to be a factor in many ranking algorithms, but the meta description tag can be used as the content snippet when your page appears in search engine results (SERPs) so it's worthwhile including it to encourage click-throughs to your site.

Focus on one key phrase per page (e.g. in the case of this post, on-page SEO) rather than lots of different keywords and topics on the one page (analytics, webmaster tools, linking etc.) which will dilute the strength of your key phrase or concept. The medical librarian in me likes to think of this in MeSH terms: decide on one term as a major concept for each page, rather than lots of different headings. Use this keyword in your title element and URL as well if possible.

Rich snippets

You have probably seen rich snippets hundreds of times, even if you don’t know it yet. Rich snippets are the lines of text and other information that appear under search results, and are designed to give users a sense of why each particular result may be relevant to their query. So having a rich snippet of your content allows your target users to quickly discern that your site is valuable to them. To help Google understand the content of your page and pick up on the elements to include as a rich snippet, you can add HTML to your content using microdata, microformats or RDF (see this excellent intro to RDF for librarians by Jenn Riley).

Google supports rich snippets for:
* Reviews;
* People;
* Products;
* Businesses & organisations;
* Recipes;
* Events;
* Music; and also recognises the mark-up for video content.

SEOMoz has a really useful infographic on rich snippets

You can also use Google’s rich snippets testing tool to check your site.

Site speed

Improving the speed of your website can also influence your ranking in SERPs as site speed is one of the signals which Google incorporates in its algorithms. You can use the Page Speed browser add-on to monitor and improve your site’s performance. Page Speed will compress images, minify Javascript and remove unused CSS to help make your pages faster. Leveraging browser caching can also help reduce loading times, for example it's better to combine all your CSS into an external file linked to from the head of your page which can be cached, instead of loading it in the body HTML of each individual page.

Fresh content

Well-structured, high-quality and regularly updated content is also important. Content fuels a lot of organic (i.e. non-paid for) search traffic, and strong content will also support the off-site and social marketing elements in your overall SEO strategy (see part two in this series for more on this aspect). Content is also what makes your site valuable and interesting to users, so producing unique content is essential for lots of reasons.

Generating a site map page

A site map will help search engine spiders to find and crawl all the important pages and content on your site. If they can’t find it, they can’t index it! You can use some handy third party applications to generate one (like http:/www.web-site-map.com/ or http://www.xml-sitemaps.com/, or a Wordpress plugin) and add it to your Google Webmaster Tools account.

That’s a quick summary of some on-page techniques for increasing your ranking in SERPs. In part two I’ll be taking a look at what really matters in content-marketing: off-site aspects of SEO.


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