Making your website more searchable

 

Photograph of a laptop showing Google search results

One of the most popular questions I am asked is ‘how do I make my website more searchable?’. With so much of our traffic coming from search engines like Google, Bing and Baidu (other search engines are available!), Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is really important. So what can you do as an editor to improve how your web pages appear in search results? In this post I will share some tips.

Why is SEO important?

If you ever analyse your traffic statistics in Google Analytics or via your analytics dashboard, you will see that the majority of your users are coming to your pages using a search engine. This can vary from 60-80% across different Imperial websites. This means that ensuring that people can find the right content easily using search terms should be a major consideration when you are structuring your pages and producing content. Unsurprisingly, the largest proportion of search traffic comes via Google.

How does Google search work?

Google uses hundreds of factors when it determines search results, these include many technical aspects and the content itself. The aim is to produce search results that are relevant to the search ‘query’ that has been entered. The more relevant your page is to that search, the higher it will appear in the results. This is known as the search ‘ranking’. The Imperial website as a whole has a high ranking with Google as it benefits from being an educational website, has a very high number of visitors and has good technical standards like being responsive (it works on all screen sizes) and the pages load quickly in browsers.

Keyword stuffing

In the early days of Google and other search engines, it was possible to dramatically improve your search ranking by adding lots keywords to your websites. This led to cheeky website developers and editors including a hidden section in the footer of every page with a huge list of possible keywords whether they were relevant to that page or not. This is known as ‘keyword stuffing’. Doing this would now lead to a lower ranking as Google is far more clever these days and penalises behaviour like this.

What factors are considered when Google ‘ranks’ pages?

This is only a small selection of factors that Google considers, but they are ones that you as an editor can influence:

  • Page titles – does the keyword appear in the title and is it the first word?
  • Headings – do the keywords appear prominently in headings. Google will favour heading 1s before heading 2s and then heading 3s and so on.
  • Frequency of keyword matches – how many times a keyword appears on a page. The more the better.
  • Keyword prominence – if the word or phrase appears within the first 100 words on the page.
  • Duplication – Does the same content appear on the same website in more than one place? This can have a negative impact on ranking.
  • Images – Using good images with relevant filenames, descriptions, captions and alt-text will help ranking.
  • Page updates – Google rewards more regular updates to content, fixing typos, updating links etc.
  • Metadata page descriptions  – this is not as important a factor as it once was, but is useful to users when choosing a search result to click on.
  • Spelling and grammar – Accurate spelling and good grammar will help your ranking.
  • Outbound links – If you link to good and reputable websites, this will help your ranking, but having too many links will have a negative effect.
  • Use of accordions and tabs – Content in accordions or tabs that involve a user clicking will be ranked lower than standard content.
  • Broken links – These will definitely hurt your ranking.
  • Reading level – Content that is easy to read will really help your ranking.
  • Web addresses – Complicated website structures and long page web addresses can have a negative effect on ranking.
  • Use of bulleted and numbered lists – These are good for general usability and accessibility, and also have a positive effect on ranking.
  • ‘Contact us’ – Google rewards sites with clear contact information.
  • Contextual links – having clear descriptive links will help your ranking.

12 things you can do to improve your ranking

As you will see from the list above, there is a lot you can do. Google really does reward good content, so following best practice in terms of usability, content design and accessibility will have a positive effect on your ranking. Here are some of main things you can do:

1. Make sure your pages are useful and relevant to your audiences

This sounds obvious, but you should ensure each of your pages has a purpose and answers the questions that your audiences have. Try to stick to a single subject for each page and write as concisely as possible. You should only include the level of detail your audiences need, as you can always use sub pages for further detail. When creating new pages, develop user or job stories.

2. Use the language of your audiences

Try to avoid internal jargon and use the same words that your audiences do to describe the subjects and topics of your website. This will become even more important in the future as the use of voice search continues to increase. To get a better idea of these words you could carry out some research by conducting a survey, consulting your analytics dashboard or using tools like Google Trends and AnswerThePublic to get the most popular words or phrases.

3. Unleash the power of good titles and headings

Use short and descriptive page titles and headings that contain keywords. If possible, the keyword should be the first word. Remember the title is the first thing people will see in a search result, so make sure it is relevant. This will improve the likelihood that someone clicks through.

4. Add summary paragraphs

It is good practice to introduce each page with a short paragraph (around 100 words) covering the main topics of the page and its purpose. Try to include any keywords in this paragraph, but avoid keywords stuffing.

5. Avoid duplication

Try not to repeat information on different pages. This includes mirroring content in T4. Instead you should have the content on a single page and reference it elsewhere.

6. Use simple content types

Avoid overuse and reliance on accordions and tabs and instead consider simpler content types using a good heading structure with short paragraphs and bulleted and numbered lists.

7. Check your readability

Pages that are easier to read will be ranked higher. Break content up into short paragraphs, with short sentences (fewer than 20 words), and use plain english terms rather than complex language. You can check your readability scoring using apps like Hemingway or Readable.

8. Use good images

If you are using images, make sure they add value and are relevant to the page. Using good alt text and captions is not only good for accessibility it will also help your search ranking. Find out more about writing good alt text.

9. Keep your content up to date

Sounds obvious, but you should review your pages as often as you can and make sure you fix any broken links.

10. Use shorter web addresses

If your page title is long, then you may want to consider a more succinct web address (also known as the ‘URI’ or ‘slug’) for the page. T4 will automatically create a web address including all words, but you can override this by adding a custom URI. That being said, your web address should still use whole words so no acronyms and should still relate to the page title. See Imperial’s best practice on web addresses.

11. Stand out from the crowd

If the subject(s) of your website is very popular on the web, then look at some of your competitors and try to make sure you are offering something different. This could be higher content standards, a different perspective or more innovative ways to communicate the information. This will increase the number of click throughs to your site.

Within Imperial

At Imperial we have hundreds of editors spread across all areas of the College, so the chances that someone else has produced pages about the same or a similar topic is quite high. In these cases you should try to avoid duplication and work with the editor of that page to decide where that information is best suited. To identify these, do some searches yourself and then contact your Faculty Web Officer to find out who owns the other pages.

12. Add a description (metadata description)

In T4 you can add a description when you create or modify a section. If you write a good description then Google may use it as a search snippet. This doesn’t directly improve search rankings as it once did, but it may increase the number of people that click on your website (‘click through rate’), which in turn will improve your ranking. Descriptions should provide a summary of the page and include the main keywords. The more relevant a description is, the more likely it is that Google will use it. This will be similar to your summary paragraphs, but you should aim for 150 characters or fewer.

Further help

I hope this post has been useful. If you need any more help or advise about improving your SEO, then you can contact your Faculty Web Officer or email me. I have also included a few other resources below.

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