Search Engine Optimization

Gaining new visitors from searches that people perform on Google, Yahoo, and MSN is critically important for most web sites. Search engines provide a tremendous source of “free” traffic. But how do you get well positioned on search engine result pages?

The answer is complex, and it has led to an entire field of knowledge and professional endeavor called search engine optimization.

Before we get into the details, it’s important to make a distinction between search-engine optimization (SEO) and pay-per-click (PPC), sometimes called search-engine marketing (SEM). With PPC, such as Google’s AdWords, you can buy your way onto the search result pages. This is often a worthy endeavor, particularly in the early days of your site when you don’t get enough traffic from the free (often called “organic”) search results. But in this article, we’re focused on SEO: what you can get without paying.

On-Page and Off-Page

There’s two entirely separate aspects to search-engine optimization:

  • On-page elements are those things you can control in how you build your site
  • Off-page aspects are how the rest of the web links to your site

Just how important each of these are is a subject of some debate, but there’s no doubt that you can’t get good results unless you do well in both of these areas (unless you have the good fortune to be one of the only sites on the Internet with certain information that people are searching for).

Off-page optimization basically comes down to getting lots of links to your site, from other sites that themselves are well-rated by the search engines, and having the right text in those links. This isn’t something Webvanta can do for you.

What Webvanta does do for you is help make sure that the on-page elements are well take care of.

Aspects of On-Page Optimization

Continuing to break down this complex topic, there’s three major aspects to on-page optimization:

  1. Visibility: all pages accessible without depending on JavaScript, content not wrapped in Flash, unique URL for every page
  2. Good metadata: URLs, page titles, keyword tags, and description tags that include the keywords and phrases on which you want to rank well
  3. Great content: after all, that’s what it’s all about — having unique content that is responsive to searches that are being performed

The first of these items is taken care of by our default site structures. If you add your own navigation, or Flash files, or Ajax code, you’ll need to be sure to maintain good SEO structure, but with our default code you’re well taken care of.

The second item is one where many content management systems fall down, but Webvanta has been carefully crafted to give you the opportunity to do very well. We can’t enter the information for you, though: you need to fill in the various fields in the Control Panel as you’re creating pages, adding categories, and so forth. We’ve added tooltips (hover over the question marks) next to every field to give you some guidance.

The third item, great content, is up to you. We give you the tools to make it easy, but you need to fill the pages with great stuff.

SEO Metadata

For every page in your site, and for every item in the database, you can enter a complete, unique set of metadata to enhance your site's SEO. This can be time-consuming, but it will pay dividends in free site traffic.

Page Title

Writing a great pagetitle (sometimes called the meta-title) is the single most important thing you can do to improve your search engine results. The page title appears in the browser's title bar (at the top of the window), and in the tab in most browsers, so your visitors see it as well. Some points to keep in mind:

  • Every pagetitle should be unique. If two pagetitles are the same, search engines might not list both pages, and users will have a harder time distinguishing them.
  • Don't begin every pagetitle with the name of the site. Aside from SEO considerations, visitors are likely to see only the first few words of the title in the browser tab. You may want to use the site name at the start of the pagetitle for the home page, but it's probably better to put it at the end of the title, if you use it at all, on most pages.
  • Don't use generic pagetitles, such as "Welcome". Include the keywords and phrases for which you want to optimize the page. The pagetitle can include several phrases, which you can separate with commas, vertical bars, or dashes. Just remember that the visitor will see it in the browser's title bar, so consider their experience as well as the SEO issues.
  • The pagetitle appears in search engine results at the top of each listing, so it should clearly tell the searcher what the page is about and motivate them to click on it.
  • Google only shows about 60 characters of the pagetitle, so in terms of what a searcher sees, it must do its job in that length. It may help SEO to have additional information beyond this length, however.

When you enter an article or other item in the database, Webvanta automatically initializes the pagetitle to the title of the article or other item. For best SEO results, however, you should edit it. An article title, for example, typically appears on the page, and you are likely to want it to be more succinct and readable than the pagetitle needs to be.

Description

Next most important is the description. The description is not visible to visitors to your site, but search engines typically show a few lines of the description below the title. So the description should summarize what the page is about. It should include target keywords, not because it improves the search ranking, but because the search engines typically highlight keywords in search results. Searchers are more likely to click on items that include highlighted keywords.

For articles entered in the database, if you provide an excerpt, the description field is initialized to that excerpt. You may want to modify the description to optimize its length or write it as more of an advertisement for the page to induce searchers to click on that result. Also note that if you change the excerpt, the description is not updated, since you may have changed it manually and we don't want to overwrite your work.

Google shows about 150 characters of description, so that's a good length to shoot for. Anything beyond that length typically will not be seen.

Keywords

Keywords are the least important of the three metadata items. Ideally, you would have unique keywords for every page, but this may not be worth the effort. According to George Grant at Connected Markets, whose advice is reflected throughout this article, Google ignores keywords, but MSN and Yahoo do not.