UMN Search: Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
For your unit to show up near the top of search results in both Google and on the U’s search, website developers and content contributors need to use SEO techniques to optimize their content for indexing. Proper use of page titles, helpful page descriptions, keywords in your content, well-named web pages, and more all contribute to how well your unit is found in any search.
Google’s SEO Guide
For a clear, succinct explanation of the best practices to use for good search engine optimization, download and follow the guidelines in Google’s Search Engine Optimization Guide. The guide is a bit dated and you may notice some references to things that have changed names or gone by the wayside, but the main points are still valid.
The following SEO Basics are listed in order of priority. If you have limited time to work on SEO, start from the top of the list and work your way down.
Write Good, Linkable Content That Sounds Natural
People search using natural language queries. A natural language query consists only of normal terms in the user’s language.
Consider how someone might try to find what you’re writing about and use their words in your content. This goes hand in hand with keywords (below).
See the On-Page Factors article from Moz to learn more about content and SEO.
Create Unique, Accurate Page Titles
Your page title is usually the first thing people see in the search results and they will use your title to help them determine if your site has the information they seek.
Google has a number of practical suggestions for effective page titles on websites:
- Make sure every page on your site has a title
- Use distinct, unique titles for each page on your site
- Ensure that page titles are descriptive and concise
- Brand your titles, but concisely and conservatively
The screen shot below shows a helpful page title that includes the name of the page being linked to as well as the unit that page belongs to.
Unlike Google, the U’s search results do not highlight search terms in the page title of search results. Search terms are only highlighted in the descriptive text. This change was determined based on preferences noted during usability testing.
Create Well-structured URLs
URLs that can be easily read and that are descriptive of your page are beneficial to SEO. Use hyphens between words in your URLs. Do not combine words or use underscores to separate words.
See the link at the bottom of the screen shot above for an example of a well-structured URL.
Make Use of the “description” Meta Tag
The content of the description meta tag is not used as as often as it used to be in search results, but it’s still important to include a unique description for each of your pages to bolster your SEO.
Google also has suggestions for effective page descriptions on websites:
- Make sure that every page has a meta description
- Differentiate the descriptions for different pages
- Make sure descriptions are truly descriptive
- Programmatically generate descriptions, as needed
Usability shows that searchers will look at the content that Google displays in the description section of a result to help make a final determination as to whether your site has the content they’re looking for.
Image A (above) shows a well-written description meta tag.
- How to Create the Right Metadescription https://yoast.com/meta-descriptions/
- Includes examples of effective meta tag descriptions and troubleshooting tips
Make Your Site Easy to Navigate and Find
Structure your site in way that organizes the content in a natural hierarchy. Try to keep the site as flat as possible.
An important way to help make your site show up in Google search results is to create an XML sitemap and submit it to Google through their Search Console.
When you’ve created a new site, you must request to have the site crawled by the U’s Search Appliance in order for it to appear in search results. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to initiate your request and include your canonical URL. If your site has had extensive changes, you may also make a request to have the Search Appliance recrawl your site.
Provide One Version of a URL to a Site or Web Page
Depending on how your site has been set up, there are several ways that duplicative search results might appear for your site. Two common ways this happens is when a site uses both http and https or when a site uses both www and non-www URLs.
Defining a canonical (definitive or preferred) URL allows search engines to correctly assign link and ranking signals to the preferred or definitive version of the content. This, in turn, improves the likelihood that the content will be found.
Without the use of canonicalization Google would see the following as four different and distinct websites (because they are):
See Clean Up Duplicate Results for more information.
Use Your Site’s Search Terms as Content Keywords
If you’re using Google Analytics, you can check to see the words your audience is using to find your content. Are you using the words they are? If you search for the words they use, do you get the results you want them to see? If not, consider adding the most-used terms to your content, but be careful. Adding keywords should be done sparingly.
Write Good Link Text
The text you use for links, known as anchor text, is important for both SEO and accessibility. Vague text like “learn more” or “click here” does nothing to improve your SEO and will confuse your visitors who use a screen reader. Make your link text descriptive but concise.
The Backlinko website has a great infographic that sums up a bunch of SEO best practices: