Digital

Search engine optimisation (SEO)

Advice on optimising your web content to leverage search engine rankings.

Improving your search engine rankings

It can be very frustrating to discover that your carefully constructed pages are either not appearing high up in search engine results or, worse yet, don't appear at all.

Improving search engine rankings is complicated by the broad range of factors that influence rankings, the different approaches to ranking taken by individual search engines and a general air of secrecy on the part of the major search engine developers about their methods. This secrecy is partly to protect their proprietary techniques and competitive advantages but also to prevent disreputable web developers from skewing search results by taking advantage of particular ranking techniques.

With this in mind there are a few things you can do to improve your search engine rankings.

Can I see you?

Ensuring your web site is listed in search engines used to entail a fair bit of arcane work submitting the site to various search engines. More recently, provided your site is linked to from somewhere else on the internet that is listed, search engines will eventually find your site and index its contents. Your web site or page will not be linked if it is inaccessible or not linked to from somewhere else on the internet.

If your website is locked behind a firewall or does not validate as good HTML your content may not be indexed by search engines.

A common failing with some sites is to use images rather than text and to fail to provide text alternatives. This is particularly poor practice when the images are used as buttons to provide links. Apart from not meeting minimal accessibility requirements , search engines don't read images. This practice provides no useful text for search engines to index.

Ensure that your web site is accessible and available.

Mind your language!

Search engines are designed to return results for particular words or phrases. It doesn't matter how hard someone searches for a particular piece of information, if the words or phrase they're searching for doesn't occur on your web site or page, your page will not appear in the search results. It's vital that you understand your audience or market, the language that they're likely to use, and craft your content accordingly.

Know your market. Choose your words carefully.

Linking text

Linking text may be the single most important factor in improving your ranking within Google search results. Linking text refers to the underlined or highlighted text that constitutes the link as with "The University of Western Australia" in the example below:

Every link to the university home page that Google can find that contains the words "The University of Western Australia" improves the ranking of the home page in search engine results wherever any of those words appear in the search query.

Identify what words or phrases people may be using when looking for your information, site or page and ensure that you have links containing those words and phrases pointing to your site or page.

Popularity or find a friend!

Generally, linking text used within your own website will not affect your ranking as much as links from other websites. The more well-phrased links from other sites, i.e. links to your website from other sites with linking text that contain your chosen keywords then the better your ranking is likely to be when people are searching for keywords that occur in that linking text.

Wherever possible encourage other sites to link to yours using your preferred linking text.

Titles and headings

Words or phrases that appear in web page titles and headings may improve the ranking of results for the words or phrases.

Identify what words or phrases people may be using when looking for your information, site or page and ensure that these words or phrases appear in page titles and headings.

Proximity of keywords

Some search engines will adjust rankings depending on the proximity of keywords to each other in a search. When searching for "university western australia", a page containing the phrase "The University of Western Australia" may rank higher than a page that mentions Murdoch University and later on the page includes an address with the words Western Australia.

Identify what words or phrases people may be using when looking for your information, site or page and ensure that these words or phrases appear in close proximity to each other in the text of your web page.

Metadata

The University provides, within the enterprise available CMS's, a standard set of metadata descriptions to create consistent information for all search engines to help index and 'understand' the content across the entire breadth of our websites. Schema.org, the search engine consortium, is a reference point for standards on metadata descriptions.

Most major search engines now give metadata a much lower weighting when indexing a page/site compared to the year after the creation of the world wide web (www). Search engine use of metadata was being abused by web developers in attempts to 'trick' search engines to give their web pages higher rankings. The effectiveness of search algorithms has improved to the point where page content alone will have the most impact for search results despite poor or no metadata.

Metadata descriptions also help significantly with search advertising and social media marketing. Where 'we' pay for specific keyword combinations that are also use in-page metadata descriptions and reinforced with content then our search keyword 'scores' are higher and we win more auctions to be displayed.

However, UWA Custom Site Search is provided by Google and weights search results heavily in favour of pages that have incorporated effective metadata that also aligns with the content of the site and the page.

Ensure that all web pages incorporate effective accurate metadata.

Keywords in web addresses

Some search engines will adjust rankings for a page upwards if the keyword or words being searched for appear in the actual web address or URL (Uniform Resource Locator) of the web page. For example, a web page address including the words "coral" and "reef":

may appear higher in search engine results than a similar page that doesn't feature these words in the web address.

Obviously it is important to strike a balance between keeping web addresses concise and easy to remember and including keywords where appropriate to improve page rankings in search results.

Include keywords in the web address for pages where appropriate.

Timing is everything

Search engines are not updated instantaneously. Search engines "crawl" the internet visiting web sites on a regular basis. Intervals between visits will vary and may be as short as weeks or as long as months or even a year or more.

The University uses the free Google University search. Google crawls the University website updating its index every four to six weeks. When planning website development, you should ensure that you allow for the fact that search engines may not update references to your web site for some time.

Offer your users a site map

Offer a site map to your users with links that point to the important parts of your site. If the site map is larger than 100 or so links, you may want to break the site map into separate pages.

S.E.O. or Search Engine Optimisation for sale

Be cautious about consultants, companies or organisations that offer Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) services. Google has some useful tips on how to identify S.E.O. that will improve your website's ranking rather causing you to be dropped from rankings altogether.

How does Google work?

Many of Googles methods are proprietary and secret. Google could lose competitive advantage if their methods were public and anyone could implement them. If Google's methods were public, unscrupulous web owners would be better able to develop web sites that would corrupt the Google search index, directing people using Google to inappropriate search results.

However, enough is known about Google's methods by examining the distribution of search results for particular keywords to be sure that the suggestions above will assist in improving search engine rankings.

Industry conversation

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Questions?

Don't hesitate to contact the University Digital and Creative Services by email to: digitalandcreative@uwa.edu.au for further advice on Search Engine Optimisation.