Search Engines and Your Site


If you search the Internet for Search Engine Optimization, you’ll find thousands of references, and many companies, selling their Search Engine Optimization (SEO) skills. One thing I’ve learned from researching SEO is that there are lots of differing opinions.

This article does not attempt to explain the best SEO tips. Instead, it simply aims to explain how you can use the tools available for glFusion to assist search engines in understanding your site.

Canonical URLs

Search engines really don’t care for duplicate content.  This is because duplicate content has been used as a tool by some to try and artificially improve search engine rankings.  Fortunately, there is a very easy method to inform search engines that you are not duplicating content when there are multiple methods to get to the content.  If your site has identical or very similar content that is accessible through multiple URLs, using canonical URLs will provide you with more control over the URL returned in search results. It also helps to make sure that properties such as link popularity are consolidated to your preferred version.

For example, there are several valid URLs for this story:

http://www.glfusion.org/article.php?story=seohowto
http://www.glfusion.org/article.php/seohowto
http://www.glfusion.org/article.php/seohowto?query=highlighttext
glFusion will automatically place the preferred canonical URL into the page header:
<link rel="canonical" href="http://www.glfusion.org/article.php/seohowto" />

glFusion supports canonical URLs in the following areas:

  • Stories
  • Static Pages
  • Forum Posts

Page Titles

Page titles are a key item looked at by most of the major search engines. Providing unique page titles is another tool to ensure the crawlers see the differences between each page.  Where appropriate, glFusion automatically creates descriptive and unique page titles.

When we say ‘where appropriate’, this means any area of the site where there is non-generic content.  For example, the search page and search results page(s) always use the same page title.  However, each Forum post, Static Page, Article, Media Gallery item, Calendar event, and Filemgmt download will have a unique page title that is formed by using the descriptive information you provided about that item.  For Forum posts, the post title is used. For Media Gallery items, the item title is used.

This is why it is critical that you provide descriptive information whenever possible. For example, don’t leave the caption blank on the your Media Gallery items.

Valid Markup

Search engines view your site much differently than you or I.  Search engines only see text, so all graphical information is basically invisible to a search engine.  Having valid HTML or XHTML can improve a crawlers ability to properly interpret your sites content.

It is also very important that everywhere you include an image that is meant to convey important information you also use an alt tag to provide a text description.  This not only helps crawlers, but it also benefits anyone using assistive technology tools to visit your web site.  For example, visually impaired users who use screen readers.

Sitemaps

A sitemap is a way of organizing your website. It identifes the URLs and data under each section of your site.  Think of a sitemap as a road map to your site’s content.  Using the SiteMap plugin is a quick and easy way to automatically create a sitemap.xml file which maps out each URL on your site.  Google initially developed the sitemap.xml proposal and now all major search engines support it.

Using the SiteMap plugin, you can create a comprehensive road map for the search engines to follow.  It is important to include all of your site content, as providing a partial sitemap would not really do much good.  The SiteMap plugin supports all core glFusion content and all current content from all the 3rd party plugins.

MetaTags

Meta tags are pieces of information that in inserted into the header of your web pages.  This information is not normally seen by human visitors to your site, but instead are targeted to the search engines that crawl your site.  There are several meta tags available for use, we’ll look at some of the more important ones.

Description

The meta description tag allows you to define the description of your page to the crawlers that support this tag.  A sample meta description tag for this story might be:

<meta name="description" content="This how-to explains the tools available to glFusion CMS powered web sites to enhance their search engine optimization." />
Google does not use the meta description tag when creating snippets about your site, instead it will determine its own description for the page based on its content.  Other search engines do consider this tag.  It is worthwhile to use this tag since it will give you some level of control with some search engine crawlers.

Keywords

The meta keywords tag allows you to provide additional text for search engines to index.  Not all major search engines support the keywords meta tag.  Google ignores the keywords tag, but Yahoo does index them.   What is most important is that the tag be used properly. Do not overload it with unrelated words. Instead, use it as a tool where you put synonyms of key terms in your web page.

Robots

The meta robots tag allows you to provide page-specific directives to search engines on how to handle your links (follow or nofollow), your copy (index, noindex, archive, noarchive), and major directory descriptions for your site (noodp and noydir).

<meta name="robots" content="follow, archive" />

How do I insert Meta Tags?

The MetaTags plugin for glFusion allows you to easily embed any meta tag data into articles and staticpages.  Using glFusion's autotag feature, adding meta tags is as simple as adding an autotag to an article.

What do I believe to be the most important lesson to learn about meta tags? Because some search engines may conclude you have duplicate content if all your meta description and keywords tags are the same, creating unique text in your meta description and keywords tags is very important.

The MetaTag plugin allows you to set defaults for the description and keywords tag.  The defaults will be used if no other meta data is provided. This could cause more harm than good if you choose not to add the meta tags to all of your site content, since each page will have the same meta data.  I’ll leave it to the reader to research and determine if using the same meta description and keywords tags on all pages does more harm than good.

Conclusion

glFusion tries to provide the basics to help with uniquely identifying your site's content, using page titles and canonical URLs.  There are additional plugins that can help, but before you simply install them and go, make sure you understand what they are doing and how it benefits you.

SEO is an art, and opinions vary on the best techniques to achieve high page rankings in search engines.  There are no ‘magic’ tools that will get you better rankings. Instead, focus on understanding how search engines view your site and how to utilize the tools at your disposal. 


by Mark

Mark is the main developer on glFusion. When not doing his real job and playing with his family, he really enjoys working on glFusion and the collaboration with the glFusion community.

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