Get familiar with the basics of search engine optimizing in order to rank top on Google page one!
In order to position your website successfully in the ranking of search engines, we will first describe, how search engines search and how they build up the ranking. Subsequently, we describe, which meta settings tell search engines to come by and index our site and which significance further settings in an article, publication or landingpage have for your editorial work. Following this, we provide editorial advice, in particular on the question of how you should write in order to be found. Finally, there will be some hints for offpage-work.
- How do search engines interpret your site?
- Technical SEO: Special fields for search engines
- Technical SEO: Meta settings for content
- Editorial SEO: More hints
- Off-page activities
Rarely any user regularly clicks through your website to see, which articles were recently published. Instead, your articles will be read because someone found something interesting in a social network or in your newsletter, because he/she was informed about the release or because a search engine shows your article as the best matching search result. But what is the basis of this decision? How do search engines such as Google & Co. decide, which is the most matching site? And how do they buildn up their ranking?
When a search engine crawls a website, it doesn't only search for content visible to users, but also for meta information visible in the source code only. If you want to see the source code of a page, for instance using Mozilla Firefox, right click and choose "source code". Alternatively, you can use CTRL + u . You will find the meta data in the head area of the page (the text itself is in the body area). This is what a part of the head area of the boell.de-startpage looks on Dec 6, 2016:
The main components that make search engines find, read, understand and evaluate you page, have already been considered when the site was built in the content management system and have been written into the source code by Drupal. Thus individual settings are - in most cases - unnecessary. However, we will describe the most important fields, in particular those which address search engines. We will also comment, when changing settings may be useful/not useful.
You can find these search engine relevant fields for all landingpages, publications and article at the very bottom of your edit-form in ADMINISTRATION - METAGTAGS - ADVANCED:
The meaning of these fields:
- Allow search engines to index this page (assumed). => Just leave it always empty as it is assumed.
- Allow search engines to follow links on this page (assumed). => Please also always leave empty because it is assumend.
- Prevent search engines from indexing this page. => If you want that search engines do not index this page. Important: This is not a quarantee, by setting this option you can only beg search engines not to index. Reputable search engines will follow your request, but it should not be applied when you want to hide "secret content" (rather depublish or delete this content).
- Prevent search engines from following links on this page. => If you want search engines NOT to follow external (outbound) links pointing to other websites.
- Prevent a cached copy of this page from being available in the search results. => As a result, the little triangle next to a search result in Google will not show older versions.
- Prevents a description from appearing below the page in the search results, as well as prevents caching of the page. => self explaining
- Same as 6. but for dmoz.org
- Prevents Yahoo! from listing this page in the Yahoo! Directory. =>no guarantee, similar to 3.
- Prevent search engines from indexing images on this page. => also no quarantee, just a request.
- Prevent search engines from offering to translation this page in search results. => self explaining.
- Google News Keywords => Only relevant, when your site is listed in Google News.
- Google Standout => Only for Google-News: If you want to mark an article "standout". More information on this in Google.
- Copyright => dispensable, because specific license information in articles and images is much more detailed, concrete and relevant.
- Image => Has already been filled in automatically. Proposes the image which is associated to the content for sharing on FB & Co. It is unnessecary to change settings here, because we have already set exact data using OpenGraph for Facebook and TwitterCards.
- Canonical URL => Please leave untouched. This will be the absolute URL of the content. This field is important, because search engines "punish" copied content and downgrade such content in their ranking. This could be a danger when sharing content from other boell-sites, as these contents will simply be copied: That is why the field defines the origin of this content, thus showing that it is a "legal" copy. More information on this in Wikipedia.
- Shortlink URL => Please leave untouched
- Publisher URL => The editor's URL. Please just leave the existing setting.
- Author URL => similar to 17: "Used by some search engines to confirm the authorship of the content. Either use full URL of a Google page about the author or provide link of a local page about the author (given for our person nodes).
- Original Source => Same as Canonical URL: Used to indicate, that this site is the original.
- Previous page URL => No significance for our sites, only important for paginated content.
- Next page URL =>ditto.
- Content language => The advantage here is, that search engines assign the correct language and country, if - for instance - someone is searching for pages in a specific language.
On our sites, the language, in which an article/publication has been published, is already provided in the URL, for instance: http://mx.boell.org/es/2016/12/05/sobre-la-nueva-tecnologia-de-extincion-genetica-en-reunion-de-la-onu. That's why there is no need to customize the setting here. However, the field can be useful when the real language defers from the technical language which may be the case for instance, when text in English is shown on a technically German page. If so, please provide the language token, such as de, en, fr, ar, es etc.
- Geo position =>only important for companies, organisations etc., working exclusively inland.
- Geo place name =>ditto.
- Geo region =>ditto.
- ICBM =>ditto.
- Refresh =>indicates the number of seconds before the system updates a page. Please leave empty.
- Revisit After interval type => No need to make a setting here while hoping that search engines would come back to reindex, as this meta tag is not supported by any major search engines, it never was supported and probably never will be. It was developed for, and supported by Vancouver Webpages and their local search engine searchBC." - That means: search engines come by when they want to.
In addition to the above named technical meta settings, there are more, which are also set by Drupal, but could be customized by you manually per node (article, product, landingpage) according to your individual requirements. These are the so called basic tags:
As one of the most significant indicators for relevance, Google & Co. regard the URL. This is why when searching for "White house" the website https://www.whitehouse.gov/ will be ranked top. The same is true for "Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung", as a part of the search phrase is part of the URL:
For the ranking in search engines, the first part of the URL is decicive, namely the domain, for instance "whitehouse.gov" - or for our website "boell.de". The "rest" of the URL, namely the data following the slash, are automatically created by Drupal using the (technical) language in which a node was created and - usually - a short version of the heading (only nouns), for instance:
This automatically created URL-alias is usually very sensible but you can overwrite it, if you feel that it should be improved. To do so, go into the ADMINISTRATION area into the URL path settings:
Page title => This is what will be shown on the browser tab when this page is open:
It is also used as bookmark title, when someone bookmarks this page:
Furthermore it appears as heading of the search result:
Description => The description is used by Google for the snippet (the subline in the search result):
Get familiar with the basics of search engine optimizing in order to rank top on Google page one!. As a rule, you should keep this setting. Editorial advice for good descriptions/teasers below.
Abstract => Same as "description". Used by some few search engines and could be left empty. We automatically draw the teaser of your article, publication or landingpage by using
Get familiar with the basics of search engine optimizing in order to rank top on Google page one!.
Keywords => This field is not filled in automatically by Drupal. You can enter keywords (comma separated). However, they have little significance for Google. It is more important, whether (and how often) the words used by users as search phrase, appear in your main (body) text. Still, we have manually entered the main work priorities of the foundation as keywords for boell.de, therefore "Ecology, Democracy, Gender and Human Rights".
Until now we have exclusively described technical issues of search engine optimizing, which for the most part are set by the CMS. However, What you write and How you write it is at least as important for being found. If you want to write seo-friendly, slip into the position of someone who is searching something on your topic and ask yourself the following questions:
- Which search phrases would you use to search for your article? Do these potential search phrases appear in your article in a sufficient number?
- If your article is ranked high in the search results (hopefully among the entries on page 1): Would you click it because of its heading and teaser?
- Moreover, it would be good to define a goal: What do I want to achieve with this article, dossier, landingpage? Which are the search phrases under which you would like to be found, because it is the mission of the foundation to inform and educate exactly in this field?
The heading of an article or publication
The heading (Title) often plays a decisive role in terms of whether an article is read or clicked, not only on the website, but namely in the search results of search engines, as heading of a post in social media, in blogs or in mikroblogging networks such as Twitter, as suggested title for bookmarks...
Please note that a witty headline is not always a seo-friendly one. For a seo-friendly headline you should use potential search phrases. What should be in?
- A precise designation of the topic using the respective keywords: Commonly used terms describing the content of the article, for instance „elections“, „Tsunami“, "G20", „Soccer world cup“ etc.
- Proper names: Search phrases often contain proper names, in particular personal names, names of companies, organizations, geographical names etc. Using proper names often results in a good hit rate.
Tip: If it is about names of famous people it is not necessary to provide first- and surnames.
What shouldn't be part of your seo-friendly heading:
- Unnecessary words: If possible, confine yourself to under 65 characters, this is one line in Word (12-point-font size). All further characters will be ignored and cut off in the search result. This can lead to unintelligibility or misunderstandings. Moreover, long headings with multiple line breaks don't look good on mobile devices.
- In particular when you have a long heading: Pay attention to that the most important keywords appear at the beginning, so that their sense becomes clear even when it is cut or shown incomplete.
- Puns, genuineness or idioms, such as: "Quo vadis Spain?" or "You can't teach an old dog new tricks" may be witty and sound good. However, probably nobody would use them in a Google search when looking for something about the parliamentary elections in Spain or primary school education.
- Keywords which stand for something else. For instance, a search using "travelling" and "airplane" will probably not deliver results on the political resp. ecological dimensions of flying, but simply airline offers. It is better to name the ecological dimension precisely, for instance by using keywords such as "air traffic", "sustainability", "damage to climate", "ecological effects".
Despite of all limitations in favour of search engine optimizing your heading should attract users to continue reading.
Headings of articles, publications and landingpages will automatically be marked <h1> by our CMS, thus made identifiable as main heading for Google.
Subtitles (between paragraphs) are not interpreted in the meta data, however, they are also important for search optimizing. As described multiple times in other help chapters, you should use subtitles. By formatting them <h3>, you tell Google & Co, that they are of special importance. Apart from that, the same rules shall apply as for main headings.
Attention: From January 2017 on, you should format subheadings <h2> to put more significance on them.
The teaser (resp. the description) decides upon the click rate of an article, when it is shown in the search results (or for instance in an RSS-feed). However, it is less significant for the ranking. But imagine landing on top of the ranking but not being clicked because the snippet doesn't make the user assume, that he/she will find what he/she is looking for. What a bother!
To make that not happen, your teaser should never exceed 200 characters. When you write more, this is indicated in red by the CMS, please don't ignore it! By the way, the optimal length of your heading is 140 characters only. Google seems to display a maximum of about 150 characters.
Exceeding the teaser lenght may lead to rough cuts of the snippet in search engine result lists ("...") thus leading to unintelligibility:
To tease so./sth. stands synonymously for attracting, making someone curious, keen to read etc. So the teaser has an important journalistic function. You should pay attention to a balance of wittiness and information. Your teaser:
- should contain potential search phrases (to enable the user to recognize that what he/she was searching for is what he/she found)
- thus can be a simple statement summarizing the main information of the following text. When you report something, the six journalistic questions can be important (where - when - what - who - why - how).
- can be a question or cliffhanger and attract readers to continue reading
- can leave things open thus making readers curious to go on reading (but make sure that recognition is possible)
Floating text (Body) and keywords
As described above the meta keywords don't play an important role for seo. Anyway, it is more significant, whether the keywords used in the text itself, correspond to search phrases. That is why you should space out the keywords evenly in the text (on top, in the middle, at the end) and look at the "keyword density". This term describes how often a keyword appears in 100 words. A keyword density of 1 to 4 percent is regarded sensible, 10 up to 15 percent appear spammy and is called "keyword stuffing". In terms of seo, highlighting of keywords (for instance format bold) can work well.
But what are good, respecively matching keywords? At least when you prepare important, labor-intensive publications, it may be useful to think of potential keywords in advance and to analyze your competitors' keywords. Which keywords does another foundation/NGO use when writing about similar topics? What could the readers search for? Even without using professional search engine tools, you can probably find answers to this question, by just entering potential search phrases in Google, thereby checking what the auto complete offers and whether the context of the articles found for certain keywords is the one for what you want to express.
In addition to keyword density and the question, whether an article contains sufficiently interesting information, which the reader is searching for, a good structure as well as the html markup of words, paragraphs and headings, as well as the annotation of images play an important role (please also see our chapter on accessibility).
The quality and design of your article determine, how long someone stays on your page/site. As user behaviour is an important criteria for search engine ranking, this is something which you should not underestimate. What makes a good article? This question is also touched in our special help chapter "How to write a good article?"
Google loves links, because - as described above - Google builds up its index by following all links, thus finding more and more pages. For a Google-friendly linking first of all, formal aspects play an important role: It is recommended to manually set links (that means not just to link URLs, but linktext which links to a URL and may even have a manually set alternate text).
This is a link as Google loves it: There is a linked text and by hovering over it with the mouse, a tooltip is shown.
Secondly, the pure number of links on your site is important. So it can have positive effects, when there are links to more articles on the same site (for instance by using "related content"), or to external content (for instance by teaser links) or when information is outsourced, for instance in info boxes. Linklists and links blocks are also sensible.
After the rebrush at the end of 2016, there will also be text boxes, into which additional information can be outsourced. All these points can contribute to reducing the bounce rate of users and to hold them on your site for a longer time.
When setting internal links, you should always set relative instead of absolute links, for instance /categories/energy-transition instead of https://us.boell.org/categories/energy-transition.
Inbound links, therefore links pointing to your articles from outside your site, have a really high significance in terms of seo. But how can you make others link to your site? Some tips:
- First of all: By interesting, special and relevant articles which other web editors like to refer and link to.
- By partner organizations, which report on their websites about the cooperation and mutual activities (attention: simple mutual cross linking is counterproductive, it is always better to have a concrete content reference).
- By your own content activities, such as comments, on platforms of other content providers who allow linking.
Also highly important is the so called online reputation. If - for instance - reliable institutions such as universities, media or organizations link to your site, this will increase your significance for Google & Co. Thus maintaining contacts to other organizations is "meat and potatoes".
Good public relations, especially to the press are a classic example: When you plan an important publication or a dossier, it makes sense to parallely organize accompanying public relations. Arrange the press and agency releases already in the way in which you want to see the reports about you. Pay attention to not just copying existing text for the press release, this may be counterproductive.
More off-page activities are:
- the contact to bloggers, who link to your articles in their posts.
- Writing your own blog with cross references to your website.
- Your own presence in social networks: You generate links by uploading media to Flickr, Facebook, Youtube, Soundcloud etc. .
- Social bookmarking on platforms as Digg, Delicious or StumbleUpon.
- External links: When you quote content from other websites or blogs on your site, link to the original sites.
- Being listed in Google News (Information: boell.de is just about gathering experience in this field).
In addition to the above mentioned hints, you can promote your website even when you are not online, for instance by:
- A good relationship to your users: They must be informed, when there is news on your site and be encouraged to link to your articles for instance in their social networks. This can be done by sending out newsletters or - offline - by flyers or on events.
- Interviews in other media, such as radio or TV.