Get Found! How to Optimize Your Web Content for Search Engines
by Marie Wise, Web Marketing & Communications Coordinator at Lower Columbia College
on October 21, 2015
Search engines serve millions of people per day looking for answers to their questions or solutions to their problems. As colleges, we want those people to find the answers and solutions we provide.
Search engine optimization, or SEO, is a way to optimize web pages so search engines understand them better. Once implemented, SEO keeps the visitors coming and effectively does the promotion for you!
While you can spend a lot on SEO, there are some simple techniques that everyone can do, and should be doing, all the time—here are a few:
Optimize Your Metadata
The head element of every web page contains essential information for search engines.
Effectively communicate the topic of your page’s content! Avoid vague titles like “Untitled” or “Homepage.” It’s the first thing search engines display, so it needs to be intuitive.
Your title may be just a word or two, but your description is a sentence or short paragraph describing what your page is about. It’s the second item search engines display. So think of it like a blurb that provides unique clues about your page content.
What words might a person use to search for your page? These are the keywords you need to focus on. Try to think like the audience you are attempting to reach.
The Page Parameters Gadget in OU Campus™ allows you to easily update this metadata for every page, so there’s no excuse for not giving it attention.
Improve Your Site Structure
Easy navigation and friendly URLs increase the chances search engines will return your page.
Search engines need a sense of what role a page plays in the bigger picture of the site. Think carefully about the route people will travel from your “home” to a page containing specific content. If you can’t find it yourself, it’s likely others won’t either.
The address of your page is often called a “URL.” Much like the address of your house, it specifies a location on the world wide web, and displays below your page title and description in search results.
People search using keywords, so your URL should contain relevant words. Consider the following URL: mycollege.com/us/www/students/application/new/year/Ne-2-4-5-6-7-8-27-44-49-53-61-64-67-103-133-146,N-19-29-4294966844-4294967194/advert.action. Pretty confusing!
Now consider mycollege.com/apply/new-students. Which URL communicates what this page is about? Pretty simple. The URL Shortener Gadget in OU Campus is a great tool that allows you to convert long URLs into shortened URLs, so even if your page is buried down a few folders, you can still have a memorable URL.
Create Quality Content
Individual, single-topic pages are recommended. Write easy-to-read text in short sentences and make sure your grammar and punctuation are impeccable. Consider creating content in a hierarchy that flows from general to specific, similar to an outline. Naturally, words used in your title, description, and keywords should be present in your page content!
In addition to creating user-friendly sections of content, correctly tagged typography optimizes the way search engines read your content. Typography is set with heading tags <H2, H3, H4, etc.>. Your page title typically uses <H1>, so logically you’d use <H2> for a section header, <H3> for a sub section, <H4> for a third-level section, and so on. Again, imagine you are writing an outline.
Links and Anchors
Intuitive link text tells something about the page you are linking to, but don’t forget the anchor tag. Search engines read both link and anchor text so the better they are, the easier it is for search engines to understand what the page you’re linking to is about. Needless to say, avoid using “click here!”
Search engines don’t look at pictures, they look at filenames. Your images should have user-friendly filenames and always include the ‘alt’ attribute (description of the image). Alt tags also provide alternative text for the image if it cannot be displayed for any reason. OU Campus actually requires Alt tags for images (except for decorative images) and prompts users to provide an image “Description” in order for the image to be inserted on a page.
Google’s new mobile-friendly algorithm means if you haven’t mobile optimized your website, it won’t be returned in searches done on mobile devices. Considering the rising use of mobile devices, the time to mobile optimize is now. Check your site at https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly/.
Promote, Promote, Promote!
Effectively promoting your web page will lead to more visitor traffic, which increases page rank. Be sure to make announcements, with links to pages you care about most, in your social media efforts and blog posts. Include your URL on all print materials. Include clickable URLs in emails and electronic documents. Verbally communicate the URL to people in face-to-face communications.
I’ve worked on websites since the early 90s and have come to the conclusion the Internet mimics real life. People have always created, optimized, organized, searched, and adapted to space requirements. No matter the tool (typewriter or website), the same concepts of labeling, organizing, structuring, and promoting apply!
After fully optimizing and launching a new mobile-responsive website in April 2015, Lower Columbia College has seen a general increase in the number of people visiting the home page, as well as single topic pages within the website.
Because each fall brings a new crop of students, and because our website is brand new, we don’t have an academic year’s worth of visitor statistics yet. In the fall of 2016, we’ll be able to analyze the numbers for the 2015-16 year and fully expect to see significant growth patterns.
While not a complete list of SEO techniques, these are things you should pay attention to if you want to elevate your page rankings in search engines and drive more traffic. Try implementing some SEO today.
About the Blogger
Marie Wise, APR, is Lower Columbia College’s Web Marketing & Communications Coordinator. With 15+ years of marketing and public relations experience in the local community, she is the college’s strongest advocate for maximizing the potential of the website. Recently, she began training and supporting the college’s group of web editors, who continue to be amazed at the efficiencies provided by OU Campus. When she’s not working, she can be found painting in her home studio overlooking the scenic Columbia River, taking walks with her golden retriever, or reading art history fiction on her eReader!