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Making your site Search Engine Friendly

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Contents

Why Create a Search Engine Friendly Site?

In order to add your pages to its database, a search engine (such as Google) will send out so-called crawlers, spiders or bots to harvest the text on your site. These bots cannot harvest things that are created by Javascript, or 'see' images (though they do check alt tags) and the don't play well with Flash files if at all.

While all these things may make the site look better, they do little to nothing in terms of search engine optimisation (SEO).

It is important that your website can be found by people who are looking for its content, therefore you must serve content to search engine 'bots' in a way that they can interpret, analyse and identify how relevant it is to the search query.

For this to happen, you need to bring to the attention of the 'bots' important information about the page using various techniques detailed below - almost like a 'signpost' telling the 'bot' what the page contains. It will then compare what you tell it the page is about, with what it finds by itself, and run various algorithms to check if the page is in fact relevant. It also runs other checks to make sure that you are not trying to cheat the system using 'black hat' or 'grey hat' tactics to make your page rank higher.

Update Frequency

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While you can manually specify in your Sitemap how frequently search engine spiders should visit your website, they have in-built systems which automatically adjust the frequency of return visits based on how often the page in question has changed.

So, for example, if you tell search engine bots to visit your page on a daily basis, but when it visits the page nothing has changed for a week, it may adjust the frequency of revisits accordingly and not return as often as you told it to. You can request, via the various webmasters portals, for the revisit rate to be amended if required.

This would suggest, therefore, that if you have regularly changing content, your website will be 'spidered' more frequently - leading to content being indexed quickly.

Google Webmaster Tools thread on Googlebot requests & sitemap frequencies

Title tag

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The TITLE tag is found in the HEAD portion of your pages. This TITLE tag becomes the clickable title in search engine result pages (SERPs). A title should be under 70 characters in length. It should also include your keywords for the specific page, as close to the start of the TITLE tag as possible.

Google recommends that you create unique, descriptive page titles to describe to searchers what the page is about.

If a title page is not specified, or importantly if Google determines that the title is not appropriate for the content being returned for the search term, algorithms may be used to generate alternative titles which are more relevant.

Google recommends that you follow these key principles when creating a title:

  • Specify a title for every page
  • Make your title descriptive, and concise
  • Avoid keyword stuffing (repeatedly using similar words like "Foobar, foo bar, foobars, foo bars")
  • Avoid using generic titles - each page should have an unique title, ideally dynamically updated in relation to the content being displayed
  • Brand your titles, but do it concisely and in relation to the content being served
  • Use robots.txt carefully, don't disallow search engines from visiting your website

There are various webmaster tools which can be used to identify if there are problems with your listings in a particular search engine - it is always worth paying attention and correcting any problems.

Google support article on using titles for your web pages

Meta Description

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The META DESCRIPTION tag keeps a summary of the content on the page. The tag is used by search engines to display a description of the page when displaying it in search engine result pages (SERPs). This, however, only applies if the word searched for is included in the description. Otherwise, the search engine might display another portion of the page, which includes the keyword. When writing META DESCRIPTION tags for your pages, keep them below 155 characters. Also make sure to include the most important keywords for the page in question. Consider the description to be your sales copy to get people to click the link. Thus, the description should be written for humans, not search engines.

Even though Joomla has a global field for Meta Description (Global Configuration > Site > Global Site Meta Description), you should in most cases leave this blank. Google (and possibly other search engines as well) does not like duplicate title or meta description tags. If you add something to the global field, it will be duplicated on all pages that do not have a specific meta description.

Google recommends the following to ensure that you gain the most from your search engine indexing:

  • Ensure every page has unique, relevant meta descriptions
  • Ensure you apply metadata for listing pages (e.g. blog & list layouts) in addition to individual articles - this is commonly overlooked on Joomla! websites
  • Include factual information if relevant (e.g. blog articles may include the author, products might include the price or manufacturer)
  • Consider using automatically generated metadata - but make sure it's relevant, readable and accurate
  • Make your descriptions descriptive!

Google support article on using metadata

Keywords

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There are two major parts to understanding keywords: one is the meta tag and the other is density. If you are starting a brand new site you will need to do a little planning for both SEO and simple Joomla structure. Keywords are the focus of your content. You should come up with a list of no more than 25 keywords that describe your site's message. Once you have your list of keywords, keep them in focus as you write content and create Joomla sections, categories, and articles. Use these keywords through your site to improve SEO.

The meta keyword tag found in the head of most Web documents has little effect for Google, Bing and many of the other larger search engines. Yahoo still uses the meta tag as part of the algorithm, as well as some of the meta crawlers. Search engines all read the text in the tag; they just do not apply the information to their ranking algorithms. I have always found that placing the keyword meta tag helps me write better keyword rich content. If your page has a keyword tag, you must make sure that word is on the same page in the content.

Density is the number of times a word is placed in the readable content of a page. If you have ten readable words and one word is a keyword the density of 10%. If you have 100 words and one of them is a keyword you now have a density of 1%. Keep your density between 3.5 and 7 percent. Look for an online density analyzer to get an estimated density of a keyword.

Make sure to use keywords in your titles or aliases, links, and content. DO NOT STUFF keywords. Content that does not make sense and is full of keywords for the sole purpose of raising the keyword density to a high level will cause your site to be penalized in the search engines. It is very difficult to write an article that someone will enjoy reading or find usable and increase the density over 7 percent.

This section has a keyword density on the term “keyword” of 1.79% and on the term “keywords” of 2.05%. The combined density is approximately 3.8%. You can see how deliberate you would have to be to stuff a site greater than 7%.

To Add Meta Keywords to Your Site:

  • Add the 25 keywords to your Global Configuration > Site > Global Site Meta Keywords.
  • Add specific meta keywords to articles using the metadata information. Make sure the keywords listed here are in the content of the article also.
  • Adding the data does not harm your rankings in search engines, and will help you in Yahoo, and meta crawlers. Never add more than 25 words in the meta data. Separate words and phrases with a comma. Do not repeat keywords.

Use Semantic HTML


Use semantic HTML - only one H1 per page for the most important header. Use H2, H3, H4 and H5 for lower level headings. You should also use STRONG to emphasize keywords in your text.

Use Links in Your Content


Have good links inline in the text (articles) and avoid the use of things like 'click here' as the text that displays for a link. You want to try and have something that conveys the gist of the content of the page that the link points to.

Have a Structured or Planned Navigation


Having a good navigation system is hugely beneficial for allowing bots to effectively crawl your site. Joomla goes a long way in doing this for you when used correctly. Using keywords in the actual link title (anchor text) will help improve rankings.

Have an HTML Sitemap

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An HTML sitemap is essentially a table of contents for your site. This serves two purposes:

  1. It provides a place where visitors can go to easily get to any content on your site, even if it isn't necessarily easy to access by other navigation aids on the site.
  2. It provides a centralized store of links to the content on your site that can be easily indexed by search engines.

At the very least, a sitemap should link to the main sections and pages within your site, but the more detailed you can make it, the better.

There are available extensions that create sitemaps automatically based on Joomla content.

Have an XML Sitemap

Sitemaps are an easy way for webmasters to inform search engines about pages on their sites that are available for crawling. In its simplest form, a Sitemap is an XML file that lists URLs for a site along with additional metadata about each URL (when it was last updated, how often it usually changes, and how important it is, relative to other URLs in the site) so that search engines can more intelligently crawl the site.

Web crawlers usually discover pages from links within the site and from other sites. Sitemaps supplement this data to allow crawlers that support Sitemaps to pick up all URLs in the Sitemap and learn about those URLs using the associated metadata. Using the Sitemap protocol does not guarantee that web pages are included in search engines, but provides hints for web crawlers to do a better job of crawling your site.

  1. An XML sitemap provides a list of links to the content on your site that can be easily indexed by search engines.

There are available extensions that create XML sitemaps automatically based on Joomla content. More about the Sitemap protocol

Things to Remember


  • Anything that requires a login will not be 'seen' by a search engine.
  • This article only just starts to scrape the surface.
  • Frequent maintenance and updates are a big part of Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
  • SEO is only the start - it might help people find your site through search engines but you've got to work out how to get them to stay or come back or use your site.