SEO: Metadata and more

In my introduction to search engine optimisation, I addressed ways that a writer or editor can create content which can be found by search engines: this article will look at other influences on your search engine rankings.

Metadata

There is more to a web page than the words and images that appear in your browser window. Metadata is information about a page that doesn’t appear in the browser, but is read by the robots that build search engine results.

The metadata elements of most interest to editors are the title, description and keywords.

The title appears in the browser title bar and (by default) in lists of favourites or bookmarks; it is also the first line in the search engine result for a page. Therefore, it should clearly describe the content of the page and be easy to scan. Avoid the temptation to place the name of the site at the beginning of the title ‘My site – articles – A word about metadata’ is less scannable than ‘A word about metadata – My site’. Titles longer than about 70 characters will be truncated in search engine results.

The description provides an opportunity give readers more detail what the page is about – who should read it and why. Bing is the only one of the major search engines that routinely displays it in search engine results, but Google also displays it in certain circumstances. Avoid using the same description for multiple pages (for example using the same description for every issue of your newsletter).

Description for the Membership page reads 'Jessica new login page to add a customized login module.'

The description for Defence Health’s Membership page needs editing.

Meta keywords were very important a decade ago, but it was all too easy to load up the meta keywords with words and phrases that were popular but irrelevant to the content on the page. As a result, most search engines give them little if any weight in assigning a ranking. You may wish to include known alternative spellings in your keywords, but don’t bother waste too much time tweaking them.

Update your site regularly

Search engines prefer sites with fresh, original content. Recent updates to Google’s search algorithm penalise sites whose content is duplicated across the web – typically because it has been produced in ‘content mills’ which churn out repetitive, low-quality content.

Links

One of the indicators used by search engines to identify quality content is the number of links to it: these are in effect recommendations from the linking site. Unfortunately, it is possible for these recommendations to be manipulated: some ‘SEO’ services simply list your site on a number of huge link farms – sites which do nothing but link. Search engines now recognise these for what they are, and links from them will do your site’s ranking more harm than good.

On the other hand, genuine links are worth cultivating. Seek out sites with related services – where a link to your site offers value to the customers of that site – and suggest a link. Register your site with reputable directories – both general ones like Biztas, a database of Tasmanian businesses , and those specific to your business, like the freelance register of the Tasmanian Society of Editors.

You can also use social media, such as Twitter and LinkedIn, to increase the number of links to your pages.

Code

Search engines – Google in particular – have a preference for standards-compliant, fast-loading pages. As an editor you may not have much influence on a site’s code, but if you specialise in editing the web you need to understand at least the basics of the web’s underlying languages.

Final lessons

It seems inevitable that the arms race between search engines and those wanting to game the system will continue. Put your efforts into creating high-quality, audience-focussed content and publishing it with lean, standards-compliant code, and you are likely to be rewarded with high search engine rankings.