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Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

It is easy to make your ExSite web pages search-engine friendly, and to optimize your search engine placement using the CMS tools.

Before attempting a serious SEO effort, make an SEO plan that is specific about which keywords you are optimizing for.  Determining the best keywords to target is an involved subject, but you should consider several factors when deciding, including:
  • What do you expect people to type into search engines when looking for sites like yours?
  • How competitive are listings under those search terms?
  • If very competitive, what extra terms you can add to distinguish yourself from the other sites listed (eg. your city)?

Basic SEO Setup

Use your key words and key phrases in your web site content, especially on your home page.  Don't try to fool the search engines by over-using the key words or hiding them from human readers, or other such tricks.  Attempts to fool the search engines will just get you blacklisted.

Include the key words in the title of your site's home page.  (Use the Configure Page button in My Website to do this.)

You can also edit your page descriptions and page keywords to assist search engines in the identification of your content.  However, note that many search engines are discounting these fields, because spammers have abused them in the past.  Try to focus on your real web site content, rather than your "meta-data".

Static pages in the first level of your site map will generally be ranked the highest of your web pages.  Dynamic pages will usually rank lower, all other factors being equal.

Member-only pages will not be ranked at all, because the search engine cannot log into them.

Most search engines have a submission tool to let you inform them of a new site that needs to be indexed.  However, it can take many weeks before a search engine will trust that your site is going to stick around long enough to be worth displaying prominently in their index.  Be patient.

SEO and Plug-ins

Sometimes you want to optimize content that is managed by a plug-in and not the core CMS tools.  With many simple plug-ins, you only have the choice of editing the content to manage the use of your keywords, but some plug-ins offer more control.

In some cases, plug-ins will actively change the page title and other meta data, depending on what you are viewing.  Examples include the e-Zines plug-in, which changes the page title to reflect the article currently being viewed, and the Catalog plug-in which changes the title to reflect the product that is being displayed.  To enhance your SEO efforts in these cases, make sure to use descriptive titles for these items.

SEO and URLs

URLs may have some effect on the ranking of your pages.  Some URLs appear to be complicated queries, with a bunch of technical data following a question mark like this:
This is a normal way to show dynamic pages, but search engines may treat such pages as specialized search results, and not rank them highly.

It may help to use "clean URLs", which is a technique for reformatting that query data in a simpler format that does not look like a specialized search result, eg:
This "clean" URL may do the same thing as the previous one, but it sometimes looks more "important" to the search engine, and it will be ranked higher.  Consider activating clean URLs if your SEO efforts are targeting content that is buried deep in dynamic page views.

Canonical URLs

If you have content that can be reached through multiple URLs, it is a good idea to inform the search engines which is the preferred URL, so that you don't dilute the content across multiple possible locations. This is easy to do using the canonical "link" that ExSite adds to the page metadata. Typically you add this to the head section of your page, using a tag like:
<link rel="canonical" href="<!--$link-->">
ExSite automatically fills this in with the best URL to the current page.

Other SEO Tips

Search engines like Google not only look at your content, they also like to see how other sites link to you.  If you can get yourself listed in relevant (non-spammer) link directories, that can help improve your search engine placement.  Ideally, the anchor text (the clickable text that directs to your website) should include some of your key words.

Use SEO-friendly technologies.  That means text/html.  Images are not as good, even though you can provide ALT tags to give them a text equivalent.  Javascript, AJAX, and DHTML will obscure your content behind a software layer that the crawlers ignore.  Flash and multimedia content might be completely opaque to a search engine.  If your front page is a fancy Flash movie, with no HTML links to get into the rest of your site, then crawlers are not going to be able to find any of your content.  Even if you do provide the HTML links to skip the intro or jump past a splash image, your crawlable content is then buried behind a front page that contains no meaningful information for a search engine crawler.  Remember, your home page is the most important page from an SEO perspective.

You will need to review your SEO plan regularly, because search engine rankings are always changing.  Your position may fluctuate a lot, and users' searching habits may change.

Update your content regularly!  Fresh content that is on-topic will make your site seem more relevant, rather than an abandoned brochure.

Many web statistics packages will tell you how people are finding your website from search engines.  (For example, the free stats package Webalizer or Google Analytics provides this feature.)  You can see the terms that your viewers are searching on, which can help you refine your key words, or abandon key words that simply aren't effective.

Lastly, be honest.  There are lots of unscrupulous search engine spammers out there, and the search engines do everything they can to identify them and exclude them from the results.  If you try to trick the search engines, you might find yourself blacklisted.  The simplest path to good search engine placement is just clean, concise, meaningful content that other people find useful.


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