By Mike Gifford

December 16, 2010

I'm the first to admit that search engine optimization is important. I know that there is a lot to be learned about how to drive people to your site and ensure that they keep coming back to it. Two years ago it was estimated that there were 63 billion pages indexed by search engines. How will your site show up in the first pages of Google results if you don't get an edge over everyone else?

I know that there really are 'SEO Experts' out there, that know the web well and have seriously researched search engine behavior. But there are an equal number of people who have taken a course or two, bought some software to help them and whose real strength is selling their service.

A lot of 'SEO Experts' like to put content in static HTML pages in which they have complete control. Unfortunately, this makes the content harder for anyone in the organization to update and also makes it impossible for tools like Path Track to be able to monitor folks through your site. We recommend leveraging Drupal rather than building a hybrid site.

 

One of the big advantages about using Drupal is that there are ways to leverage it to very quickly get a bigger bang for your buck. There are a number of people in the community who have expertise in this area and have developed tools which they have released for free that have been evaluated for SEO. If you have a Drupal site don't bother with even responding to the sales folks until you've ensured that these steps are taken.

Clean up your Output

There's a lot that can be done to clean up your HTML to ensure that it validates against xHTML Strict. The Drupal theme needs to be reviewed, but also your content. Fortunately there are several Drupal tools out there that can ensure that you are producing, nice output which is machine readable.

All search engine bots are essentially blind. The more you do to make your website accessible to blind users, the easier it will be for search engines to navigate it. In the creation of content a great deal can be done in proper use of headings to ensure that everyone can easily navigate through your content.

Install Basic Module Set

There are quite a few good modules that are also pretty basic to cover the basics of SEO to Drupal.

  • XML Sitemap allows you to proactively tell search engines when you have new data;
  • Nodewords allows you to set meta tags, including Dublin Core definitions for each page;
  • Page Title allows you to modify the title directly which is what appears on the Search Engine Result Pages (SERP)
  • Global Redirect is used to ensure that you don't have duplicate links pointing to the same page, note this has caused problems with multi-lingual sites

Install Drupal SEO Helper Modules

There are quite a few SEO tools that have been built to ensure that the obvious things have been addressed:

  • SEO Checklist a great starting checklist of known best practices;
  • SEO Checker gives users feedback on improvements they can make to SEO for each page;
  • SEO Friend works with other SEO modules to provide an overview.

Read Up

Search engines will continue to change their metrics, the web will continue to change it's content, if you can become a member of an active community like the SEO one with Drupal Groups. There are also a number of people who have written other blogs on Drupal SEO. Finally, you can get books like Drupal SEO Book. If you're in Ottawa you don't even have to worry about buying the book as we've donated it to the Ottawa Public Library.

Encourage more links into your site

Search engines notice link popularity & follow links, especially Twitter these days. If you don't already have a Twitter account set one up. There are several tools to help you publish new content from your site directly to Twitter (Drupal's Twitter module is a great example of this). There are also modules to encourage people to like posts you've made on both Facebook & Twitter. Engaging with an existing social network like this is a great way to bring in more people and also raise your profile with search engines.

Pay Attention to Your Content

Ultimately there is no magic bullet for SEO. Organizations need to learn to write more and better content. As I've described above, it helps if you've built your content so that it is semantically correct and that you are providing emphasis with the proper HTML. If you still use FONT tags, stop now please.

All of these tools need some staff training to see that content editors know how to make the best use of their content with respect to their competition. It can be very useful to have a 3rd party come in and evaluate your site to find ways to improve key parts of your site may well be a good idea. Changing the order of your content and having someone help you think through defining the important keywords/phrases you want to appear high in the appropriate page can be good. However, you may get just as much benefit from hiring an external editor to review that appropriate content is written in newspaper style with an inverted pyramid.

Server Stuff

The Apache web server can also be tweaked to better present content to search engines. If you are using Apache 2 make sure that mod_deflate is enabled. The speed of page deliver also is becoming to matter for Google and already has an impact on user behavior. Invest in the infrastructure to ensure that your pages can be loaded as fast as possible.

Metrics, Metrics, Metrics

If you are serious about SEO, look at investing in and understanding analytics. It's good to understand your benchmark before you put a lot of effort into seeking improvements. Google Analytics is great, but it can also be used in conjunction with traditional log analysis tools. It's worth while noting that Drupal's Google Analytics module allows you to have more control over which analytics get set to Google. You may not, for instance, want to have site administrators clicks be tracked the same as a prospective client.

Conclusion

It's usually best to start with the low hanging fruit when approaching a challenge with this. In the end, it would probably make sense to hire someone to review & extend what you've done. You will be well served by making improvements like these on your site first and demonstrating to him/her what you have already done. If you can demonstrate that you already have a background in this area they can focus their time in areas where they hopefully have more up-to-date and deeper knowledge. Use real SEO experts when you know you've done the basics right and can use their help to fine tune specific pages.

By Mike Gifford

Image of flowers in razor wireWe've been doing a lot of work recently building a best practice guide on security and wanted to be able to send our clients a simple list of principles that are written in plain language.