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Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Search engines are one of the most important and frequently used tools for finding information on the world wide web. Search Engine Optimization refers to a variety of techniques and strategies for improving the ranking and visibility of websites within search engine listings.

The basic rule of search engine optimization is to provide content that will satisfy your visitors. When writing content for a page, you should always be asking, “What is the visitor looking for? What questions do they want answered?” Then, answer those questions. The basics of SEO is to make a page and a site that is useful to our visitors. That’s what search engines such as Google want to return when their users perform a search. Here are some other useful ways to increase SEO, or search engine optimization, for your page:

Keywords and Phrases

Get to know your audience. When you write, use words and phrases that your target audience will use to search for your pages. For example, if you are producing a page describing 'employment opportunities', are they the keywords you would expect your audience to use. Would terms like 'jobs', 'vacancies' or 'job vacancies at University of San Diego' be needed, or a combination of all of them? If you want people to be able to find your page based on a specific phrase or word, you need to use that phrase or word on your page, and it needs to be text.

Some search engines pay more attention to words and phrases that are near the top of a page, so include key words and phrases, especially within the headings and first few paragraphs. However it is still a good idea to repeat key words and phrases throughout your pages as search engines also pay particular attention to the number of times specific words and phrases are repeated.

Use niche words and phrases as well as generic ones that relate to the subject matter on your page.

Keywords and phrases should always be relevant to the subject matter on your page and your target audience, not to boost your search engine ranking.

Usability and Search Friendly Design

Usability is simply how easy a site is to understand and navigate. Many of the same principles which contribute to the usability of a site by human visitors also makes a site more accessible by search engines. Defining your target content and target audience is an important step in optimizing your website.

  • Target audience: The potential visitors and users of your site who may benefit from the content provided on your site.
  • Target content: The information, products or services you offer, and the processes required to provide them to your users.
  • Landing page: Any point of entry into your site.
  • Conversion: The end goal of a visit to your site, or what you hope the users of your site will do. This may be a purchase, course registration, file download, or simply a page view.
  • Conversion path: The process or steps required to guide a visitor from the point of entry to your site to the point of conversion.

Visitors to websites often enter at pages other than the site's home page. Understanding where within your site potential visitors may land is crucial to optimizing your site for their visit. Usability includes structuring your site so that your target users can easily move from landing page to conversion.

Title Tag

Most search engines, including Google, use the text within the title tag as the link text to your page. The title is what appears in the browser’s title bar or is the name of the tab that you have open. It is also what most browsers use as a bookmark name when viewers bookmark your web page. Our search engine uses your title to title your entry in the search engine results listing, so it needs to make sense.

The words in the title tag play a very important role in how your pages will be ranked by search engines.

It is essential to make sure that the most important keywords are used in the title tag for each individual page on your site, and the closer they are to the front of the tag, the better.

Use brief but descriptive titles.

HTML Code: <title>Page Name | University of San Diego</title>

Meta Keywords

Meta Keywords are completely ignored by many search engines, including Google. Do not spend a lot of time working on this portion of your website.

However, if you still feel compelled to use meta keywords here is some additional information:

In addition to using keywords and phrases in the content of your pages your web editor should let you set meta keywords for your page. Meta keywords is an HTML tag that goes in the head tag of your document.

You should keep the number of meta keywords short and relevant to your page, not broad keywords for your whole site. Use fewer than ten keywords to avoid losing keywords. Fewer than ten keywords is even better.

HTML Code: <meta name="keywords" content="keyword 1, keyword 2, keyword 3" />

Meta Description

This tag allows you to write unique descriptions for search results. It appears just below the text link on search result listings and is a good way of informing someone who has performed a search what can they can expect to find on your pages. The description tag should correspond closely to the target content of the page.

It’s best to keep descriptions short and to the point. Try to keep your description under 200 characters, or it might get truncated.

The USD search engine will use your description to describe your page to people looking for it. Not all search engines will use your description. Google, for example will create its own based on your page’s content.

Like keywords, the description tag is a “meta” tag that goes in the “head” of your document. If you are editing by hand, it will look like:

HTML Code: <meta name="description" content="Concise description of your page." />

Heading Tags

These are a good way of displaying keywords and phrases on your page, and Google in particular places more emphasis on the content placed in them than in the main body text.

The “heading” HTML tags are usually numbered from one to six, with one being the “most important”. In HTML, they are “h1” though “h6”.

Whenever you have headlines in your web pages, you should use the “heading” HTML tags rather than simply resizing the text to be bigger and bolder. This will significantly affect your ranking on USD’s search engine, and vastly affect it on external search engines.

It is important to only use the heading tags for organization of your page and highlighting key sections of your page. Do not use them purely for decoration purposes; this will make your page look cluttered and confusing for the reader and search engine to determine what is important.

HTML Code: <h1>Main Header</h1>, <h2>Sub Header</h2>…

Image Alt Tags

Image alt tags, similar to links, should also be labeled descriptively. Enter text that is relevant to the image, or if you are using it as a link, indicate where it will take you, such as: alt='View Undergraduate Admissions'.

If the photo is used specifically for decoration purposes, the alt tag can either describe what the image is or what you are trying to portray through the image (i.e. a picture of flowers on the USD campus may have an alt tag that says, "Flowers in bloom on the USD Campus" or "The University of San Diego was named one of America's most beautiful campuses").

The image's alt tag should be brief but descriptive.

HTML Code: <img src="/image.jpg" alt="Concise description of photograph" />

Label text links descriptively. For example: use 'View Undergraduate Admissions', not 'to view Undergraduate Admissions "click here".' Search engines understand the relationship between the source and destination of the link, and the text contained in the link. Links containing text that doesn't match the content found at the destination are ignored or discounted.

When the USD search engine ranks your page, it looks at the words that other web pages use to link to your page. This includes pages that you make. Your links to your own pages (as well as to other USD pages) should be descriptive text links to optimally rank your pages.

HTML Code: <a href="/web/seo.php">Tutorial on SEO</a>

Links That go to Your Page

Make sure you can be reached from other pages at USD.

If someone were to start from the main USD web page, can they get to your page by just clicking links? Both USD’s search engine and the major search engines work by “crawling” the web from link to link. If your page is only accessible by knowing the URL, we can add it to the list of pages that USD crawls, but it will probably not be reached at all by the major search engines.

The more websites that link to your pages the better your search engine ranking will be. If no pages link to you, this will reduce your ranking in the major search engines even if they do list your page.

The popularity of a site on the web is an important factor for establishing ranking within search engine results pages. Every link to your site from another site is considered a "vote." The more links to your site, the more votes you receive, and the higher your site is ranked by the search engine.

For example, sites containing information about San Diego universities, higher education, undergraduates/postgraduates, research, etc., would be very relevant to the University of San Diego - if they link to our homepage then it’s likely to boost our ranking.

Search engine algorithms consider the quality of every inbound link, as well as the quantity. A few links from highly ranked sites will count more than many links from low ranked or dubious sites. The age and reliability of a website domain name may also play a role in how well a site is ranked by the search engines. Minimally optimized pages within older, more popular sites may rank higher than well optimized pages within new sites.

Where you can control the links to your pages, other sites should also use the keyword(s). For example: 'See our job vacancies' not 'for job vacancies "click here".'

Definitions of Common Terms

Algorithm A mathematical formula or equation for solving problems such as sorting large data sets.
Directory A categorized, descriptive list of website links, usually created and compiled by human editors.
Domain name A hostname (such as that provides a more memorable identifier than an IP address.
Index A search engine's database of web page content.
IP (Internet Protocol) address A unique number (such as that web browsers use to identify and communicate with web servers.
Keyword A term or phrase entered as a query into a search engine.
Organic results Search results compiled from the search engine index.
Robots & spiders Automated programs which crawl the internet collecting and indexing web pages.
Paid placement results Sponsored search results paid for by commercial entities and placed near the top of the organic results.
SEO Search Engine Optimization
SEM Search Engine Marketing
SERP Search Engine Results Pages
URL (Uniform Resource Locator) Synonym for a website address such as a domain name or I. P. Address.

Incorrect SEO Practices

Unscrupulous optimization techniques designed to gain an unfair advantage, or for purposes other than legitimate information retrieval, are called "Black Hat" techniques, and are usually penalized by the search engines.

  • Invisible text: Using white text on white backgrounds or other methods to hide keywords in order to increase rank or mislead crawlers.
  • Keyword stuffing: Adding extra keywords to meta-data or alt-tags.
  • Duplicate pages: Serving the same content from multiple hostnames.
  • Domain cloaking: Serving up different content to search engines than is served up to ordinary users. This technique is often used by the adult entertainment industry.
  • Link farms: Publishing web pages containing hundreds of links to your site in order to inflate inbound link popularity.

Furthering Your SEO Knowledge

Register and Attend SEO Fundamentals to learn how to you can help your USD website appear higher in search results for your targeted topics and services. Topics will include page titling, adding descriptions to your pages, key wording, and interlinking. Instruction will be hands-on and you will be connected to your USD website during the course, so you must be a current maintainer on the USD website to participate.

Please download our PDF documentation on how to better optimize your website for search engines using Adobe Contribute.