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Drupal and basic Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Making your content visible in the first few pages of search results is a key strategy for disseminating the content of your web site. There are some basic things any CMS should do to make SEO easy and almost effortless. It should bake in the foundation for good SEO by providing the right tools, encouraging good SEO habits. However, 80% of good search engine placement is a result of good, consistent web content management of useful, compelling content. The following are some of our own thoughts about it, and tools at your disposition.

The value of meta tags

A common myth is that having the right keyword and description meta tags matters the most, but this myth was debunked a long time ago. Meta tags have little weight for actual SEO, and AFAIK meta-keywords are completely ignored by major search engines since they were so easily gamed early. Meta description tags are a bit more useful, and if provided, are used by google as the description of your page.

Court Says Keyword Metatags Don't Matter--Standard Process v. Banks

"SEOs and SEMs have known for years that most search engines ignore or give minimal acknowledgement to keyword metatags. Lawyers, on the other hand, have been living in a parallel fantasy universe where keyword metatags single-handedly divert unwaveringly brand-loyal customers to piratical competitors. Even today, many courts still rely on the 1999 Brookfield case and its dreadful keyword metatags-as-a-false-billboard analogy as an accurate and definitive statement of how search engines operate today"

Best Practices

The following practices can help SEO. Some of these should be done automatically by your CMS or platform of choice.

Use a single domain for your site

Use a single domain name for your site. Seemingly less important things such as having a site accessible by way of multiple domains/hosts/URLs (forumone.com vs www.forumone.com e.g) lowers your Google ranking. Redirecting permanently to one domain, ie if you go to projectspaces.com, redirect the link to www.projectspaces.com with a "Permanent Redirect" code so that search engines don't index both urls as separate pages. The Drupal .htaccess file has a sample rewrite rule to customize for this. Visitors can still use either domain name to reach your site (with or without www. for example), but they, and more importantly Google and other search engines, will all end up viewing your site at a single domain. This prevents your search rank from being diffused between both domain names.

If you're using Apache and have mod_rewrite enabled, you can use the following RewriteRule

RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^www.projectspaces.com
RewriteRule ^(.*)   http://projectspaces.com/$1   [R=permanent,L]

Pay attention to titles, title tags, urls

Use descriptive and engaging titles for pages/content as well as using heading tags to mark up titles and subtitles. The title tag should reflect the title of the content a user is viewing. The order of words in title tags matters, for example, instead of "Forum One Website : Events", "Events: Forum One". Words that appear earlier in the title get more weight, and also make your titles easier to scan in search results lisitings. By default, Drupal does a decent job of this since it reuses a node's title for its title tag. Drupal also places the node's title before the site's title in the title tag.

Words in URLs influence your search ranking. Compare the urls the URL node/93 to publication/effectiveness-of-lending-in-latin-america, the latter conveys what is available at that link more readily. If any match a user's search terms, google will highlight them when it shows your search results, for example search for "online community report". By default, Drupal does not alias URLs in this way, but the pathauto module should be installed and configured to create them. If you don't have access the pathauto, contributors can manually create aliases when adding content.

Update:I just noticed Gadgetopia enumerated the benefits of readable URLs recently, beyond SEO.

Make content easy to digest and discover

Another good practice is to use descriptive links to lead users on your site, and to make content easily digestible.

  • Use descriptive links to your content (ie, try to avoid click here). If you must instruct users to click on a link, make the instruction context specific, ie "Click to view more publications" or "Click to read about the Annual Conference". since that improves click thru rates.
  • Avoiding images for text (ie navigation, headers, titles, etc...), or at least provide descriptive alt tags. This is also a good accessibility practice.
  • Don't just use flash, pdf to deliver text, provide content as HTML. Search engines may not be able to index content if its inside flash or requires a plugin to view.

Use Google's Webmaster Tools

Use google's webmaster tools to diagnose how your site is indexed by the search engine. The tool gives a lot of diagnostic information for making improvements to a site's content. It will report problems including duplicate title tags, missing or short description tags, content delivery errors (page not found, server or network timed out) that prevented google from indexing your site. You can also see what external pages in Google's index link to your own pages, and more.

I also recommend reading the more exhaustive Google's SEO Starter Guide. The actual guide is a PDF available at that link, and yes, I find that a bit ironic.