Search Engine Optimization for Higher Education

Search engines are not capable of seeing web pages the same as end users. They will not see the aesthetics of it. They will basically process the raw text of each web page. A search engine will then analyze the web page by using an inverted pyramid bias. This means that it will assume that the most important content and information is at the top of the page. Because of this, when optimizing the content of a website, it is vital to write good meta data—this ensure that the relevant content will be placed toward the top of the rendered HTML and will make sure that the data on the page indeed matches the search terms that were intended. What are these on-page elements and their recommendations?

URL: to be search engine friendly, the URL needs to be descriptive yet concise. When there is a longer descriptive, it is best practice to hyphenate the phrase in the link, such as so that it is easy to read and comprehend. The CMS will recommend this naming convention if you import files with spaces. You must also work to avoid any special characters within a URL—search bots stop indexing when they reach a special character and assume that there is not any valuable information after it. This includes question marks “?”.

Page title: this is what is displayed in the browser's title bar and might possibly be the most critical piece of information that determines how well a web page will rank. The title should be 65 characters or less, never more. Variation is key in title pages. Each should be unique—if they are repetitive then their value is diminished in rankings for search engines.

Meta descriptions: this describes the content of a page and does play a role in its ranking. Even more so, when Google lists a web page in its results, it will often use the meta descriptions in the abstract. This is why it is so important to take the time to write good meta descriptions that do include keywords, but also a user-friendly description of the web page. Here it is not necessary to stuff keywords into the description. It should sound natural.

Meta keywords: these are not used by search engines with ranking algorithms anymore. The only exception to this is Yahoo which still indexes keywords but the hold very little impact on the overall ranking of the content. SEO experts give an ultimatum: only use meta keywords on pages that are highly optimized, or totally abandon the component entirely.

Headline: this is the most prominent piece of content on a web page. It carries the weight of indexing and should use keywords or phrases that you have targeted specifically for your web page.

Copy: this is the text or body of the page. You should aim to keep your target keywords toward the beginning of the copy, and then repeat them in several places throughout the page. How many times the keywords are repeated is known as the keyword density. There is no precise science behind this, but too much repetition will signal to the search engine that the web page is spam, yet if there is too little then the page will be seen as irrelevant. Authors need to focus on the integrity of the page. Good copy will have the keywords repeated in a way that flows naturally, while bad copy will seem forced. For content that is highly optimized, the keyword should be repeated 2 or 3 times within the first half of the copy.

Alt-text: this describes the images on a web page. It is vital for web accessibility and compliance with 508a. For best practice, when you are optimizing a web page for a specific search term, include that keyword as part of the alt-text.

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