Saturday, March 27, 2010

SEO 101 (pt 3) – the search results page

  • Click here for part 1 – how search works
  • Click here for part 2 – anatomy of an HTML page

OK – so you’ve managed your SEO brilliantly, and your website appears on the first page of all the major search engines (that would be Google) for all of the keywords you’re monitoring (you are monitoring keywords, aren’t you?)

Unfortunately the job isn’t yet complete – good SEO may get you onto the results page, but the final decision isn’t up to Google, it’s up to the user, who has to decide which of the results most closely matches their query. Fortunately, there are several ways in which you can manage your appearance in the list, and it’s really not that hard.

Page title – it’s the first thing people see in the list of results – make sure it includes your name, and something about the site. Google only shows the first 60 characters or so, so make it pithy.

Description – it may not be used in the ranking, but it will appear on the search results page, so again, make it count, and try and imagine how it will read to someone who doesn’t know about you already – an overly-clever marketing strap-line may look good on the homepage, but may be misunderstood when taken out of context.

Site links – you can’t control site links, they are auto-generated, but you can remove specific links if you wish, using Google’s Webmaster tools. If you see something you don’t like, get rid of it.

URLs – search engines are very specific with regard to URLs. At a technical level, developers and network experts often do clever things to make sure that people are always directed to the correct page, but this may actually harm your ranking, as the search engine may split your “ranking” across the URLs (e.g. and may resolve to the same logical page, but to a search engine they are different pages). In terms of SEO, the recommendation is to consolidate URLs using the standard HTTP response code 301 to redirect all traffic to a single URL. (As a side note on this one, you should make sure you are using the analytics to understand where people are coming from if you are getting a lot of traffic on an unwanted URL. Affiliate sites are notorious for this.)

The best way to achieve all of this is to start at the end and work backwards. What do you want your site to look like when it appears in search results list? Look at your competitors and see what they do – use a bit of cut-and-paste magic to fake a screenshot that has all of your competitors on the same page, and then print it out, pin it up and make up your own mind – would you choose your own site?

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