Searchability

Let's talk search engine optimization (SEO).

The W&M Search is powered by Google. It uses Google's standard search engine with results restricted to only look on William & Mary's sites—anything ending in "wm.edu". While there is no magic bullet for getting your site ranked highly in search results, there are best practices that can make your pages more relevant to users and thus more likely to rank highly with Google and other search engines.

Let's work through the high points of a Cascade page, exploring how various elements affect search results:

Good site hierarchy

Structure your site with the most important content up front - either linked from your homepage or easily accessed from it. This helps both users and search engines to determine what is most important about your site.

Readable page URLs

The System Name in Cascade is what forms the URL for your page. Don't use spaces or uppercase letters as these can lead to broken links, or problems in your analytics data. Be descriptive and use hyphens (-) to separate words ("meeting-minutes" rather than "meetingminutes").  This makes it easier for Google and your users to see what the page is about. If there are key words in your page URL those will also be indexed in Google's results.

Concise page titles

Each page in your site should have a short but unique title. This title will appear at the top of your page as a Heading 1 tag, in the title of a search result and in your browser’s title bar. It should clearly indicate to both Google and the person viewing your site what the page is about, and how it differs from other pages on your site.

Metatags

Keywords metatag: Google started ignoring keywords in recent years, so don't worry about these. If you've found the keywords field in Cascade, you can ignore that too; it's not connected to the keywords metatag on published pages.

Description metatag: This is submitted through the Summary field in Cascade. It tells search engines what the page is about. While this won't directly influence search results, it may be used by Google as a description of the page when it shows up in search results. The trick (again) is to be unique. Copying the same summary for every page in your site does not help users distinguish which of your pages they want to visit.

Useful headings

Headings help to create a hierarchy of information on your page. If you skim the headings do you get the gist of what the page is about? Keep in mind: if users can find what they're looking for, so can search engines.

Accessible images

Image file names: Google looks at file names just as it looks at the URL and page name of your site. Giving it a meaningful name (but all lowercase, no spaces) will help both the search engine and yourself to find images. Try something like crim-dell-bridge.jpg instead of IMG0123.jpg.

Images on the page: All of your images should have "alt text" that is descriptive and can serve as a reasonable alternative to the image. This gives search engines and screen readers something to work with.

Descriptive links

Menu links and content links should tell users (and Google) something about the page they are linking to. This makes it easier for the user (and search engine) to scan the page and find relevant links as well as understand what the page you’re linking to is about. For content links, avoid using "click here" or similar phrases. Search engines key in on hyperlinked text—and users aren't searching for "click here." 

Quality content

What influences your website more than any of the above factors is the main content of your page. Creating compelling and useful content is what drives users to come to your page in the first place, and is what will prompt them to share that content and create the buzz that helps build the reputation and credibility of your site.

Why doesn't my page come up when I search for (insert term)?

Start by examining your content - this includes your page title, links, menus and headings as well as the main content.

  • Do you mention the search term you’re looking for anywhere in your content?
  • Is it important enough that you should adjust your page title or teaser to include the term?

You never want to "stuff" your page with search keywords to try and increase your rankings. However, you need to know your user. If you find that people are searching for "agenda" when you are using the word "program" you may want to tweak your content to use that more common search term instead.


If you're hungry for more, read our three-part blog post series on Search Engine Optimization.