Search the web for Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and you will find a plethora of web sites and people ready to sell you advice. Visit the many blogs and user groups and you find references to snake oil salesman and superman, there seems to be no end to the promises made and broken by some so called experts and web sites. Getting your web site to the first page of a search is an accomplishment worthy of praise. There are many things you can do on your own to improve your chances and I am by no means an SEO expert. My intent here is to relay my own experiences in getting SEO working on my web site. SEO is at best a black art and a project that is never finished.
Google, Bing and Ask do not make their crawl algorithms public as they are the secret sauce worthy of hefty protection, except imagine a secret sauce that changes constantly. The algorithms used are constantly adapting to those that find ways to beat them. That being said, what I am writing today could be completely irrelevant in a year, so for an in depth look at the what, why and how go to my links and look at the publication “The Beginner’s Guide to SEO”. My tale here is not an instructional guide on SEO but on just how to get to the beginning of the race.
My site is built on the Open Source Content Management System (CMS) called Joomla. I started with the Webmaster tools from Google and Bing (see my links), in particular the Google tools. Crawl errors had become the bane of my existence and my site had dozens. I was shocked and happy to find out that Google had already been crawling all over my site without me really trying. In Joomla I had SEO friendly URL’s turned on but I still had major problems that were causing issues with Google and Bing. Simple URL’s are best and all good intentions aside, I had enabled Multi Language support but it really was not appropriate for the local markets I am targeting. Disabling multilingual support changed my URL’s from ‘https://www.zypath.com/index.php/en/resources’ to ‘https://www.zypath.com/index.php/resources’ but now I had my second issue, why was there a ‘index.php’ sitting in the middle of each URL. Users were being redirected from ‘https://www.zypath.com’ and ‘https://zypath.com’ to ‘https://www.zypath.com/index.php’ and Bing did not like that at all, in fact Bing refused to index the site while Google didn’t seem to notice – go figure? Once again a default Joomla setting was the culprit and the issue was easily fixed.
These first issues though were not the source of my crawl errors though, there was a big white elephant sitting in the room as I blissfully went about my business. It turns out all of my Tutorials and Blog articles had an ID number in front of them and Google did not think that was very SEO friendly. My search to figure out why this was happening turned up a glaring problem in Joomla that I hope will get fixed. Joomla’s infinite flexibility comes at a price; a menu item must point to any content visible on the site otherwise it adds an ID to the URL. I really do not want to swell my menus up with hundreds of items so what do I do? I created a hidden menu (not set to any module position) that linked to each article of content, a pain and a work around but it worked. The ID’s were gone and Google and Bing were happy.
One final problem remains and this was URL Canonicalization, say that fast three times and you will sound like an old mafia boss… Canonicalization describes how a site can use slightly different URLs for the same page – for example people often leave off the ‘www’ when typing a web site URL. The separation can cause lost link value (according to Google – sounds more like a stock portfolio) and hurt rankings for your page, Google even describes this and how they attempt to determine the best page match for the URL. Fixing this required going into the web server and creating what is known as a 301 redirect or re-write rule so that all pages point to the same URL. Bing dada Boom I am on fire now, Bing finally starts responding…
Unfortunately we are still not done with the basics. We now have Google and Bing able to find and index our pages but we really are just starting with SEO optimization. We will review that in another Blog post where we will cover using some free online SEO optimization tools.