My Experience with SEO – Squashing Bugs

ByCharles Bunn

My Experience with SEO – Squashing Bugs

Now that we have Google and Bing crawling all over our site, we need to make sure they behave the way we want, in other words making sure we are SEO compliant. Now we get to see how well (or how poor if you’re a half glass full kind of person) our site will play in the big bad web. This requires some validation against known successful sites and for this we turn to a site called ‘SEOSiteCheckup’. Entering or web site URL rewards us with a grade and the details to back it up. Now I am normally an ‘A’ student so getting a ‘C’ my first time was a bit of a shocker. I thought I had covered all of the bases but that’s where I was surprised, I had missed several key areas and had several incomplete tasks. Time to smash some bugs.

I had a glaring problem with images, some were too big and most did not have the ‘alt’ tag. Alternative ‘alt’ text is text associated with an image that serves the same purpose and conveys the same essential information as the image, that’s a Wiki mouthful. In situations where the image is not available to the reader (perhaps because they have turned off images in their web browser, or are using a screen reader due to a visual impairment) the alternative text ensures no information or functionality is lost. Absent or unhelpful alternative text is a source of frustration for blind users of the Web. The ‘alt’ tags were set where ever possible but sometimes the template restricts their setting especially if there is a lot of Javascript in the page. Thankfully the search engines do not seem to penalize too much if a few tags are missing. Several of my images were initially over a 120 kb, the maximum preferred size is 50 kb, ouch! Using GIMP (yup it’s on my links page) I experimented with changes in image quality until I could get file sizes that were small enough and pleasing to the eye. I was able to shrink the image size substantially by setting the JPEG quality parameter to 25%. Be warned do not muck with anything else on a JPEG conversion unless you are a graphics guru, trust me there are too many things to screw up.

A very important part of the SEO optimization is a ‘sitemap’, just don’t tell a guy that – keep driving honey I am sure it’s around the next corner. I am using an extension called Xmap which creates both a ‘HTML’ and ‘XML’ sitemap, and no it doesn’t wash the cat too… The ‘XML’ site map is critical for getting Google and Bing to index your pages. On the Webmaster pages for both Google and Bing there is a configuration area where you can input the location of your ‘XML’ sitemap, this will greatly speed up the indexing of your site. The ASK search engine is not as forgiving as Google or Bing and it requires a very specific ‘XML’ standard web site, I have to ASK why. Unfortunately for me it will not accept the sitemap Xmap generates as it is in a non-SEO friendly format. I will have to use external software to generate the sitemap Ask wants. The ‘HTML’ site map can be used as a page on your site and is very useful for people wanting to find something. Xmap also creates hyperlinks with the HTML so that the user can jump right to the page when it is clicked.

My original low grade was primarily due to how I had constructed my meta tags. These tags are not seen by users browsing your page, but are used by search engines to associate your web pages with keywords and phrases. The meta tag title and meta tag description are used to build a short description of your web site to put in search page results. My error was not due to omitting these tags, as many people do, but to not using tags that appear in my content. Someone figured out that they could just put all of the most popular keywords into their meta tags to improve their position on search results, now you know why the secret sauce keeps changing. Tags were being used that had nothing to do with the content of the web page, they were popular keywords that helped raise a websites ranking. Search engines responded to this by verifying that the content contained the title, description and keyword meta tags used, otherwise the ranking was penalized, do not collect $200, go directly to jail. I corrected this error by using a Joomla component, module and plugin called SEOBoss that actually highlighted my keywords listed in the meta tags throughout my page content, I could then verify that indeed my content contained the meta tags I was using. The SEOBoss component also scanned my website and brought together all of the meta tag settings for each page (yes you need to set meta tags for all of your pages, though the front page is the most important.).

Joomla and the template I had bought thankfully supplied several more features needed to complete SEO. Heading status, robots.txt, image tag expiry and favicon are automatically done by Joomla and or the template. Heading status is the use of h1 and h2 html tags to highlight important keywords and describing sub-topics of a page. The robots.txt file is a small text file that gives instructions to when robots (search engine crawlers) about how to behave on the site, such as telling the robots that certain parts of your server are off limits to some or all robots, danger Will Robinson. The use of image expiry tags tells a browser to cache the image for a specified date so that it does not keep re-fetching unchanged images from your server. Finally the ‘Favicon’ are small icons that appear in your browser’s URL navigation bar – so it’s important that it’s your logo or some other symbol related to your business as these are the symbols are used when visitors set a Bookmark or Favorite for a page, and you thought little fairies came along and put it there…

There is one last very important area, that is actually a relatively new part of your web sites search ranking and that is links. Not links you create to someone else, but the links from other sites to your content. The links also need to be to meaningful content. The old thinking was to create short 500 word or less blogs and lots of them. Now Google, wants links to meaningful content that is between 750 and 1500 words. The last word is about social metrics and their effect on rankings. Those seemly useless Facebook ‘Like’ button, Google +, Tweet and Linkedin inShare buttons really are important for content. They provide a way for non-web Yoda’s to show that they like your content without having to create a phreaking link to it. Take a bow you have now made it probable that your web site will show up in the first 10000 results, just kidding… let’s hope it’s the listed with in the first ten to twenty search results.

About the author

Charles Bunn administrator

Chuck is the founder and Owner of Zypath LLC. With over two decades of experience in computer and networking systems, he specializes in small business communication design, setup, troubleshooting and maintenance.