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The methods search engines use to work out how to rank pages is not public knowledge and is always changing, but there are some well-established rules that will help improve your page’s searchability. Many of these are important for accessibility too.
The most important method a search engine uses to work out when and where to include your page in search results is to analyse the words and other content on the page.
Take a step back and put yourself in a user’s shoes. Are you writing for the audience you want to reach? It is all too easy to slip into the language of the organisation / peers, which may not make sense to your users.
Write your page for your audience and try to use the words or phrases you think they will be using to search for it. However, try not to over saturate your page with keywords or use the same three-word phrase throughout - not only will your page read awkwardly but search engines may think you’re trying to game the system and penalise it in search rankings.
Search engines are becoming adept at interpreting the intent behind a search query, even if the query doesn’t include the exact keyword(s) that you’re focusing on. This means you can use alternative wording that still addresses your user’s needs in order to avoid your page becoming repetitive.
Overall, the most important point to consider is the value your page brings to your audience. No one is going to link to your page, or stay on it for any amount of time, unless it is well written and meets their needs. Read more about this on Neil Patel’s blog or the Crazy Egg website.
The title (<title>) tag of your page is used to populate the clickable line of text that is displayed within the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages). It is one of many important ranking factors.
This highlights to search engines the relevance of your content to a search term. Matching terms on the SERPs are highlighted in bold, which helps users determine if a particular page is what they are looking for.
A good title tag should enhance your click-through rate from search engines, which in turn could boost your page’s position in search results.
Keep your title concise, but descriptive. If it is too long, search engines may not display all of it.
Make sure the title of your page accurately describes your page. If you have a page describing, for example, our ceramics courses in detail, you would want to call it something like ‘Ceramics courses in detail’ rather than ‘In detail’.
Make sure your title is unique to an individual page. If more than one page share the same title it will be confusing to users and search engines.
The <title> and <h1> are populated from the metadata title field.
When you create your page you will be prompted to input a title:
To edit the metadata title for an existing page:
A meta description provides search engines with a summary of what your page is about, and is often used as the descriptive text (snippet) that you see beneath a search engine listing.
Most advice says that this doesn’t directly affect the ranking of the page. However, a good meta description could improve the click through rate to your page as it reinforces to the user that it is what they are looking for. This gives you more visits, which in turn can improve the position of the page in search results.
The content of the meta description should reflect the content of your page, and be concise and engaging. You could consider putting likely search queries in the description so a user’s query shows up in bold. Try to keep your meta description to a maximum of 150 characters so it appears in full.
Note that the meta description may not always appear in results pages. Depending on the user’s search query, search engines may instead display alternative text taken directly from your page.
The meta description is populated from the metadata description field.
When you create your page you will be prompted to input a meta description:
To edit the metadata description for an existing page:
Until recently, Ektron didn’t prompt you to do this when you set up your page so it may be that some of your pages do not have a meta description.
You can find out if any of your pages are missing their metadata using Siteimprove.
Your page’s main heading - defined by your <h1> tag - is treated as important by search engines when they are working out what your page is about.
It is also often the first piece of text that readers see when opening your page, and should allow readers to understand the relevance of your page at a glance.
Sub-headings (h2 h3 etc) are also treated as important (although less so than your <h1>) and help search engines (and people) to understand the structure of your page. Make sure they are used in the correct order and are relevant and descriptive.
The <h1> should describe the page concisely and accurately. It should ideally be the first element within the body of your page, and you should only have one <h1> on a page.
The next level of headings should use <h2>, and headings underneath each of those should use <h3> etc.
Make sure you use headings appropriately - it can help to think of them as providing an outline of the key topics your page covers. This will help users to scan your page and understand the main sections of content.
Don’t overdo it - having too many headings can make it harder for users to scan your page.
Your <h1>tag is generally created automatically and matches the <title> tag of your page.
However, you can edit your <h1>/<title> tag at a later date without impacting the page’s alias.
You will find this in the ‘Metadata’ tab where your page is located in the pagebuilder folder of Ektron where it’s identified as ‘title’.
Other levels of heading can be applied to the text in the text editor by first highlighting the text then using the styles in the format tab.
Internal links are those that point to other pages or resources on your site. They can be valuable as they send further signals to search engines about what the page is about.
Your site’s internal link structure will tell search engines which of your pages are important. In very blunt terms, a link to a page signals to search engines that a page has some authority.
Providing links to pages will also make it easier for search engines to find them, so this is definitely something to consider when you publish new pages that search engines have not ‘seen’ before.
From the user’s point of view, including relevant internal links will help them find other pages on your site.
Make sure your site is structured logically - see Google’s guidelines for detailed recommendations.
Use Siteimprove to check for and fix broken links regularly.
When linking to other pages on your site, make sure the link text includes key words / phrases that describe the page you are linking to. This is good practice for accessibility too.
For example, let’s say you’re linking to your MA Ceramics course page (page A) from another page (page B). Page B’s link text should read: “Find out more about our master’s degree in ceramics” rather than “To find out more about our MA Ceramics course, click here”.
You may have several pages that cover a similar subject and share many of the same keywords (e.g. overview pages, subpages, course pages etc.). To provide further clarity to search engines about which of these pages is the most important, choose the page that you particularly want users to find in search and make sure you have relevant internal links pointing to this ‘important’ page.
A more detailed explanation of internal linking strategy is on the Econsultancy website.
To create a link in Ektron’s text editor, highlight the relevant text, click on the ‘chain link’ icon (or use ‘Ctrl+k’), and paste the URL of the page you are linking to.
An external backlink is a link from another website to yours. Good quality backlinks are a strong indicator to search engines that people think your page is valuable and will help increase its search rankings.
The quality of the link refers to the authority of the website providing it. For example, if you are running a DIY blog, a link from an international DIY brand’s website may have a greater authority than a local homewares store.
Links to your site from irrelevant sites can potentially harm your search ranking (or at best won’t do it any good). Search engines can treat this as an attempt to game the system and penalise you for it.
It is worthwhile taking a look at which sites link to your page and check the link / link text is relevant. This includes any sites that you are paying to list your courses on or have a profile on.
You can also check if there are any obvious sites you are missing from, and contact the owners of those sites to request they link to you.
There are various tools available that will do this. Google Search Console provides some information (please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you'd like access to this). Another option with a free service is Open Site Explorer and there are various other paid for tools available.
If you have some control over how links to your pages appear on external websites, make sure they follow the best practice for internal link text (tip 5).
For example, the international team list Brookes’ pathways courses on the website in the screenshot below. The text supplied to the website owner included clear links to the pathways courses pages.
Some SEO advice suggests linking to other sites with authority reflect well on your page.
Think about external resources that visitors to your pages may find useful, and where appropriate create links to them. Make sure the external sites are good quality and credible, and check your Siteimprove reports regularly to check for broken links.
Follow the advice for internal link text (tip 5).
Search engines use alt text to assess the information about images on your page. It is also important for screen readers.
Describe the content of the image using the ‘alt’ attribute.
For example, the alternative text for this image could say ‘A Brookes bus driving past our Headington Campus’.:
The code of the image tag would look like this:
<img src=”/assets/0/1425/1426/2147492045/a87f0f8f-2695-4396-830d-12e0fbd33915.jpg” alt=”A Brookes bus driving past our Headington Campus” />
The Title of the image in Ektron is used to populate its alt attribute if you use Ektron’s ‘library’ option to add the image to a content module.
You can override this by editing the source code of the content module and manually changing the text in the ‘alt’ attribute for the image.
The length of time a user spends on your page / site is another factor used by search engines to work out how valuable your page is to users.
However, this isn’t a straightforward ‘long time on page = good’ metric because the optimal length of a user’s visit will depend a lot on why they are visiting the page, what it is about etc. Even so, it is worth bearing in mind when creating and managing your pages.
There are several ways your content can encourage users to stay on your page.
Refer to the Digital standards website for resources and training on designing and structuring your pages to make them easy to use.
It is important to make sure the effort you have put in is making a difference and learn where it is worthwhile doing more or changing your approach.
To test where your pages appear in search results you can’t rely on searching for yourself as results will be based on your location and search history.
There are several online tools you can use to see where your page appears for a given search term. You can even simulate searches from other countries.
To check one search term you could use: https://serps.com/tools/rank-checker/
To check multiple search terms you could use: http://whatsmyserp.com/
Before you even start making any SEO changes, you should record where your pages currently rank. Then you may want to take monthly records of where your pages rank using a spreadsheet similar to this:
Remember, you may not see immediate results. It can take a while for search engines to re-check your page and find the changes you have made so be patient and be prepared to experiment with different approaches to see what works best for your page.
Article updated in December 2017.