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SEO Part 2: The Technical Stuff

As we move into the more technical aspects of search engine optimization (SEO), this is still not intended to be a technical guide. Continue to keep in mind that this is not a deep dive into SEO, but the basics. The target audience is someone not familiar with SEO, and who is not a website designer or developer.

If this is not a SEO how-to guide for web developers, then why bother write about the technical stuff? The answer is easy: to give you an idea of some of the technical SEO issues your hired web developer needs to be addressing. Since you are presumably not a web developer, you are paying for someone else to not only write web code for you, but to guide you through the process of developing your website and basic SEO. Here is your head-start on that process. Use this guide as a checklist, if you like, to make sure the basic technical SEO points are being addressed.

The URL, Part 2

Picking back up where we left off, it is time to discuss the second (right) half of the URL, and its relation to SEO. Essentially, the right half of the URL is the name (not to be confused with the title) of the page being displayed in your browser. In the case of this page, http://melissaoyler.com/website/seo-technical-stuff/, we are discussing the /website/seo-technical-stuff/ part of the URL. The one basic SEO concept for this part of the URL is to keep the highest concentration of keywords possible.

To explain, the URL could easily have been /website/seo-part-1-the-technical-stuff/ if I had left it up to the automatic URL generation of WordPress (which is used as the CMS for this website.) The problem with leaving in all those words is that many of them are of no use in SEO, therefore they dilute the other words that I do want to highlight. Within WordPress, as well as many other CMS, you are able to edit the URL before the page is published, so that is what I did. I simply took out the extra words, leaving a higher concentration of the words that matter.

If this is so simple, and can be controlled by the website owner, why did this make it into the technical section of this SEO introduction? Because even though this is a simple process, it works differently for every CMS out there. This means you are going to have to dive into the instruction manual for whatever CMS your website uses, or if you do not use a CMS, this will have to be done by hand by your developer. The specifics of the how-to is beyond the scope of this blog, but make sure to familiarize yourself with how to do this. The easy way is to just ask your developer.

But the second half of the URL on my website looks like http://melissaoyler.com/?p=250, so where do the words go? The answer to this is that your CMS is using a query string to display the page, and  it has not been configured to use words in the URL. Again, the specific how-to on adjusting your CMS is beyond the scope of this blog, but it is just a setting, and a good setting it is. Set it. Just be sure to use page redirects, when needed, if you are making changes to a live website.

Page Redirects

It is likely that in your time on the world wide web, you have come across a 404 Not Found error message. This is not uncommon. You are visiting one website, and you click on a link, and instead of the page you were hoping to see, you get a 404 Not Found error. Now imagine the link was to your website. Incoming links are important to SEO; the more inbound links your website has, the better the SEO. (As a side note, the better SEO ranking of the website that contains your inbound link, the better your SEO.) However, when the inbound link returns a 404 Not Found error instead of a webpage, you do not get the SEO credit. This is where the 301 Moved Permanently redirect comes in.

Be it a website overhaul or even an entirely new website design, you do not want to loose the SEO benefits that you could inherit from your old webpage or website. The trick to this is a 301 Moved Permanently redirect. A 301 redirect does two things. First, it redirects the browser to the new page without any user interaction. Second, it informs search engines that the page has been moved, and it gives the search engine the URL of the new page so that the search engine can update its records. 301 Moved Permanently redirect are SEO friendly, so everyone wins.

When might I have this problem, so I can be on the lookout? A simple example is that you used to have a URL http://melissaoyler.com/contact_business.php but after a site redesign your contact form is now located at http://melissaoyler.com/contact/so you setup a 301 redirect for anyone accessing the original page to be redirected to the new page. To test this, all you have to do is go into your preferred web browser and type in the old URL. If you get the new page, it is working. If you get a 404 Not Found error, it is not.

Page Validation

Page validation is a simple test to see if a particular webpage is compliant with current web standards and structure. To be sure, not all browsers display pages the same way, but we are going to move past the “which browser is more compliant” debate and address the simple fact that as a business owner, you want your website to reach the largest number of potential customers, and you want it to look and act correctly when it does. Having a webpage pass a validation test will go a long way to insuring this.

A trick that web browsers can do is to try to ignore page errors. That is to say, if a webpage has a coding error, the browser will do its best to display the page, instead of just giving the end user an error. The browser will do this by ignoring the coding errors, but this trick will sacrifice page structure, and this is where we get to the part about SEO. If the webpage has a broken structure due to a coding error, then the keywords in your content that a search engine is looking for may now be in the wrong place. If the keywords are in the wrong place, then a search engine might rank them incorrectly. If those keywords are not ranked correectly then they are not being used to rank your website correctly. Your potential customers never find you.

So how do you validate the integrity of a webpage? Use Unicorn – W3C’s Unified Validator to test your individual pages. If there are errors to be found in the structure, this free tool will find them. Now this tool is not infallible. There may be a programming technique that your page needs that is not yet part of the W3C standards, and because of this your page will not validate. This is not necessarily a problem. Just talk with your website developer about the errors, and find out why the errors are showing up on the test.

Sitemaps

“Sitemaps are an easy way for webmasters to inform search engines about pages on their sites that are available for crawling. In its simplest form, a Sitemap is an XML file that lists URLs for a site along with additional metadata about each URL (when it was last updated, how often it usually changes, and how important it is, relative to other URLs in the site) so that search engines can more intelligently crawl the site.” – Sitemaps.org That is as good a definition as it is going to get.

When it comes to sitemaps, there are two you need to know:

  1. The major search engines support sitemaps, but the search engines do need to be informed of the existence of the sitemap.xml file.
  2. Many content management systems (CMS) such as Drupal or WordPress have module or plugins to support automatic sitemap generation and submission.

Quick and easy. The best part is that when done right, this piece of technology will do all the work for you.

Next up is webpage structure.

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