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Online Ministries Community Blog

May 06

Evangelism by Search Engine – Part 3 - Getting Your Pages Found

Posted by Bill Anderton

To recap this series so far: I’ve written about viewing your church’s website not in simple tactical terms but, instead, about using your website asset as a missional tool for evangelism; harnessing the Internet culture and addressing it on its terms. I have also written about the very basic steps of having a website and making sure that all of your content can be found and can be searched by the search engines’ crawlers.

The next step in today’s blog posting is almost as equally basic; getting you pages found once they are in the search engines’ indexes. You want your pages shown on the search engines’ results pages AND clicked on by users, so they actually visit your site.

Search engines work by matching each user’s search query with the BEST possible page or pages that best matches the query fulfills what the user is looking for in the search.

isr_diagram_400w.pngThe search engines’ goals are to (1) provide the user with the most relevant response and (2) to NOT to send irrelevant information. However, since no system is perfect, search engines want to minimize relevant information that is not sent to the user (“misses”) and also minimize the irrelevant information that is sent to users (“noise”). Graphically, these goals can be shown in a classic diagram like the one on the right.

The real trick is determining what information is relevant. First, what is the subset of all pages are relevant and satisfy what the user is looking for? Second, of the subset of pages that are relevant, what pages are MOST relevant and will BEST satisfy what the user is looking for in the search.

Obviously, the Internet is a very big place that is measured in zettabytes; far too many pages for even large groups of humans to manually make these judgments and matches. Even after the information on the pages are harvested and placed into indexes, computers and software algorithms will have to do the matches.

Also, and even more demanding, the Internet is a very dynamic place; the content of individual pages have a high probability of changing not once, but many times very quickly and frequently. The computers if search engines have to constantly reappraise the content of pages in the search indexes.

Search engines do this and do it very well, incredibly quickly and remarkably accurately. They are marvels of information science and information engineering and one of the critical foundational technologies that make the web work!

Rather than classifying pages by categories (called “pre-coordinate indexing”) search engines crawlers read all of the text on the pages and build indexes of all of the words and phrases on the page, tossing away only the articles (“the”, “and”, etc.) When an end user enters a query into the search box in natural language, the computer searches for all of the pages in their indexes that contain words that match the query. It is up to the search software to do the intersection of the search terms and page content (called “post-coordinate indexing.”)

Here is the really tricky part: even the most arcane query can result in hundreds of thousands of “search hits” of pages that match the query. Typically, end users won’t sift through any more than 10 or 20 results; rarely more than 40. Search engines have to have methods of ranking the pages so what the servers send what they think are the best results and that the most relevant results are presented first and highest on the search engine result pages (SERPs) of all possible search results.

Most modern search engines use two different methods of ranking results:

  • On-page factors (such as the words on the page and its metadata)
  • Off-page factors (such as the number and quality of third-party links to the page)

The process of intentionally improving the ranking of pages in search engine results through intentional methodologies by the manipulation of these factors are called “search engine optimization” or SEO.

Much has been written about the use of off-page factors in improving the ranking of web pages in SEO. I am going to add my two-cents about off-page factors later in this series but, for today, I want to focus first on the on-page factors; putting the words on the page and its metadata. In other words, those things that are included in the HTML file that contains the web page.

One of the reasons for my initial focus on the on-page factors is that these techniques that are most frequently overlooked even by newbie webmasters.

Also, on-page factors are very important. The simple fact is that while optimizing off-page factors can improve results, all things being equal, if the text on the page doesn’t match what the end user is searching for, your page won’t get to first base!

The first rule about getting your content found is to make good, high-quality, engaging and compelling content. Do this first, and you will get a fair share of search engine referrals.

Indeed, there are some things you can do on the page that will improve the results even more and I will write about them below. However, everything is based on the foundation of having good solid content on the page when you begin or optimization tasks.

First, put some effort into writing the text on the page; the exact words you use matter a lot! Remember, search engines work on doing full-text matches from the words and phrases on the page. If you are writing about “roses,” your page won’t fit searches for “Chrysanthemums” (and vice versa).

Actually, this is the beauty of full-text port-coordinate index searching; the full text of the words on the page does a pretty good job when classifying the page for searches.

However, as smart as they are, the algorithms of search engine are not all that intuitive; they look for exact matches to the keywords that they are programmed to look for when matching queries to web pages. In other words, while the use of words like “communion,” “Eucharist,” “Holy Sacrament,” “Last Supper” and “Lord's Supper” can be considered synonyms and often used in casual writing interchangeably, they would NOT be associated with each other by search engines; they all would be unique and unrelated keywords.

Seach engines will know some common synonyms, they aren't that good. Certainly, they will perform poorly with church jargon (and almost a jargon, for that matter.)

There is also a rather obvious point about full-text searching that is easily over-looked: pages need words to get found! Pages with only pictures and very few words won’t get deeply indexed. Yes put pictures on your web pages (and lots of them) but don’t scrimp on the text either. For example, put very descriptive “cut lines” under each picture. Also, use the “alt” tag to put your targeted keywords into image tags when images are placed on the page. Finally, put paragraphs on the pages that put the pictures in a fuller context.

Also, and this will disappoint (and perhaps wound) a lot of people working on church websites, many search engines don’t do a very good job indexing .PDF files and other embedded documents. All of your church newsletters so faithfully put on your web page for downloading aren’t doing as good of a job as they could be in the search engines. It is great to put the PDF of your newsletter on the website, but if you want to get the added value of using your newsletter to attract people from searches, take the text and headline from the newsletter file (and the pictures too) and also put them on the page. This is true on all document types. Some search engines won’t index them at all and others do a poor job of it. It is far better to harvest the text from your documents and put the words themselves onto the page in addition to putting the PDF file on the page for downloading.

The words that end users use in their search query are called “keywords” and they can be single words or phrases. Therefore, think strategically and proactively about the specific words and phrases you use in your text in order to match keywords to attract hits in the search engines. Remember that you are writing text that will be indexed and searched; use specific words and phrases that will attract the type of seeker you want. Have the specific words on the page that people would be likely to be looking for in searches.

Also, think about how end users will phrase their queries, what they are going to type into the search box of the search engine they use. The better the match of their phase, the higher the likelihood of you page being shown in the search results.

There are many good tools for helping you figure out keywords used in searches. To get started selecting keywords, I use the Google AdWords tool. I can enter some initial keywords and then see what Google suggests including the terms search volumes. I can brainstorm and expand the scope of terms that I look at. I can also check the Google Trends tool and Google Correlate.

However, creative and intuitive guesswork also comes into play. Yes, this is an art form!

You might find that users search on the phrase “Sunday worship times.” If so, use that phase in your text. However, you might find that more users might type “When is church on Sunday” instead.

Don’t worry about covering all of the bases on any single page; do your homework to skew the odds in your favor. Brainstormed for keywords that might work for your site and do some researched.

There is indeed a practical limit about what can you do on any single page. In fact, target no more than two or three different keywords (words and/or phrases) per page of your site. However, remember that your “site” (as a whole) isn’t listed in the indexes; its individual pages are. Your footprint in the search engines’ indexes is therefore the aggregation of all of all of the keywords in all of your site’s pages. If the topic of you page is important enough, you can always make more than one page on any single topic, each targeted to different search strategies using its own unique set of keywords.

To restate something that I’ve written about in this blog before, be sure to have a good navigation design so that no matter where your visitors from search engine referrals land in your site, they can easy discover other items of interest and get there with as few clicks as possible. You can’t be sure where you visitors from search engine referrals will land so make it enticing and easy to move around in your site.

The next things to understand are that not all text on the page are treated equally, the use of keywords carry more weight when used in certain places. For example, be sure, put the most important keyword or two in the first paragraph of the page and perhaps the most important keyword in the main headline (the H1 tag) of the page. Other prime places include:

  • Subheadings (H2-H6 tags)
  • Within the anchor phrases of links
  • Within the alt tags of images

The most important thing to do when optimizing your website text is to be as natural as possible. Yes, integrate keywords but in an intelligent and natural way. Also, don't overdo it! Writing to be SEO friendly does NOT mean writing for search engines. You are writing for people! A page that is over-optimized and stuffed with too make keywords is no fun to read. At the end of the day, search engines ultimately want to provide good content to its customer that is informative and interesting. Don't loose site of this basic concept.

Keywords should be used multiple times of a page but watch pages' keyword density. Keyword density from the use multiple instances of keywords can be used as a factor in determining whether a web page is relevant for a specified keyword. Keyword density is the percentage of the number of times a keyword (and keywords can be phrases) appears on a web page divided by the total number of words on the page. Some SEO experts say that one to two percent is the optimum keyword density. Much higher, search engines can penalize the ranking of the page for "keyword stuffing."

It should also be noted that the on-page factors that can positively influence search results include more than just the text in the body of the page; using targeted keywords each page’s metadata are also very important.

Metadata can be included in the HTML code in the <head> area of each page. Using meta tags may appear a bit scary at first because (without a CMS to help) they have to edited in the HTML code of the page, but even people without any previous HTML experience can easily learn how to use meta tags.

Important places to insert keywords into metadata include:

  • Title
  • Meta keywords
  • Meta description

The page title (<title>Page title goes here</title>) is the single most important meta tag to pay attention to; it is given a lot of weight by the search engines. Put your best and most important keyword in the title.

The meta keyword tag (<meta name="keywords" content="put your keywords here">) provide your recommendation of important keywords to the search engines. The search engines are not obligated to use them but you can suggest. Some tips for writing title tags are:

  • Don't use too many keywords - Put only the top three to six keywords and key phrases in the title tag.
  • Do not repeat keywords - Do NOT repeat keywords in in the title tag; ever!
  • Make the title meaningful and relevant - Title tags should be descriptive of the content on the page.
  • Title length - Page title tags should be a maximum of 70 characters long (including spaces.)
  • Wording - Keep phrases short and simple; leave out words that make your title read like a sentence (and, if, but, then, etc.)
  • Keyword placement: The more important keywords, the closer to the beginning of the title tag it should be; the least important keywords in the last of the title tag (arrange from most to least important.)
  • Do NOT duplicate titles - Each page should have a unique title; don't have duplicates.

The meta description tag <meta name="description" content="Put your page description here">) will be the short description that end users will see on the search engine result pages (SERPs) at appears just below the page title. This description is important because you can use it to attract the user to click on the link and actually visit your page. Remember, getting the searcher to visit your site is the overall objective of all of this work. Your descriptions should be something that lets searchers know your page is going to have the answer they’re looking for; make them understand that your page is a good resource for them to see.

Also, when you name your pages to produce each page's URL, use keywords in the URL as the name of the page. Yes, the search engines give weight to keywords used in URLs. This is a very simple technique but effective.

These best practices will sound like a lot of work and, indeed, they can be. However, if you learn these techniques and integrate them as foundations in your content development process, you will find that (1) it is very manageable; (2) they aren't that hard to do once you get used to it; and (3) it will produce dramatic results.

Please note that I have NOT written about all of the tricks of the trade in this posting. These things are just the most basic things that will yield the most "bang for the buck" (the time it takes to do these things). Although basic, the techniques discussed in this posting will dramatically improve your rankings in the search engines and that should bring a whole group of new visitors to your website.

Category: (05-13) May 2013   Tag:

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