HTML is one of the core technologies of our search engine optimization and search engine marketing worlds. Search engines eat and live HTML documents. Computer programs, including search engines also create HTML. For the vast majority of searches ran on search engines, the search engines analyze the data pulled directly from and only from your HTML documents. Let’s look at some HTML documents through the eyes of a search engine to get a general understanding of how HTML documents work and how search engines use them. Before we do, I’ll provide a simple explanation of what HTML is.
Generally, all web pages are HTML documents. Some of the main characteristics of HTML documents are that they are plain-text files written in a language called HTML (HTML stands for HyperText Markup Language). The HTML commands in the text file are interpreted by your browser to appropriately render color, text formatting (such as underlining words and font size), embedded images and interactivity, but HTML code itself cannot contain anything except letters, numbers and punctuation, etc. It is made to be readable and understandable by both humans and computers. It has a standardized structure so that any human or computer program should be able to read two different HTML documents and extract semantics (or meaning) from them the same way. Standardization also allows two computer programs to read the same document and extract the same semantics from them as well as to visually render them the same, given the same set of rendering rules. HTML documents will usually just contain the content and the structure–rendering rules are stored in another document.
If you think about a traditional letter, there are specific parts of the letter, like the addressee’s name and address, date, salutation, and opening, body, and closing paragraphs. If you were to tell a search engine to index or read your letter exactly as you see it, the engine would not be able to differentiate say, the date with the salutation. For example, if you were to ask the search engine what the person’s name is to whom the letter is written, it might unknowingly include the salutation line with the first body paragraph and not be able to give you an answer. You need to be able to tell the search engine where the salutation line starts and ends and where the individual body paragraphs start and end.
Imagine you were writing your letter with a word processor and there was a key titled “Salutation Line.” You would press the key before typing “Dear Mr. Jacobs,” and once more after the salutation. Essentially, you tagged a part of the text using hidden marks to denote where the salutation line starts and stops. You would do a similar thing for headlines, underlined text, body paragraphs, addresses, dates and maybe even a picture place holder nested inside a body paragraph, all with appropriate tags. Now, the document has structure. If a human, a browser, or a search engine were to read the underlying tags, they would be able to respond correctly when asked, “when was the letter written” or “show me the picture associated with the second body paragraph” and so on. The search engines’ ability to create meaning from and associate parts of the content assists with their ability to tell if a given keyword or key phrase is relevant to the web page.
The structure of an HTML document starts with information about the version and style of the mark-up language. This helps the non-human reader know how to interpret which the tag types it encounters, which may include ignoring a tag completely. After the HTML version information, the general structure then continues with the first HTML tag which contains the two main HTML sections, head and body tags, also delimited using their own tags. The head section contains information about the body of the document as well as further instructions for non-human readers. Our example letter above does not have a head tag, but if it did, we could include a synopsis of the letter using a meta tag. A human reader, if given the choice, would probably read the synopsis first in order to decide if they want to read the entire letter. Incorporating this same idea, the search engines use the meta tags and place a respectable level of importance on them.
If unclosed tags or incorrectly-nested tags occur anywhere in the document, non-human readers could also become confused about the meaning and create invalid associations. A process known as “validating HTML” helps to assure these errors don’t exist in your document and should be a part of all SEO efforts. You can validate your HTML using the W3C Markup Validation Service. You should also make sure to properly use HTML tags in your documents as well as optimize content inside these tags. Doing so provides structure to your document and helps the search engines do their job: read the HTML documents similar to how a human would, so that it can answer questions about them solicited from a human.
This is part two of a two-part topic. https://www.morevisibility.com/semblog/content-management-systems-and-seo-part-1-of-2.html
In my last post, I introduced content management systems and listed a few of their benefits to a web site creator, including search engine optimization benefits. To review, a CMS organizes and stores the content portion of a website, separating the content from common visual page elements and from the inner-workings of the system used to organize and display your content. It can standardize a content creation workflow and allow multiple authors and multiple site administrators. Standardizing your processes, as well as having organized content saves you time. Whether it is starting a website from scratch, or updating many pages at once, using a pre-built CMS can help you move toward your goal faster.
SEO benefits of quality content management systems include being able to easily and quickly create keyword-rich, SEO-friendly URLs and remembering to create accessible and valid HTML code when you forget. It can also help maintain and properly display your articles’ meta information and titles. The ease and speed in which a CMS will allow you to update meta information, titles, URLs and content can be a huge time saver, but can get you into trouble quickly if you’re not careful: the automatic and global nature of a CMS will multiply effects of any un-optimized aspects of your website.
For example, if you don’t realize that your CMS is not using search engine friendly URLs, (out of the box, many of them do not) every page in your website can suffer. An inflexible CMS may reduce the effectiveness of your site if it does not support SEO-friendly html code such as alt (alternate text) attributes or allow you to control what text goes into the H tags. In addition, possible ‘code bloat’ may occur from including useless features which causes the user to wait for unneeded features to download. By its very presence, this extra code will reduce the effectiveness of your valuable content on your web pages, especially since it’s likely that your content will be pushed further down the page. A CMS can readily propagate all these problems to every page of your site instead of potentially only a few if you did not use a CMS.
You should be aware that without a solid transition plan, changing URL patterns (or structure) after your web site has been indexed can be extremely detrimental to your search engine positions.
Before using a CMS, I recommend that you spend plenty of time evaluating different systems, while considering your requirements. Also weigh heavily the skill level of the people who will be using the content management system day in and day out.
There are three final suggestions I’d like to leave with you:
This is part one of a two-part topic.
The first commandment of a successful website is that you must have content. So, you’ve realized that maintaining that content is taking a lot of your time. You don’t want to keep track of URLs and meta data for all your pages. You need a content management system, or CMS.
In addition to helping you with the above tasks, a CMS can provide an efficient way to syndicate the content you create to other websites. Similar to a blog, it can also keep track of who created the content and when.
Essentially, a CMS allows you or your staff to create and update content quickly and without the use of a stand-alone program like Microsoft FrontPage or Adobe Dreamweaver. The content you create can be web pages, sections of web pages such as a common footer, stories or combinations of those. CMS can keep track of those content types (or custom content types) and whether a specific piece of content is viewable (or “published”) to your visitors or just in the draft stage. The CMS will automatically integrate the common sections of your web pages with your content so you only need to create clean and search engine-optimized code for your common sections once.
Using a CMS has benefits for your search engine rankings as well. Each content type or content category can be assigned its own section of your site, even though it’s managed in a central location. This allows the CMS to create keyword-rich, search engine friendly URLs easily. Your meta data and title tags can be managed in a central location also, making changes simpler and faster.
While using a Content Management System can make your life easier, there are a few significant gotchas to be aware of including how they could become SEO unfriendly. Stay tuned for my next post when I will review those pitfalls and offer some helpful suggestions. While I can’t promise you’ll get a raise when you implement a CMS at your office, I’m sure you’ll wonder how you got along without it.