Tag Archives: seo

Search Engine Optimisation Via Dead Trees

I thought I’d undertake some professional development surrounding search engine optimisation, ironically in the form of a paper back book, named Get to the top on Google written by David Viney.

As I work my way through the book, I thought I might share some thoughts on the content covered – see what ideas I like about his search engine optimising techniques compared to what I already do or potentially what I don’t do.

If nothing else, having a competing train of thought surrounding optimising for search engines has to be healthy. It could reinforce solid ideas that I already had, disspell what I considered good advice as nothing more than a myth or offer completely new optimisation strategies and techniques.

We’ll find out how that all pans out in the next week or two as I complete Get to the top of Google.

HTML <title> Elements Play Significant Role In Search Engine Optimisation

Approximately six months ago, I mentioned that I was going to conduct a small test regarding the impact that optimising the HTML <title> element has from a search engine optimisation stand point.

In December when I wrote that, #if debug was a very new site – in fact it has been online for exactly one month. It’ll come as no surprise that no one knew about the site, in fact even to this day a limited number of people know about the site. Fortunately though, I do have evidence to suggest that more know about it now than they did in December!

In the announcement, I had said that a 10% increase in traffic would have been considered a success. Given that the site was taking approximately 60 visits per week at that time – optimising the <title> attribute would need to increase that to around 65 visits to be considered a success.

In the image above, you can see if the effect of optimising the <title> element in the HTML. The change was made at the marker point directly above the 25 in “Nov 25, 2007 – Dec 1, 2007”. I’m not sure what caused the dip in traffic immediately after the change, however once it recovered – the increased traffic has been maintained or increased. The marker point second from the right delivered a whopping 67 visits for the week and as such I’m going to claim this a victory (even if it is very very small!).

In the following few months, this tiny site has grown from zero visits and has steadily been increasing month on month to a lofty figure a little over 400 visits per month! I realise that isn’t a lot of traffic by anyones measurement, however for a site that has had very little effort put in and next to no attention directed its way – it isn’t half bad.

Changing The HTML Source Order Can Damage Search Engine Referrals

What follows is a quick digest of the impacts a web site owner might expect from reordering the HTML source on a web site, in particular what effects it can have on the search engine performance of a web site.

During the month of June, I decided to freshen up the layout of my personal site. When it was complete and without a whole lot of consideration – I published the new design onto my site. I sat back and admired my work for a little while until a few days later when I started to notice a decline in the number of natural search engine referrals. At the time, I didn’t bother to look into it and associated it to random flux on the internet. A few days later I checked the statistics again to confirm that it had recovered, only to find that not only had it not recovered but that it had dropped further.

After investigating the problem, I immediately realised that I had changed the HTML source order within my WordPress template. After the change, the primary content of the site was now placed at the bottom of the HTML document with a large amount of less important content above it. Worst yet, the information listed first within the HTML was identical for the entire site, as it was related to the sidebar which is largely static.

The table below shows the number of Google search engine referrals per month to the site. As you can see, the monthly referrals have been steadily increasing from the start of the year until they started to drop in June. Realising what had happened, I took the hit on the search engine referrals to see just how far it would drop down if it were left for a complete month. The ordering of the HTML was not restored until the beginning of August, as such July represents a complete month with the suboptimal ordering of the HTML.

  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov
Referrals 9899 10395 13206 13281 13200 10942 8426 10580 12648 12084 12361

The change in the number of natural search engine referrals was caused by what was being listed within Google as the snippet for each page within the site. Ordinarily, the primary content is listed toward the top of the HTML document and as such, it is featured heavily within the snippet. After reorganising the order of the HTML, the snippet within the search engine results was displaying information about the current list of months in the sidebar of the site. As a by product of the snippet not being contextually relevant to the title of the page, the click through rate plummeted.

In an ideal world, a webmaster should be able to change their site layout as frequently as they choose without it impacting their search engine ranking and associated click through rate. In this particular case, changing the layout and unknowingly the HTML source order, had a significant knock on effect as I wasn’t controlling what was being displayed within the search engines specifically via a meta description tag. By not specifying it directly, I was relying on the search engines to automatically generate or choose one on my behalf and after changing the HTML ordering, the choice was suboptimal.

Measuring The Impact Of Page Titles

Following on from my simple experiment regarding the performance of different Adsense themes, it seemed like as good a time as any to start another experiment surrounding the impact of web page titles on search engine performance.

Out of the box, WordPress doesn’t ship with particularly search engine friendly page titles:

  • {blog title} » {blog archive} » {page title}

The biggest problem with the default title format from a search engine optimisation point of view, is that it contains relatively useless information in the title, positioned in the highest visibility location. The useless information I’m referring to, is of course the blog title and that a given page is within your blog archive. Some people might argue that your blog title is very important and in some cases that is the case, however in my opinion that isn’t the norm. As for the fact that a web page is within your archive, that has little significance, as publishing content online is essentially places it into an archive immediately – its called the internet.

To move the highest importance keywords and phrases into the highest visibility location, I have opted to place the page title at the start of the title tag. Since I don’t think users care about a web page being archived, I’ve also opted to drop that from the page title too. These changes have resulted in the page titles that you’re seeing currently, which take the form:

  • {page title} | {blog title}

Given that #if debug is taking a very small amount of traffic currently, any changes to the site at the moment are highly visible within the web statistics. I’m hoping that with the changes to the page title format, the search engine referrals will increase by a figure of over 10%. It is a modest figure, however given that I have so little content at the moment – it is something that I hope is attainable.