Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

What is SEO?

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of influencing natural search results, so that your web pages appear for the keywords you’d like it to rank for. In essence, SEO comprises all of the actions that can be taken to make your website appear in search engines more frequently, thus driving targeted visitors to your website.

On-site and Off-site SEO

There are two types of optimization that can be done: On-site and Off-site.

On-site optimization includes the many factors that are controlled on your website by the creator, such as content, focus keywords, heading tags, title tags, meta descriptions, and captions and alt tags on images.

Off-site optimization comprises the aspects that are controlled outside of your website itself, such as page rank, link building, social media and reputation building.

As web content authors at Boise State, we can directly influence the following on-site SEO factors:

Start With Optimized Content

When it comes to search engine optimization, page content is the single most important consideration. Here are a few guidelines for writing content:

  • Using proper page structure is critical for SEO and web accessibility. Using proper semantic markup to structure your page (headings, links, lists, etc.) will help search engines understand the structure and importance of your content.
  • Consistently structured content helps search engine crawlers make sense of the organization of your site. So be sure to utilize the Boise State theme styles and navigation to help maintain consistency across the entire Boise State website.
  • Content should be kept to useful and relevant topics rather than branching into different directions. Focused content has a better chance to provide relevant keywords more frequently.
  • Try to keep your pages or posts to a minimum length of at least 300 words.
  • Try to write from the reader’s perspective. You want to use language that readers actually use rather than the most official sounding statements you can make. For example, instead of saying “being admitted”, say “getting accepted” or “getting in to Boise State”.

Focus Keywords

A focus keyword is the search term that you want your page to rank for. Focus keywords are short 1-5 word descriptions of the main topic of the page. By entering a focus keyword into the Yoast SEO input field, Yoast evaluates the page’s content and provides feedback on how to improve content for the focus keyword.

When selecting a focus keyword, think about what the user will type into their search engines. Your keyword should be relevant, and should also be easily used in a sentence. Once selected, your focus keyword can be used frequently throughout the page:

  • Use the focus keyword in headings or titles. In the WordPress editor, you can use the heading formats or place them in heading tags like <h2></h2> or <h3></h3>.
  • Mention your focus keyword and synonyms of that keyword in the main content of your page. You want at least one mention of the focus keyword in the first paragraph of content at the very least.
  • Use the focus keyword in ALT tags, captions, and file names.
  • Include the focus keyword in your page URL or permalink.
  • The more it appears, the more relevant it seems. Don’t use it superfluously, though, or it can start to hurt instead of help. Just use it where it might come naturally in a sentence.

Title Tags and Meta Descriptions

Title tags and meta descriptions don’t impact search engine ranking algorithms on their own, but they can produce more descriptive search results and more user click-through, which will increase your page’s rankings.

  • Title tags appear as the clickable headline in search engine results. Try to include your focus keyword in your title tag, and make it unique in some way so that it stands out against other search results. In WordPress, the title tag is located at the top of the Edit Page, using your page title as the title tag.
  • Meta descriptions are concise summaries of your page that appear beneath the clickable headline in search engine results. These act as first impressions for users to decide whether your content is relevant to their criteria. If you don’t enter a meta description, search engines and social media sharing functions may display the first text on the page by default. In WordPress, the meta description is located in the Yoast SEO Premium section of the Edit Page or Edit Post screen. To edit the meta description, click the “Edit Snippet” button, update the Meta Description field, then click the “Close snippet editor” button and update or publish the page.

Further reading on title tags and meta descriptions

Learn more about title tags and meta descriptions at the Moz SEO Learning Center.

Images and SEO

Images can help improve the user experience on your site for some visitors. However, images should be used to enhance content, not replace it. Pages with more images than text are nearly invisible to search engines, so be sure to include any important information from a picture as text on the page. Search engines will not be able to see any text placed in an image, so never use text in images to convey meaning.

To help image content appear in search results including image searches, include relevant titles, alt tags and captions with images. Do not copy/paste your photo title into the alt tag or meta description; rather, provide more meaningful content in each section.

PDFs and SEO

While search engines are able to index PDFs uploaded to your site, there are a number of issues that lead us to recommend converting PDF content to web content instead.

Web pages offer the following advantages over PDFs:

  • Better user experience overall
  • Better mobile experience
  • Easier to make accessible
  • Easier to maintain navigation and links
  • Easier to track in Google Analytics