5. Optimizing Your Website for Search Engines
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5. Optimizing Your Website for Search Engines

Optimizing your website for search
engines. This module is made available to you
through a joint initiative between the Legal Services National Technology Assistance Project
the Legal Services Corporation and idealware under a Creative
Commons by license. The information and structure of your
website affects a lot of things. If you’re meeting your constituents
goals, if your site is actually usable, or if your site is accessible to all
visitors. But it also affects another important consideration. It affects how easily people can find your
site through search engines. In this module we’ll look at how to
optimize your website content so it appears more prominently in search
results. What does that mean? What is search
engine optimization? When someone looks for your organization
in a search engine, like Google or Bing, you’ll want your
organization to appear as a top result that’s the main idea behind search
engine optimization. That if someone types in the name of
your organization or a phrase that relates to what you do your website will pop up higher in the
search results. The words or phrases that people type into search engines are called keywords. How
do the search engines use these keywords? This graphic illustrates what’s going on
behind the scenes. Each stack in the diagram represents a
website with it’s own pages in sections. Links connect the sites. This is how a
search engine sees the web. Search engines use an automatic tool to
click on every link it can find. This tool is often
called a web crawler or a spider. The spider crawls all the links
that it can find and navigates from one page to another. As
it crawls it stores information about each page
it finds in an enormous online index. This process is invisible to you. You can’t actually look and find a written
index but that is conceptually what’s going on.
The spider collects a URL and notes the key words on the page as
well as how prominent they are. It also notes other sites that have
linked to yours. Continuing our example if I type a
particular keyword, like eviction, into a search bar, the
search engine consultants and experts references to
that keyword. It will find the pages that have
prominent mentions of the word eviction and that also have a lot of
other sites linking to them. These pages will show up first in the
search results. The exact algorithm each search engine
uses isn’t publicly known, but they all follow
this general concept of tracking the frequency of keywords, their prominence on the page, and the
number of other sites that have linked to that page. So, there’s a lot of factors to consider
here: Links, keywords, where you put those
keywords, and more. We’re going to walk through
them step-by-step. First, we’ll talk about creating a great
site that’s worth finding, then how to get other people to link to your
site. We’ll then dive into keywords, how to choose them, and what to do with
them on your site. Then we’ll talk about a few technical
things to keep in mind to ensure your site is SEO friendly.
Finally, we’ll quickly touch on Google Grants. Step
one is creating a site worth finding. The more
complete and well-organized your content is around the most important ideas for your
site the better your search engine rank will be. Search engine optimization
starts with great content. You want to make sure that your website
has a lot of great content that people will want to read. Great content will naturally include a
lot of effective keywords and will inspire people to link to you.
That, in turn, will get you more publicity and more publicity will also encourage
more people to link to you. Having more supporters will help you
deliver on your mission and will help you create more great
content that will support the main purpose of the site; for you to get more clients
or supporters, or volunteers. It’s a positive feedback
loop that starts with great content. Without good content search engine
optimization can go very wrong. If you somehow manage to
achieve a high search engine raking through tricks instead of actually creating a good site
people are going to be annoyed and irritated when they get there, so you’ll
gain nothing. Creating strong content is the main thing you need to do to
achieve search engine optimization. You also want to think about how often
you update your website content. Regularly posting new information will
get that content included in search engines faster. If the web spider notes that new
content is posted daily then it will generally return to index
that content everyday. If you only update on a monthly basis,
however, it won’t return frequently and there may
be a delay of several weeks before your updated content is even noticed. A blog
or a feed of current events with a lot of good keywords that are
relevant to your mission can be really helpful for this. The next
step is getting people to link to your
website. Links from other sites are one of the key ways a search engine understands your
importance versus all the countless other pages on the internet. If your site is sitting alone in the
world then it is unlikely that search engines will even find you at all. If you can’t find your site by searching
on obvious terms or in key search results the first thing
to do is make sure that you are included in the index. You can do a quick test for this. Search
Google with the term Site: followed by your URL. Make sure that there’s no space between
the colon and the WWW; It won’t work if there is. This will pull
up all of your pages that the search engine has found indexed.
It’s not unusual for a large site to have some pages that are not indexed but you should make sure that all of the
important pages on your site appear by performing this quick test. If
you’re not in the index you need to get more people to link to
your website. At a high level links from places like Great Nonprofits
or Google Maps or most any site that provides useful
content to someone can help you get indexed and help your
ranking. You’re probably already listed on Great Nonprofits because
they pull in GuideStar listings but they will not have a link to your
website unless you provide one. For Google Maps you can simply submit your organization
and your physical address and it will create a link that it will
include in its own index and that counts as a link to your
website. But to push yourself higher in the results you want to turn to organizations that
are related to you and your subject matter. One of the best ways to get links is
to simply ask your partners and allies to link to your site. Membership organizations, like state
associations of non-profits, link to their members web sites. For
legal aid organizations Stateside Legal list agencies, by state,
for veterans and their families. Links from sites like these can improve
your search engine ranking. Ask yourself: What do we have on our
website that our partners would be interested in? Do we have a free training or a resource that is relevant to them? Can we create
something great that will inspire people to link to it?
For instance, this pew internet site has so much great
research that it’s widely linked to all over the place. You’ll probably need to reach out to
relevant organizations to let them know that your resources there. Maybe local community organizations or national organizations that are
interested in your topic. Oh, and by the way, if you were to search link colon and then your website, you’ll
be able to see the incoming links that you already have. There are services that claim that they’ll submit your website to dozens or even hundreds of search engines but there’s no real reason to do this.
First, there are not likely to be hundreds of
search engines that you would actually want to be in. And second, there is nothing that the submission services will do that’s actually worth paying for. That’s
not to say that there are really good SEO consultants, because
there are. But any good consultant should focus on
helping you through the steps we’ve talked about. Great content, links, and keywords. There are no
quick-fixes and anyone who is promising them is
taking you for a ride. On to our third step. What are the keywords that people use when they search for your organization? What keywords do you want to focus on
what? What are the high priority keywords for your organization’s website? First,
there is your name and any variance on your name. Here the
organization name is Arkansas Legal Services Partnership. You
would certainly want to include both the official name and anything people often call you in
shorthand or an error. For this instance, a variation like
Arkansas Legal Aid. Then, think a phrases that people might
use to search for you like Arkansas Law Help or Arkansas Law
Assistance. You should also consider the names of
programs like Arkansas Helpline or the names of key
staff members. How many keywords should you focus on? You could, potentially, come up with
thousands keywords for your site but you should start with just a handful for
your home page or a few other key pages. Eventually, you might want to think about
different keywords for different pages. Sites like Good Keywords or Word Tracker will show you predictive traffic on a
certain keyword. For example, if I type and chocolate it
will brainstorm alternatives and predict the effectiveness of each
suggestion. In Google you can actually use their ad buying
tool to research the effectiveness of a keyword without even buying an ad and
that will give you access to statistics as well. Don’t get overwhelmed with keywords. Just stick
with a finite amount that are most important for your organization. As you think through key words you need
to balance the desire to use popular ones that get high traffic with more specific but less common terms
that better describe your services. For
example, many people might search for the term
housing but it would be difficult to show up high in the search rankings for
that as you’ll be competing with real estate
firms college housing and other sites. It
will be much more practical to, instead, optimized for more specific
keywords like New York City eviction or eviction free legal help that are more tailored
to the area’s for which you specifically want to be
found. Lastly focus the most on the keywords that’ll
bring people to your most important pages. Logically you have to think through what
those are. Your homepage is likely a priority page. Perhaps your high level category pages
for each legal topic as well or maybe your page with information for
pro bono attorneys. Alright, that moves us to step 4. Where should you place your keywords
once you’ve developed your list? There’s no direct way but there are
several indirect ways. You should incorporate the
keywords into the text on your pages; the more
times and more prominently the better. So a brightly colored large
piece of text like a header will count more to the
search engines then a miscellaneous mention towards the
bottom of the page. Sheer quantity does help though. Look at
this page. It lists hunger, hungry, child, children, feed, families, food lots and
lots and lots of times. Note that the words in an image though
don’t count because the web spider cannot crawl
images. Of course you need to balance the desire to repeat
key words over and over with your goals to actually communicate
something to people. A page full of keywords and nothing else
won’t get links won’t communicate anything and will
annoy your constituents. if you have the ability to control the
technical file names used by your web pages use human-readable URL’s and try to include
at least one keyword. For example, feedingamerica.org/ faces-of-hunger/real-stories/louisiana is much more effective than feedingamerica.org/ 853B6578 Including your keywords in your URL’s can be very powerful way to optimize
your website for search engines. Another thing to check on is whether or
not your content management system allows you to include keywords in your
metadata title or metadata description. Metadata is
information that’s coded into the page like this piece of code we’re looking at
here. The metadata title shows up in the header bar in your user’s browser and in search results, while the
metadata description will only show up in search results. Both are
great places to include your keywords. It’s worth trying to figure out how you
could update these fields. Many content management systems, for
instance, will give you fields to edit the page title and page description and those almost certainly update your
metadata. Last, but not least, think about including your keywords in
the text you use to link to your own internal pages. This will strengthen your search engine
optimization and hopefully make your links crystal
clear as well. Also, make sure to refer to your own
programs or resources consistently. For example, Illinois Legal Aid Online launched a mobile app: Illinois Legal Aid
Mobile App. To optimize that name as a keyword for
search engines they need to use that full name every
time they refer to it and they should encourage their partners
to do so as well. They can do this by providing them with
the proper link text. What can you do to ensure that your site
is successful when the web spider visits? The web
spider can’t pull keywords from dropdown menus or navigation menus powered by
JavaScript. If your site relies on these types of
menus you can get around this problem by listing all of your pages in a site map
and linking to that on your home page. Search engines give
higher priority to keywords within the page title h1 and the main header h2. So make sure
that the headers on your pages use the standard tags. A good programmer
or content management system should do this automatically. Now you might think that you have a
creative idea to improve your search rankings but repeat after me: I and not smarter than Google. It’s almost certainly a bad
idea to try to trick the system the people who program the search
engines have spent a lot more time thinking about these things than you have.
Things like adding keywords in white text on a white background or setting up a secondary website that
just links to your main site at the very least are really unlikely to
work. But the worst case scenario is that they
could get your site thrown out of search engines. In addition
to all the things we’ve been talking about consider Google Grants and paid
promotions to put your site in front of more eyes. So far, we focused on ways that you can
optimize your site in order to be listed for free on any
search engine. There’s another way, though, to be listed
prominently in Google search results. Google gives away free search engine
advertising through its Google Grants program which
provides ten thousand dollars in in kind ads per organization per month. These ads appear at the top of the
search results for specific keywords. If you’re approved for the program you
can place text ads that show up each time someone enters key phrases into the
Google search box. The grants often offer enough free
advertising to allow you to place ads for hundreds of keywords. The application process for Google
Grants is really easy and streamlined. It’s
worth doing for any organization. Keep in mind, though, that it will likely
take a few weeks if not months for Google to get back to
you as to whether you’re approved. Most people are approved, though, Google
does sometimes turned down organizations that they feel are too religiously or politically aligned. Google
Grants isn’t a replacement for the steps we
talked about here. It only affects Google and not other
search engines and many organizations find that an ad to
a page doesn’t bring nearly as much traffic as a link to that page from the traditional search results.
However, it’s a straightforward process that can bring your organization
more visibility when used in conjunction with traditional SEO techniques. So, to wrap up, search engine optimization isn’t a particularly short or easy road but it’s important to take on at least
some of the basic steps. For instance, insuring your site is
linked to from a few well-known web sites and
including some of your most important keywords in page titles and headers. Search
engines don’t respond to changes overnight. In fact, it may take a month or more to
see the results of your efforts reflected in the results. Don’t give up
hope; keep including keywords in new content
and asking other organizations to link to your
resources. Once you do see some results don’t rest on your laurels. The internet
is a dynamic place and new websites, new articles,
and changing search engine priorities can affect your placement. Check in on
the search results for your keywords at least every month or so to help
maintain your position and continue to enhance your strategy.
When your new donors volunteers or clients mention that they found you through a
Google search you’ll be glad you took the time. These resources can help provide more background and best practices for
your own website.

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