Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) for SharePoint Sites – Part 2

In Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) for SharePoint Sites – Part 1 of this series I looked at the implications content, naming, metadata and structure of your SharePoint site can have on search rankings. This part of the series will focus more on how content can be manipulated to improve search rankings and other factors that can be leveraged from within SharePoint. Finally, Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) for SharePoint Sites – Part 3 will take a step outside the SharePoint box into how you can boost rankings and traffic to your SharePoint site using other methods.

Optimise the Load Time of your Pages

This one works on a couple of levels. Firstly, there is some benefit in terms of SEO for faster loading pages. Take a read of Geoff Kenyon’s article Site Speed – Are You Fast? Does it Matter for SEO?. The reality however is that it isn’t a huge factor. More importantly though is that the time it takes to load your pages has a huge impact on bounce rates and visitors wanting to return to your site, and for that reason it is a critical task to undertake. SharePoint, especially MOSS 2007, doesn’t have the fastest load times therefore anything you can do to reduce the load time of your pages is paramount. I intend on writing a post on this in the future so i’ll leave it at that for now, but it’s definitely something to keep in mind when creating your site.

Maximise your Content to Markup Ratio

There’s a number of articles available discussing the importance (or lack thereof) of maximising your content to markup ratio. Whether you believe it’s a factor or not is largely irrelevant – there are a number of benefits to gain from minimising the amount of markup on a page for both performance and structural reasons. It’s also important to ensure the text content appears as high on the page as possible and this can be affected by manipulating the markup structure of the page. SharePoint is notoriously bad in this regard. Improvements were made from MOSS 2007 to SharePoint 2010 but it’s still not perfectly clean HTML. There are things you can do to improve the situation – using controls instead of webparts in MOSS will minimise the number of tables used on the page. Control Adapters can be used to manipulate the HTML rendered by controls. You can ensure your Master Pages and Page Layouts structure content higher on the page and adjust their location using custom CSS. Often a lot of effort is required when focussing on this SEO technique so unless it’s of critical importance sometimes it’s best to do whatever you can and just live with the rest.

Optimise your Images and Anchor tags

Images and anchor tags are 2 elements within the page content that can be slightly adjusted to provide an extra SEO boost. Images provide the benefit of also being indexed in the Google Images search engine which can provide extra traffic. ALT text is essential when optimising an image. It should be short, sharp, relevant and if possible keyword-rich. File names can also provide some extra juice and should be similar to the ALT text and hyphen-delimited. The Title attribute is unlikely to hold much weight but it can’t hurt and should match the ALT text. Anchor tags are another which can make use of the Title attribute. The other important aspect of anchor tags, particularly intra-site linking which you have control over, is to ensure the text which is hyperlinked is descriptive and keyword rich – preferably matching the key phrase that the page is optimising. In terms of SharePoint there are 2 features you can utilise to reap the rewards – the ALT text field for images and the Tooltip field for hyperlinks. If you want to utilise the Title of an image you’ll need to delve into the code-behind which may not be worth the effort.

Use 301 redirects over 302

As I mentioned in my post 301 vs 302 Redirects in SharePoint there are a number of reasons why 301 redirects are preferred to 302 from an SEO perspective. Rather than going over everything again I’d encourgage you to read through that post and the associated links to understand the benefits and potential solutions around it. It’s significant in a SharePoint context because when accessing a site by its URL directly rather than the specific page URL, a 302 redirect is used to take you to the Welcome Page. The Redirect Page layout in SharePoint also uses 302 redirects.

Don’t Destroy Old Content

No matter how old a page, article or news item is, it still has the ability to appear in the search results and drive people to your site. In fact, the age of a site often has a positive affect on its ranking. Why would anyone want to simply discard all the effort that went into optimising the page in the first place because it was deemed somewhat out of date? Archives are a great and suitable alternative which maintain the content online and hence the rankings of the page. SharePoint makes this quite easy to do – simply filter a Content Query Web Part to return all out of date pages on an ‘Archive’ page and you’re set. The process can either be automated by scheduling an end date for the page, or by manually configuring a custom column of the page. You could also move it into an ‘Archived’ sub-site, however if this option is chosen, keep in mind the redirect that will be required and the fact that will be a 302 redirect by default.

Avoid Flash and Silverlight if you can

It’s common knowledge that using Flash or Silverlight on a website in place of indexable content is a search ranking destroyer. Flash has made SEO improvements to the format but this is still only limited. With HTML5, CSS3 and jQuery taking off and able to achieve a lot of the rich interactive functionality provided by Flash and Silverlight, you’d have to question the use of it on your search engine optimised site. This goes for SharePoint as much as any other platform – leveraging the jQuery library in SharePoint in particular is easy to do and leaves the site more SEO friendly than a Flash or Silverlight equivalent.

Create an XML Sitemap Automatically

I’m not sold on the benefits of XML Sitemaps to be perfectly honest. I tend to agree with an article written by Matt McGee titled XML Sitemaps: The Most Overrated SEO Tactic Ever in that all an XML Sitemap is really doing is masking and potentially even causing problems. There are many more however that argue the opposite, such as Bruce Clay’s XML Sitemaps in SEO – Part 1. If you’re going to go down the XML Sitemap path, and i’m not going to categorically say it’s something you shouldn’t do, I’d suggest that you ensure that it is constructed automatically so it is completely up to date. In SharePoint one way this can be achieved is via Waldek’s Imtech XML Sitemap or Mavention XML Sitemap for 2010.

Include a Robots.txt File

Having a Robots.txt file for your site is not so much about improving the rankings of pages in your site but more about ensuring pages you don’t want appearing in search results aren’t indexed. For more information about Robots.txt have a read of Robots.txt: All you need to know. This is particularly important for SharePoint because often there are a number of pages you simply wouldn’t want indexed – list views and the like – which can sometimes end up being crawled. I’d definitely suggest including this file for your SharePoint site as part of your overall SEO strategy.

Structure your Content with Heading Tags

Using header tags (H1 through to H6) to structure content is another tool at your disposal to infer importance on particular terms and phrases. Header tags are easily applied in SharePoint via the content editor so its important to stress 2 main concepts. Firstly – use them only for the keywords or phrases. Too often heading tags are used unnecessarily throughout the page or on sub-headings which really convey no SEO benefit to the page. Secondly – use them for the keywords and phrases rather than styling DIVs or SPANs to achieve the same visual effect – it’s the tag which is recognised, not the size of the text on the page. You can have the desired visual effect on the page by using heading tags where appropriate and styling other text with CSS if the term or phrase is not a targeted keyword for the page.

Externalise your JavaScript

This one ties in to maximising your content to markup ratio – the less text on the page with no SEO benefit the better. There are also performance trade-offs however – you don’t want to be creating a bunch of extra page requests to pull down each individual JS file that contains your page’s code. There are also development implications – sometimes it’s easier to code the relevant JavaScript directly within a control rather than having to find it and work on it seperately. Ultimately it comes down to what is more important to you. In a SharePoint context i’d recommend using one file to hold all JavaScript functions that will need to be called from various pages, reference it via the SharePoint:ScriptLink control and make the call to the function from within your control. This minimises the amount of JavaScript text on the page and minimises the page requests.

Add ‘Strength’ to Keywords

This one I think would be extremely minor if it has any influence at all – but I guess you never want to miss an opportunity so it’s something worth discussing. Take a read of Traian Neacsu’s article Bold or Strong Tag and SEO – Complete HTML Reference Guide for SEO for more information on the topic. The main take away is that styling via CSS won’t have any affect, while bolding keywords with the STRONG element may be recognised. It’s something worth considering anyway.

In Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) for SharePoint Sites – Part 3 of this series I’ll take a step outside the SharePoint box into how you can boost the rankings and traffic to your SharePoint site using other methods.

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4 Responses to Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) for SharePoint Sites – Part 2

  1. Ian Smith says:

    Hi SPMatt, there is a nifty little SEO web part for SharePoint 2010 publishing sites at http://sgm.sptouchgroup.com it’s free to use and manages metadata tags and the robot tag. Your readers might find it useful. I have been using it for a couple of years and I would rather write my page descriptions than have Google do it for me.

  2. Doug says:

    I have a free SharePoint app that can be loaded from the SharePoint app store. It is called SEO Easy. http://bahits.azurewebsites.net/SEO/SEO-help.html

    It might help some to see how their rankings are changing each week. I am thinking about a new version next year, so any feedback will be considered.

  3. Mark H. says:

    Thanks for sharing the post.

    I was looking for this for a SEO presales report.

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