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SEO (search engine optimisation)

This knowledgebase article is based on a popular blog post written in 2013 entitled 'ten steps towards improving search engine optimisation in RapidWeaver'. This article will show you a top-ten list of things you can do to enhance your RapidWeaver website for search engine optimisation (SEO) purposes. The article has been updated to include some additional links and newer information.

These suggestions are all free and relatively easy to do; so they prove you can do a lot of SEO things yourself, without the fuss or expense of hiring outside web development companies or marketing agencies. There is no guarantee that your website will show at the top of search engine results, because at the end of the day everyone is after the contested top-spot! But realistically these ten points will help you make your website more visible; so that someone typing in your name or company into a search engine has a reasonable chance of finding you towards the top.

SEO is a rough science, full of myth, mystery and rumours. The complex algorithms search engines use to index sites change on almost a daily basis. You may have previously heard of Google search algorithms like Panda, Penguin and Parrot. If you want your website to be findable on a search engine, SEO is an aspect of web development that needs to be taken into account. SEO tactics change every week, however there are several basic SEO steps you can take, which will work in your favour all the time.

First and foremost, it's vitally important to remember that search engines have the critical role of delivering the best possible search results for their customers. Bare this in mind at all times. That is how search engines make their money. Search engines are very clever and will escalate the best websites; but will heavily penalise sites which do not meet requirements or attempt to cheat the system and mislead searchers.

Useful tools

Really the only two tools you need are free plugins for Google Chrome. The first is called SEO Site Tools; and this runs a basic SEO 'health check' on existing web pages. The second is called ySlow; used for running speed tests. Test some of your site pages using these plugins and see what results you get back. Reviewers may suggest better alternatives, so by all means do try any of the others recommended. For the sake of this article, we'll just stick with these two for now.

Although not a tool or a plugin as such, it's also recommended that you sign-up and get familiar with using either Google Webmaster Tools or Bing Webmaster Tools. Both of these will let you see your websites from the perspective of the search engines. You can use the webmaster tools to check the status of your website, run tests and link your website to other directories (like maps or merchant services).

If you are looking for an SEO tool that can help you improve the SEO of Stacks page types in RapidWeaver, the SEO-rx stack by Chillidog Software is worth considering. This stack will scan single webpages and rate their search engine optimisation score. It can help detect common SEO issues and provide information towards improving webpages for both search engines and social media platforms.

Welcome to SEO-Rx from Chillidog Software on Vimeo.

The 10-point checklist

Here's the list of 10 quick, easy and free things you can do to enhance your website for search engines. These are not presented in any particular order.

1. Use a sitemap

RapidWeaver 5 (and above) comes supplied with a free Sitemap page style plugin. Use it. Not only will this give your end users an easy way of navigating the website and finding specific pages, but it also generates a sitemap.xml file in the top level directory of a website. Search engines frequently look for this file, and when they find one, it instantly unlocks the website and provides a detailed overview of your entire website. If you need a more advanced sitemap with options to customise the output and automatically ping search engines with your changes, then consider buying the Sitemap Plus plugin from Loghound Software.

2. Make sure search engines can access pages, at all times

This may sound very obvious, but sometimes RapidWeaver users accidentally introduce barriers on a website, which inadvertently make indexing of websites a lot more harder (or even impossible). To quote a few examples, pages which are password-protected will be impossible for search engines to access, and scripts or plugins that apply physical copyright protection on pages can sometimes be dangerous for search engines crawling your site. Plugins or stacks which hide or reveal content may make life tough for search spiders crawling your sites. Another consideration is that any text embedded within images, video or Flash will not be readable by search engines. Likewise text generated using Javascript probably won't rate favourably with search engines either. If you are using images on a website, ensure that they all have meaningful ALT attributes (alternative text) applied, so that a search engine at least has some idea of what the image was about. Some people have found that title attributes applied to images and links also work well.

3. Sensible page titles, keywords and descriptions

Every page you add to your project in RapidWeaver should have its browser title change in the RapidWeaver Page Inspector. The browser title should be kept short and should include the name or your website or company, followed by a short description which relates exactly to the page, or vice-versa. For example 'Average Joe - View Our Services Available' or 'Request An Online Quote | Average Joe'. These page titles are the same titles that show up in search results, so it is vital they are correct. While you have the Page Inspector open in RapidWeaver, it is very wise to add keywords and description META tags at this stage. Keywords provide a comma-separated list of words relating to the webpage. The description provides a more informal insight into what the page is about. Don't be fooled into the myth that search engines no longer use META data - some social media and bookmarking services continue to make extensive use of META data, and very often search engines 'borrow' content from these other sites. So meta data is still sometimes used by search engines in a non-direct way.

4. Quality content

Search engines want to relay quality search results back to their customers. Copywriting which contains bad grammar, spelling mistakes and general 'waffle' will be downrated in favour of competing sites with a better standard of literature. In a world where content is king, you should be devoting maximum effort into producing quality content. This is where those O-Level and GCSE English skills finally come in useful! If necessary, have a colleague proof-read your website before publication, or contact a copywriting expert for advice. Keep information detailed and relevant. Avoid too much repetition between pages. Ensure the content contains plenty of links going off to other websites. Just like when you're writing a scientific paper or essay, links and references to outside sources raise the credibility of your work. Take a look at how an average page is written and presented on Wikipedia, and aim for the same standard on your website.

5. Learn HTML

This may be a bit of a shock if you switched to RapidWeaver to avoid using code! However the fact is that HTML is dead-easy to learn. You can learn a couple of basic tags like headings, block quotes, lists, sections, articles, abbreviations and text styles within an hour or two. Not only should these HTML tags give your pages greater consistency, but more importantly they'll structurally define parts of a page to search engines. To take one example; if you're using heading tags, you're telling search engines exactly where the titles are within your page and where chunks of body content is. Likewise if you decided to setup a simple unordered list, you're telling search engines that the content nested within comprises of short, snappy, factual details in bullet format. You certainly do not need a book on the subject of HTML. Neither do you need to learn the whole HTML standard. If you have previously used 'tags' in forum posts, blog posts or Facebook replies; then HTML code and tags is very similar. There are many free resources available online for learning HTML; with W3schools.com and Code Academy probably being the better ones to start with.

6. Robots.txt file

The role of a robots.txt file is to tell a search engine spider which parts of a website should not be crawled and indexed. For example, you may have a folder of old, outdated or incomplete web pages that you don't want to have a search spider bother with indexing. If so, then put together a quick robots.txt file and upload it to the root (top level) directory of your public HTML folder. Search online if you are not sure what to put in your robots.txt file. The other option is to create a new HTML page in RapidWeaver, turn off the theme in the Page Inspector, and set it to publish as robots.txt to the top-level of your website. Search engines will be thankful if you tell them not to bother wasting time or resources indexing pages that you don't actually need or want indexing. It also acts as a means to redirect search engine spiders to the more important parts of your website instead.

7. Be social

Do you have methods in place for people to easily contact you or leave comments on your website? How about buttons that link to your social networking accounts or allow people to share your pages with friends or colleagues? The modern internet is all about being connected. Websites which present easy methods for people to contact you are going to score more search engine points. Likewise websites that engage with users and promote openness and sharing are going to be more prominent. Start by ensuring your website has basic methods for people to contact you, like email links. Beyond that, look at incorporating social networking buttons, bookmarking buttons or commenting. Encourage people to bookmark and share your website with others. Spread the word and get the attention of search engines in the process.

8. Links

Try to get a few quality websites to link directly to your website. Likewise to tip the balance, you should provide useful links from your website back to friends or colleagues. It's all about networking and moving your website from the solitary edge of the internet, into a more central position where all the action is happening. However do not go crazy with links to your website; because search engines are more likely to ignore spammy links and black-list your website altogether. Focus on quality, not quantity. Keep links relevant. Avoid having links open in new windows if you can help it, because this breaks the natural flow of a website and can confuse.

9. Page Speed

Average webpages should ideally load in under 3 seconds, over a normal internet connection. A webpage that takes longer to load is going to frustrate users. Frustrated users are likely to just hit their browser back button, rather than wait for the page to finish displaying. These high levels of 'bounce backs' can reflect negatively on your website and is something search engines will pick up on quite quickly. There are a number of things you can do to improve page loading speed and tweak your webpages so they load faster and more reliably. Use RapidWeaver themes which are advertised as being 'optimised for speed'. Take a close look at image optimisation, CSS compression and settings on your web server like Gzip. Start by using the free ySlow plugin (remember to set the website type to 'blog or small site') and see what score your pages get. You should look at the recommendations for speeding up your webpages.

10. Site Structure and UX

Focus on how your website is structured and the UX (user experience). Always ensure a website is easy and fast for people to go-in and find the information they want in as few clicks or taps as possible. Give pages short and meaningful links in the site menu. Instead of having several dozen sparsely-populated pages, consider merging the content into singular pages. Remove any part-completed or 'under construction' pages. Experiment with new ways of presenting content, like animated Bootstrap accordions, tab boxes and lightbox windows. Build a website around your content and don't be afraid to omit unnecessary pages. If a website is quite large or complicated in structure, provide a search bar or 'popular links' section. Not only should these actions make your website a much more user-friendly place for people to visit, but the content is also easier for search engine spiders to index. If your RapidWeaver theme supports it, turn on breadcrumbs or footer navigation links and turn on the 'page last updated' stamp (people and search engines will know when the page last got updated, and its relevance).

Concluding notes

SEO does not magically happen overnight; it is normal for new websites to not show up in search results straight away and for changes to take a long time to propagate. Typically it may take several weeks before a new website is fully indexed. Signing up to the free Google Webmaster Tools or Bing Webmaster Tools and manually submitting your website is a good method to fast-track website listing. Also instead of focusing on increasing traffic volumes through your website, you should focus on the quality of the traffic coming by. The number of 'hits' a website receives is completely useless if none of those visitors are buyers or interested in what you have to offer. It is far better to get less traffic, and place emphasis instead on better quality, higher-yielding traffic.

The list of ten steps towards improving RapidWeaver SEO presented above is just a starting point. There are other things you can do to improve site SEO. Sometimes making the least amount of effort towards SEO has inadvertently brought about surprisingly positive SEO results! So put maximum emphasis on the real people visiting your website first, and treat the machines (like search engine spiders) with less priority. Content is most vital to get correct.

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