Search engine optimisation (SEO)
A Google search routinely delivers millions of results. But 90 per cent of people choose one of the first ten results on the page. The first result alone generally takes a third of the traffic.
SEO refers to the things we do to ensure our website is:
- on the first page of search results
- near the top of that page
- above our competitors' websites.
There are two main tasks in SEO. Firstly, we need to work out what words people are using to find the kind of content we produce. Secondly, we need to ensure our website ranks highly when those terms are used.
Keywords are the most common words people use when they're searching for something online. To rank highly, our page needs to use the same language as our users.
For example, if people are searching for the words 'study abroad', but our website only refers to 'international exchange', we won't rank highly for that search.
So how do you figure out which words to use? You can probably scratch out an initial list yourself if you just put yourself in our users' shoes.
Depending on your site's purpose, you might use keywords like 'undergraduate', 'pharmacy', or 'study'. You'll also want to include long tail (two to five word) keyword phrases to ensure you capture specific searches. These might be phrases like 'online courses', 'study medicine in Australia', or 'scholarships for Indigenous students'.
However, write naturally. 'Keyword stuffing' is the practice of dumping your keywords as many times as possible in your copy, even if it doesn't make sense in terms of grammar or flow. Search engines are programmed to recognise this and will penalise you by placing you lower in a search result. Always use words that make sense in the context. Keywords should only represent about three to seven per cent of the content.
Keywords in filenames
Filenames (URLs) should take keywords into account. Take this (pretend) URL for the Monash Antibody Technologies Facility, for example:
Because the URL simply uses the organisation's acronym, it offers no information about the contents of this site. We could restyle it like this:
This offers a clear indication of what the site is about. The URL is now filled with various keywords like 'platforms', 'antibody', 'technology' and 'facility'.
Keywords in images
You can increase SEO ranking by using images and videos on your page.
Make sure each image has a relevant alt image/video tags for accessibility. Avoid calling them things like 'image1.jpg' or 'Monash student'. Instead, include descriptive keywords in the file name separated by hyphens, e.g 'monash-undergraduate-engineering-student.jpg'.
You should also apply alt tags to non-decorative images. Keep keywords in mind and ensure you describe the image as it appears.
A meta-description is the descriptive sentence or two you see appear below your page title in a Google search. For example, this result came up in Google after searching for 'Monash work with industry'.
Meta-description aren't actually indexed by Google and do not affect the ranking. The intention of the meta-description is to give an overview of the content on that page and entice a user to visit the page.
They can be set automatically by search engines, but it works in our favour to create this text ourselves because (when punchy and active) it influences the click through rate (CTR). It should be no longer than 155 characters including spaces.
When writing your meta description, ask:
- What is the the overarching message of the page?
- What one thing do you want to make sure users take away, even if they don't click through to the page?
A meta description is unique for every page of a website, so you'll need to write a new one for each page you create. It's time consuming, but you can often use the text you create for each page as highlight boxes to cross-link pages within the website.
It can be challenging to sum up a whole page of copy in just a few words. Here are some examples to help you:
- Monash IT scholarship page: "High achieving students are eligible for scholarships if they choose to study IT with Monash."
- Monash Africa Centre page: "Engage in discussions on HIV/AIDS, road safety and democracy, and attend open forums that attract the world's best and brightest."
Other factors that help SEO
Backlinks are links to your site from other websites. The more websites that link to your webpage, the greater your SEO will be.
To increase your inbound links, ensure the content you release to media agencies links back to your content. Ideally, the backlinks will be from sites with a high Google rank themselves as this increases your SEO.
You can use Alexa.com to determine how many inbound links your site has, and compare it with your competitors.
You can also try to increase backlinks and chatter about your page on social media platforms. The more people discussing Monash and sharing information, the better.
Finally, update your page often. The more often you can add blog posts and articles, create new pages and edit content, the more Google sees your page as a source of up-to-date information.
It can be useful to check Google's statistics about your website or page. You can discover:
- what content users like best or need most
- what content users like or need least
- where users are entering the site
- where users are exiting the site.
You can also use this tool to benchmark your current content. It helps if you set some goals – basic goals are to see an increase in unique visits, page views, bounce rate and time on site. You might also set a goal for users to reach a specific page, or register for an event. Perform a baseline assessment before you make changes to your site. Then, assess the site regularly to determine if your changes have helped you reach your goals.