Search Engine Optimization

A Checklist for Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

This is my “cheat sheet” which I review periodically (particularly during redesigns) to improve my sites’ search engine rankings. I’ve adapted it slightly for congregational websites.

  • Does every page have a unique, descriptive title? This is determined by the html <title></title> tag, which is both easy to control and surprisingly effective. Aim for at least two keywords and try to keep the length under 60 characters.
  • Does the home page title tag include your location? This is particularly critical for a church site, since it’s likely that’s how church seekers will be looking. I’d recommend something like: <title>First Church, Some City, Some State</title>.
  • Is your content primarily in text form? Don’t hide content in graphics, Flash files, podcasts and the like. If you have a podcast, be sure to have “show notes.” For graphics, always have a descriptive “alt” attribute.
  • Is the page content useful to people who want to find your site? Again, this is particularly important question for the home page.
  • Are keywords high on the page?
  • Is the markup valid, semantic, lean, and accessible? In other words, is content separated from design and layout, and do your pages validate? In particular, do you make good use of header tags, i.e. <h1> through <h6>?
  • Do you steer clear of frames? Frames usually confuse search engines.
  • Is your server reliable? If it goes down every so often, that’s not a problem. But if it goes down routinely or for a long time, then switch hosts.
  • Can you increase links to your site? This is probably the hardest suggestion to pull off, since it’s largely out of your control. The best ways I know of to increase outside links are:
    1. Create compelling content that people want to link to.
    2. Send requests to appropriate sites. Be aware that not all sites are created equal. The more important the site, the more a link from it will help your rankings. So be strategic in whom you ask and how. Appropriate sites for a congregation would of course include their umbrellas organizations, but other possibilities are sister congregations, community organizations and community locator services.
  • Do your internal links use appropriate keywords?
  • Do you hide URLs which are long and clearly dynamic? To be clear, I mean the monstrous ones, such as: http://store.fakeurl.com/escalate/store/CategoryPage? pls=fakeurl&bc=fakeurl&clist=03258f0014009f& cc=eb_online&startNum=0&rangeNum=15
  • Are keywords sprinkled throughout copy, but not too dense? If there are too many, this can be interpreted as spam.
  • Are the site menu and navigation architecture at the top of the page? The top of the page in this case means near the start of the markup. A search engine doesn’t care if you’ve floated the navigation up, down, left or right.
  • Are your browser sniffers (if any) search-engine-friendly? Such scripts can accidentally direct search engines to versions of critical pages that are not as good.
  • Do you have a well-tended site map? If you do, this increases the chances that the search spider will index your entire site.
  • Do you have different pages for each important keyword? Some webmasters find doing one page per topic and one topic per page helps their rankings.
  • Can you increase the size of your site? Larger sites seem to have better search engine rankings.
  • Can you reach all pages within your site in three clicks or less?
  • If you use drop-down menus, are the same links available elsewhere? The spider might not be able to crawl a drop-down menu.
  • Do you have your address and phone number (with area code) at the bottom of at least the home page? This helps Google Local and similar search engines index your site.
  • A word about meta tags. While meta tags are not used in rankings by most of the major search engines, your own internal search engine may use them. Also, the meta description element is often the blurb that shows in search results. So, while you don’t need to focus on meta tags for ranking purposes, they still can be quite significant. High impact text in Google’s search results does matter.

What to Avoid

So you aren’t banned from major search engines

  • Hidden text
  • Dense use of keywords.

Search Engines to Monitor

SEO Resources