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Optimizing your pages for Google search results & ranking

Like all search engines, the DU Google appliance (and google.com) use a host of weighted factors to create an index of pages to search when a request is entered. The Google page ranking algorithms are secret, but there are a few generally accepted strategies for improving page rank in Google results have emerged.

Among the important factors you have little or no control over are:

  • The number of sites and pages that link to yours
  • How highly the pages that link to you are ranked. Google calculates a score for your page by totaling the links and factoring in the "importance" of the pages linking to your page
  • A high correlation between words in a link to your page, and key words in your page reportedly improves page ranking

The factors you can control:

  • Page Title
  • Text (i.e. content)
  • Alt text in images on your page

Creating an effective page title

It is reported that Google weights the words between your <title> and </title> tags heavily. Terse, relevant titles in your pages will be more effective than generic titles. Evidence also suggests that matching, and ranking highly, for a given search term is improved by creating a high correlation between that term in your page title and its frequent use in the actual content of your page.

The page title "Google Search Guidelines :: Technology (IT) :: University of Denver" is a more meaningful title than simply "Search Guidelines." Including the key words "Google," "Search," and "Guidelines" again in the <h1> should help too.

A good page title also helps users that bookmark your page(s). When users bookmark a page, the page title is stored as the name of the link. Meaningful page titles will help users select your page again later when using their bookmarks/favorites.

Influencing the search index with heading tags, text, and density

In building the search database, Google extracts and stores the unique words in each Web page. However, DU Google gives more importance to words between HTML Heading tags. With heading1 being more significant than heading2, and so on.

Making sure that the rest of the content in your page correlates with a carefully written <title> and heading tags reportedly will "convince" the Google search that your page is worthy of a higher ranking.

Many search experts suggest that keyword density is an important factor when ranking pages. Rather than simply counting the number of times a word appears on the page (frequency), the Google appliance calculates the number of times a given word appears as a percentage of the total number of words on the page (density).

Keywords in the alt attribute of <img> tags

Google also indexes the text in ALT tags for images. Include your keywords in meaningful ways in the ALT tags. Keep in mind though that the ALT tags are designed to provide meaningful descriptions of images to visually impaired users -- do not sacrifice this function in favor of key word "stuffing."

Avoid "Spamming" the search engines

Providing quality search results is an ever-evolving practice. As unscrupulous Web page owners figure out how to increase their rankings, search engines are modified to spot those practices. Relying on questionable tactics to increase your ranking will likely work against you in the long run. Stuffing keywords in META tags, alt tags, and hidden text can cause you to be penalized or even banned form search results. Duplicating content, creating link farms, or buying links from questionable sites can be counter-productive as well.

META descriptions

META tags are hidden tags not displayed by the browser. Google ignores two META tags, keyword and description, when calculating page rank. While including these in your html will not help rank your page in Google results, other search engines crawling DU content may still make use of them.

Despite the fact that the Google does not use your description META tag as a factor in ranking your pages, it does use the description (if present) when displaying results. When DU Google displays search results, it includes a description of the page content right below the page title/link. An accurate description can mean the difference between being selected from the ranked list of pages and being over looked. Here are a couple of recommendations:

  1. Don't use the same description for every page of your site. Make the descriptions page-specific, and you'll help the visitor get where they need to go more efficiently.
  2. Keep the description short. Some search engines limit the output to as few as a dozen words. We recommend a limit of 25, with the most important identifiers in the first half of the description (in case only part of the description is displayed)

Notes on META keywords

Though Google ignores the keywords META tag content, other search engines crawling DU content may make use of them. Limit your keywords to just the few that identify what's available on just that page. Typically, six or seven words are all that's needed.

Get specific. Using the same keywords on every page of your site makes search results less relevant. Do not use words that are widely generalized, unless they are part of your organization's name. Avoid "education" as a stand alone term, for example.

It is NOT necessary to include the singular and plural forms of a word. (Search engines look for plurals automatically).


Additional Resources

Google Information for Webmasters: Webmaster Guidelines

Google Technology Overview. Includes a short explanation of Google's "Page Rank" technology.

Search Engine Submission Tips. A section of the Search Engine Watch site. Covers search engine submission, placement and marketing issues.


Questions about DU Google Search?

Contact the DU Google Appliance Administrator.