Web Standards

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Optimizing Your Site for Search Engines

In order to make your pages easier to find in search engines, you should do the following:

You may also use other search-related META tags to control how your pages are indexed.

Note that all of the tags mentioned on this page should be placed between the <head> and </head> tags in your document.

[Also see the example and useful links sections below for more information.]


Using Good Titles

The title of a page (marked by <title> and </title> in the page's HTML code) is used by search engines to find your site. The title is also what displays in the list of search results and in the reader's list of bookmarks should they bookmark your site. For that reason, titles should be descriptive and go from most specific (page name) to most general (organization).

For example: "Page Name || Cell and Developmental Biology || Perelman School of Medicine || University of Pennsylvania".


Using Good Top Headings

The headings of a page (marked by <h1> and </h1> in the page's HTML code) are also used by search engines to find your site. Headings should be concise yet descriptive. Using the same terms in your heading and title can help increase your page's ranking when one of those terms is searched.


Choosing Keywords

Before configuring your document, consider how users will be attempt to access your pages. What will they be typing into the search box? Your guesses constitute the keywords that should be used in identifying the document to search engines and users.

Do not go overboard on the use of keywords or repeat keywords over and over again as that may end up placing you at the bottom of some search engine results lists.

<meta name="keywords" content="..." />

The META tag "keywords" should contain the keywords you selected plus synonyms or other related terms. DO NOT try and pad this field by repeating terms, etc. since some search services detect this behavior and will ignore the page. Most sources say that you should limit your keywords list to 50 or 60 characters total. For example:

<meta name="keywords" content="meta, tags, search, engines, web, searching" />

Keywords are arguably not as useful as they once were. See this article for more information on what keywords can and cannot do to influence your page's ranking.


Adding a Page Description

<meta name="description" content="..." />

The META tag "description" should contain a short description of the document. This description is often used in the listings of documents in search engines so a good description can guide users to your site. For example:

<meta name="description" content="Tactics to improve Web Searching" />


Other Search-Related META Tags

There are times when you may want more control over how pages are to be indexed. During development you may want to prevent certain pages from being indexed or you may want only the top level pages of an application to be indexed. Though not all search engines respect this META tag most will allow you to control indexing using the following commands:

<meta name="robots" content="all" />

"ALL" is the default values allows the page to be indexed and links in the document can be followed.

<meta name="robots" content="none" />

"none" indicates that the page should not be indexed and the links in the page should not be followed. Page developers can completely disable indexing of a page during development, for example.

<meta name="robots" content="noindex" />

"noindex" allows the subsidiary links to be explored, even though the page is not indexed.

<meta name="robots" content="nofollow" />

"nofollow" allows the page to be indexed, but no links from the page are explored. This may be helpful if you have a starting page for a set of pages where you only want the "cover" page to be indexed.

There are many other META tags that perform a variety of functions in user's browsers and can be helpful in adding functionality to your pages. To learn more about these tags see the useful links at the bottom of this page.


Example

For an example of META tags and where they should be placed, you can view the source of this page through your browser. At the top of the code there should be two tags, one for the keywords and another for the description.

See also the PMACS Web Team's guidelines on search engine optimization.