Search Engine Optimization (SEO) refers to maximizing visibility in organic search engine results. SEO includes a blend of technical, content, and creative strategies and techniques. This style guide focuses on on-page SEO, which includes best practices that should be made at the level of individual pages. (as opposed to off-page SEO, which deals with improving external links to your site).
Metadata is information that goes in the HTML markup to provide search engines with key information about the page content. The two most important metadata tags for SEO are title tags and meta descriptions.
The page title tag is a meta element that should clearly communicate the purpose of the page. Title tags (also called “meta titles”) are the page components that search engines and other web technologies use to identify the page. Title tags are displayed on search engine results pages as the clickable headline for a given result, and are important for usability, SEO, and social sharing.
The new website will follow the same title tag format across all entry points:
- “Page Title” – Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics
- About – Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics
Best practices for writing title tags:
- Make sure every page has a unique title.
- Not be laden with loosely related keywords.
- Follow a consistent naming convention for like pages.
- Not exceed 60-75 characters. Exception: in some cases it is acceptable for title tags to exceed 60 characters; for example, when the name of the site after the page title is significantly long.
The name you give to a page becomes part of the Title Tag:
“Name of Entry Point” is automatically appended to the page name creating the complete page title.
Meta descriptions should be short, clear descriptions of the content on that page. Meta descriptions help search engines understand what the page is about, and they also provide the text summary that appears on SERPs.
Best practices for writing meta descriptions:
- Aim for 160 characters maximum.
- Write for human users, not for search engines.
- Accurately describe the content on the page.
- Try to work in keywords organically, but avoid keyword stuffing.
- Make sure every page has a unique meta description.
Note that Google will sometimes replace your meta description on a SERP with other content it finds on the page that it feels is more useful for users. This occurs when descriptions are too long, if they don’t describe the page, and if there is unnatural use of keywords.
The meta description for a page can be added or edited using the Yoast SEO plugin that appears near the bottom of the page. First click on “Edit Snippet:”
Then enter or edit the Meta description:
Descriptive, structured headings help tell search engines what the page contains. Follow a logical hierarchy when structuring page content, and avoid skipping heading levels. Headings are a good place to include keywords when it’s natural; avoid forcing or overusing keywords just for SEO value.
Guidelines to consider when writing headings:
- Headings should be succinct, descriptive phrases in Title Case with no ending punctuation.
- Use keywords at the beginning of headings vs. at the end.
- Example: If your keywords are “progressive education curriculum”, the preferred heading would be “Progressive Education Curriculum Overview” vs. “What You Need to Know About the Progressive Education Curriculum.”
- Max of 8-10 words.
- Use concise and descriptive language.
- Example: “Types of Financial Aid”
- Should make sense out of context.
- Example: “Happening at the Berman Institute” is preferred vs. simply “Events”
To create a heading, select the desired text and choose the appropriate heading level in the page editor:
Always use descriptive labels (never “click here”). Write clear, concise and direct links that describe the content of the page being linked to. Links are a good place to include keywords when it’s natural; avoid forcing or overusing keywords just for SEO value.
Best practices for writing links:
- Describe the link in as much detail as possible to create the most clear description of the content being linked to.
- Links that open PDFs should be clearly marked. Ex: Viewbook (PDF).
- Avoid generic navigational labels such as Resources, Services, and Information, which do not provide a clear description for audiences on the content that would be found there. Instead, opt for descriptive terms such as “Educator Resources” or “Student Services”.
- Order is important! If there are a long list of items, alphabetical is usually best. However, it often makes sense to order links in the order a site visitor needs to complete tasks. Attention will be paid to the items that appear at the top.
- Always verify links. Broken links prevent search engines from finding all the information they need when crawling the site.
Try to limit the use of PDFs and other file uploads in favor of actual web content. Content within PDFs, Microsoft Word documents and other files tends to be weighted lower than content on web pages by search engines. Whenever possible, make information contained in PDFs and other files web content instead.
Strategically using keywords can help improve search engine rankings. However, search engines now focus on perceived user intent over simply just use of keywords. There is an increased importance of comprehensive messages including related keywords throughout a given page. When writing new content, consider that many users now use voice search to find information. Consider how users ask questions and let the content answer those questions.
Note on the SEO-Accessibility Connection
The next section will discuss accessibility best practices. Screen readers and search engines rely on the same structure and information to make sense of content and functionality. If you follow best practices for accessibility, you will also improve your site’s search engine optimization (SEO).