Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

What is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?

Search engine optimization is the practice of ensuring search engines can crawl and index your site, with an emphasis on the site's ranking. Because a significant portion of SMU's website traffic comes from website searches, it's imperative to take best practices into account when working with content.

Best practice

Start with your strategy

What keywords do people use to search for your content?

Use this information to develop a keyword strategy. This may be a single phrase or set of three or four keywords.

Target these keywords deliberately, especially in page titles, headings, links, alternate text for images, and toward the beginning of your content where they will carry more weight for a search engine.

Keyword strategies do not need to be overly complex. Using an overabundance of keywords - referred to as keyword stuffing - may lower your site ranking because your content may appear to be spam to a search engine.

Create unique titles and content

For each page on your site, it's important to have a unique and descriptive page title.

Avoid vague titles, such as "Welcome," which do not add meaning to the page. Instead, use a title to describe the page content. 

Additionally, repeated titles, such as the word "About," can lower your overall search engine ranking. To resolve this, use the site tagline feature to automatically add a departmental tagline to each page title as it appears in a search engine listing. Don't add your department name to each page within Sitecore, as this may result in your department name appearing twice in the page title.

Duplicated content, such as paragraphs of text that repeat on multiple pages, can also lower your search engine ranking because it can be interpreted as spam. Ensure your pages present unique content.

Use meta fields

By default, the page title you enter in Sitecore will also appear in the search engine listing. You may override this feature if needed by using the Meta title field. (link).

Use the Meta description field (link) to control the description that appears in a search engine listing. If you leave this field blank, search engines will attempt to discern which content from your page to display, and it may not be the content you would prefer.

Although meta fields don't impact your search engine ranking, they do appear in search engine results and give your potential website visitor an idea of what's on your page. Accurate titles and compelling descriptions will help bring visitors to your site.


Use headings

Label sections of content with unique and descriptive headings, and be deliberate with your use of keywords. Not only do headings make your content easier to read, they also add context to your content and can help boost your search engine ranking. Learn more about best practices for headings. 

Be strategic with your use of links

In Sitecore, certain menu systems are constructed automatically, such as top-level navigation (link) and sidebar menus (link). As part of your website strategy, link to important pages within your content rather than relying solely on the navigational menu systems. This helps search engines better understand the structure of your site.

When linking content, the purpose of the link should be understandable from the linked text. Do not use phrases like "click here," and avoid standalone, repetitive phrases like "learn more" or "read more." These are meaningless to search engines and can be problematic for accessibility.

Read more about structuring links.

Ensure sites load quickly

Sites that take several seconds to load will be de-prioritized by search engines. To ensure quick load time:

  • Ensure the images have been optimized for the web. Most banners should not be wider than 1400 to 1600 pixels; most page images should not be wider than 600 to 800 pixels.
  • Resize images (link) using Sitecore's image properties feature when needed.
  • Avoid scripts or third-party content that will increase page load time. Asynchronous scripts can be safely added.

Optimize images (alt text and file names)

Search engines aren't able to see images. To ensure images are optimized for search engine ranking:

  • Add alternate text to your images. Be descriptive and use keywords relevant to the image and/or your page content.
  • Name image and media files intentionally, using keywords separated with the - symbol. This can help search engines understand images and improve your ranking.
    • What to avoid: WMP1203892.jpg
    • Better option: professor-david-johnson.jpg
  • Avoid using graphics with embedded text. This includes fliers, invitations, buttons, or SVGs meant to represent page titles.
  • Ensure images have been compressed and sized appropriately for the web.
  • Never use a graphic with embedded text to replace a heading unless you are confident you have coded the heading and image file appropriately for SEO and accessibility.

Learn more about best practices for images.

Optimize page names

When you create a new page in Sitecore, you have the opportunity to name the URL.

  • Separate words with the - symbol rather than stringing words together in a single block or separating them using the space bar. Search engines can read the URL and better understand the context for your pages when this occurs.
    • What to avoid:
    • Better option
  • Use meaningful words in the URL, but don't keyword stuff. This can make your content look like spam and lower your site ranking.
    • Example:
  • Name files using lowercase words

It has not been SMU's historic practice to separate keywords in URLs with dashes or use lowercase words. Unless you are creating a new page, your page names likely won't match the above guidelines. Leave older page names as-is; renaming pages without a redirect strategy in place will result in broken links, which will in turn impact your SEO negatively.

Learn more about best practices for naming conventions.

Provide a good user experience

Once people land on your page, ensure your content is well-organized, easy to browse, and presented in a logical format. Pages that have a high bounce rate - meaning people leave the site quickly - can rank lower.

Read more

SEO often goes hand-in-hand with accessibility. Our best practices guide provides a detailed look into both topics.

Need help getting started?

OIT provides Google Analytics consultations. We can also help you review which keyword searches are bringing people to your site as well as which pages generate the most hits. You may find it surprising which searches are most common - it may not be what you expect.