June 30, 2009

SEO: 9 tips for optimizing a nonprofit site

Search Engine Optimization isn’t black magic, so get your site to shape up

Guest post by Dennis Yu
CEO, BlitzLocal

Dennis Yu, SEO expert

Dennis Yu, SEO expert

Most people treat Search Engine Optimization (SEO) as black magic. While there are unethical methods to inflate your search engine rankings — cloaking, doorways pages, link farms, “google bombing,” dupe content poisoning, keyword stuffing, and so forth — these tactics are short-lived and can even get you banned. Folks who employ these tricks (also known as “black hat SEOs”) are in a cat-and-mouse war with search engines, as loopholes are being exploited, found and closed.

Most experts will tell you not to play this risky game — your long-term strategy is to write lots of good content. If it’s good for humans, it’s good for robots. And much of what SEOs charge for is good old-fashioned webmastering.

So ask yourself these questions:

1Is your code clean? Run it through validator.w3.org and see. Search engines are finicky and fragile. Cut and paste whole content blocks and paste them into the search box to see if they’re being indexed.

2Does your site load fast? Check average load times with free external monitoring services, like host-tracker.com and spyfu.com. Could your images be reduced in size? Optimize your code to run faster and cache where possible. You want pages to load in under one second for an average connection.

3Are you using dynamic pages? Do your urls have question marks or equal signs in them ( www.mysite.org/?sessionid=123&contentid=3456 , etc…)? You can typically have one or two variables in the url, but it’s best to have static pages where you can. Descriptive urls are better for the user and can result in portions of your url being bolded (a good thing) when they match terms in the user’s search. CRM (Constituent Relationship Management) and CMS (Content Management System) vendors such as GetActive/Convio and Joomla have issues with dynamic urls but are working to make their packages SEO-friendly.

4Do you have a Flash landing page? Or perhaps Flash navigation? Search engines cannot see beyond flash, as they look only at text. Do it in CSS. Use the Lynx browser or do a “view source” to get an idea of what search engines see. Don’t put up brick walls to search engines.

5Do you have multiple versions of your homepage? For example, http://www.mysite.org and http://mysite.org), which is also known as the “canonical” issue. To prevent diluting your rank, choose one version and permanently redirect all others to that one. See Matt Cutts’ advice.

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