Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is a topic which fills entire sites, entire email lists and entire conferences. The finer points are debated and contested to the nth degree, and change all the time as Google amends various vastly complicated algorithms. From this, you’d be forgiven for thinking that SEO appears to be a massively complicated issue – enough so that it’s easy to just walk away from it and hope it’ll sort out on its own. In some areas, it is a complicated topic, filled with fine grained nuance and opinion from people who do this stuff all the time.
We’re not going to look at these finer points here. Instead, we’re going to look at some really quick, really easy wins. We’re applying these to WordPress – but actually they’re applicable more widely in many cases.
Let’s get back to basics. What actually is SEO?
For our purposes, what we’re talking about here when we refer to SEO is your website’s position in Google* rankings for relevant searches.
* Yes, other search engines do exist,
but Google has a huge chunk of market share
and these recommendations also largely
apply to other search engines, too.
Why is ranking important? Well, think about how you use the web. Your starting point is very often some kind of Google search. This might be because Google is your homepage, or because you ping off a search from your browser’s address bar – but either way, that’s probably how you start.
When you do a search, there is a high probability that you don’t look past the first page of results. Here’s how things drop off:
What does this mean? It means that if you’re on the first page of Google for that search term, you will get people clicking through to your site. If you don’t, they won’t.
So – your aim is to get on that first page. How? We’re getting to that. Before we do, go and download these for some bedtime reading:
- Google’s Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide (PDF)
- Our Training Digital condensed, easy to follow guide: SEO 101 (PDF)
These guides look at the practical things you can do in order to improve your SEO. Let’s delve into a few of these for your museum WordPress site.
Improve SEO on your museum website: 5 practical steps
1. Install Yoast SEO
Yoast SEO is an extraordinarily rich plugin which helps you improve your WordPress SEO. It monitors pages for readability and SEO issues, enables you to set title and description fields really on a per page / per post or sitewide basis. Best of all, it’s free. Get it here, or just search “Yoast SEO” in the plugin screen of your WordPress dashboard. Yoast now has a super-friendly walkthrough when you first install it. Do this, and then if you need do some further tweaking as you go.
2. Check your permalinks
Out of the box, WordPress uses non-friendly permalinks (such as ?id=254). Google doesn’t like these – and they’re not best practice from a usability point of view either. Instead you should have so-called “friendly” URLs such as somesite.com/exhibitions/some-new-exhibition/
So – one of the first things you should do when creating a new WordPress site is to enable friendly permalinks. Do this via Settings > Permalinks – but be warned – if you already have a site, you should 1) check that your host supports this, 2) be ready to fix broken links and 3) take a backup.
3. Check your pages for title, heading and meta-tags
Go to some pages on your site and view source. Now do this:
- Check there is a <title> tag and that it has something meaningful in it. What is “meaningful” – well, for more in-depth info on this, read the guides linked above but in simple terms the content in here should be relevant and unique to each page. To give an example – the <title> tag of this page looks like this:<title>SEO for your museum WordPress site – WordPress for museums</title>
- Check that there is only one <h1> tag. If there is more than one, edit the page and remove any additional ones in the editor (replace these with H2 / H3 / etc instead). Then re-publish. If you still see more than one H1, you’ll need to amend your theme, or get your designer to do so.
- Check your meta-tags. Yoast is by far the best way of doing this – if not you’re into some fairly heavy theme editing.
4. Don’t forget images
As a museum, you should already be interested in – and focused on – the accessibility of your images. This applies to general assets as well as things like museum object images. So this means making sure you’ve added ALT information to the images in your media library. WordPress provides a field for this – so fill it in with meaningful content – but also do a view-source again and check that images have an “alt=” tag.
5. Write, write, write, write
We’ve left the most important thing until last – and this one doesn’t need any technical knowhow at all.
People are interested in finding real, genuine, interesting content – and Google is increasingly getting better at filtering out spammy / duplicate / non-interesting / sales-pitched content. So if you really want to increase your rankings, create content. This means writing blog posts, creating new pages, encouraging comments, linking pages together, and so on. There is no quick fix to this – it takes time, but you need to allow for this time. We’ll be writing in the future about techniques to keep this going – but really it’s about finding some time each week to make website updates.
Finally – much of the above can be checked (if you’re not a view source kind of person) by using various online tools – just Google for “SEO checkup” and try one of the free sites available. Normally you put in a web address, push go, and the site will report on any issues it’s found. One of our favourites is SEO SiteCheckup but there are many others.
There are lots of other techniques which we’ll get into in the future – meanwhile, use the comment box below if you have any suggestions or tools you use.