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Search engine optimization (SEO) is the act of modifying the content and structure of Web pages to increase traffic. SEO affects the user experience of a Web site and the performance of that site’s pages in organic search results on the major search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo, Ask, AOL, Baidu, etc.). Why is this important? Typically about 1/3 of site visits come through organic searches. Also, since IEEE.org is using a version of Google Custom Search Engine (CSE) for site search, which uses those same algorithms as the Google.com engine, any improvements made to content across the IEEE web presence will improve results on both platforms.

 

How SEO works

You've likely heard about the mysterious Google search algorithm, with its hundreds of arcane “signals” that affect a Web site or Web page’s position on a search engine results page (SERP). What are the most important of those signals, and which can be influenced? For Google and the other major search engines, the most important positive ranking factors are:

  • global link authority of site;
  • age of domain name;
  • keyword use in Title tag;
  • keyword use in body text;
  • link popularity within the site’s internal link structure;
  • link popularity of site to topical community;
  • anchor text of inbound links;
  • topical relevance of inbound links;
  • global link popularity of sites that link to the site.

Which of these can Web managers directly affect? The IEEE.org domain has been online since 1989, and it’s highly respected and linked to, as are many of the IEEE Society sites. The last two ranking factors are somewhat out of the site team's control, at least for non-IEEE owned sites. The other factors can be impacted by applying the best practices described on this page.

 
 

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Evaluating your site SEO

As a starting point toward improvement, it’s easy to do test searches on Google, Bing and the IEEE.org site search to see how your pages currently appear in search engine results page citations. Simply searching on IEEE (your site or organization name) should give you a good idea of what is being displayed in the TITLE, URL and snippets, and whether Site Links are being extracted and displayed. You can perform this same process for peer sites or competitors to see how you compare.

 
 

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SEO best practices

Keywords
Keywords should reflect the “who, what, where, when and how” of the content. They should be as simple as the labels for primary site subsections and should always be related to the goal or topic of the particular Web page being optimized. For example, most IEEE Society sites use labels such as Home, About, Conferences, Education, Membership, Publications, News, Awards, etc. These terms and their synonyms form the basis for a set of site keywords. For lower level pages, analyze the page text to identify words that convey the essence of the page.

Search engines look for search terms in important areas of the site structure and pages. Once you have identified your keywords, they should be used in:

  • page URL structure/citation URL;
  • title tag;
  • meta name=”description;”
  • <H1>, <H2>, etc. tags;
  • body text;
  • image <ALT> text.

When a user does a search (hopefully using one of your keywords) what they see on the results page is a set of citations, with the searched-for keywords highlighted in each of those elements. Right away the user is deciding on the relevance of each citation based on the words that appear. So, you want to control what they see by ensuring that your keywords are in your page code and site structure.
 

Page URL structure
Use simple URL structure in your IA, preferably using obvious words and keywords in the file names. Your site structure naming should match the keywords you’ve identified:

http://www.ieeesociety.org/conferences/<index.html>, <conference-calendar.html>, <conference-sponsors.html >, etc.

When creating a new site, use hyphens for multi-word file and directory names, not underscores: search engines treat hyphens as spaces between separate words, but underscores as characters joining words. However, if you have an existing site that is using underscores, it is not always recommended to immediately go back and change all existing URLs to hyphens, as the impact on user experience  (i.e.: inconsistency, broken bookmarks and links, etc.) may outweigh the positives in this case. This must be evaluated case by case, with consideration of future site update plans.
 

TITLE tag
Ensure that every page has a meaningful TITLE tag in the <HEAD> area. The page TITLE is both a primary signal to the search engine, and probably the most important SERP Signal: searchers scan the page titles first in order to evaluate the relevance of each citation. At the moment 9 out of 33 Societies sites have minimal or no <Title> tag, so we can do a lot to improve the IEEE web presence simply by building these out. Best practices for TITLE tags include:

  • Use your primary keyword at least once in the Title tag, possibly twice. Try to keep the keyword as close to the beginning of the Title tag text as possible
  • The TITLE text can be any length but a maximum of 70 characters will display on search engine return pages


Site Links
Last year Google and Bing added enhanced Site Links to their results for some pages. Site Links are the additional “mini citations” (a minimum of three and a maximum of eight) that sometimes appear below the primary citation. These are added based on automated analysis of the link structure of your site to find shortcuts to what’s deemed the most important content. Sitelinks only display the first 37 characters of the TITLE tag, so that makes it even more important to make the TITLE concise and accurate, with the primary keyword up front.
 

meta name=”description” content=
The meta “description” tag in the <HEAD> area of the page is probably the most important source of SEO signals to search engines and SERP Signals to the user. It’s vital that you have an meaningful and accurate description on your page. Note that right now 28 out of 33 Societies sites have minimal or no metadata description on their home page, and little more on primary navigation pages. Along with correct, coordinated and accurate TITLEs, adding this text would greatly improve the user experience across the IEEE web presence.
Search engines normally pull the citation’s snippet text from the meta=description. If you don’t provide one in your HEAD code, the SE will often cobble a snippet together from text it finds on the page, sometimes including code it may find.

The meta description should do three things:

  • serve as a short “ad” to encourage clicking on your page in the search results;
  • describe the content of the page accurately and succinctly;
  • include targeted keywords – these will be highlighted in search results snippets, to indicate “correctness” of the content to searchers.

Best practices and strictures for the meta description include:

  • average of 160 characters will display (Google 156, Yahoo 165, Bing 200);
  • you should have descriptions for at least your primary navigation and tabs;
  • don’t use the same description on every page.

Duplication of titles and meta descriptions are the main reason that they are ignored by Google or Bing, so it’s important to take care to make these unique for each page. Another issue with duplication is the special case when the title and snippet generated are both identical. When this happens, Google will only show one result, suppress the rest, and show this message at the bottom of the search results:

“In order to show you the most relevant results, we have omitted some entries very similar to the 2 already displayed. If you like, you can repeat the search with the omitted results included.”

This is a depressing message because it means that there are pages from your site that ranked for the query but won’t be shown because Google couldn’t differentiate it from the other page that ranked.
 

About meta name=”keywords”

The Keywords (<meta name="keywords" content=“ieee, society, conferences, publications, electrical engineering”>) field was very important in the “early days” of SEO. Now, not so much. Back in the day, search engines used the meta name="keywords" tag in indexing and page ranking. Google no longer does this; Bing and Yahoo (now powered by Bing in North American markets) still do to some extent. If you have the time to add meta keywords, they should be coordinated with those you are using in the more important page elements (headers, link text, etc.) but they are no longer a primary SEO signal.
 

Keywords in page content

  • Head tags <H1>, <H2>
    Search engines use the head tags as a ranking signal, and as a confirmation that the page is “about” the keyword(s) in your page TITLE. Use your primary keyword once in the <H1> tag of the page. When a searcher clicks a citation Title, reinforcing the search term just typed with the prominent headline helps to indicate that the searcher has arrived on the right page with the content sought.
  • Body text 
    Search engines do semantic connectivity: they build thesauri and dictionaries of related terms based on common searches and words in context: Georgia – Atlanta – lyrics - peaches – Bulldogs – Russia, etc. You should use your primary keyword at least 3 times in the body text copy on the page. Also, searchers may use synonyms and related terms in their search strategies, so include alternate terms that they are likely to search. 
  • Image ALT text and page image
    All images on html pages should have ALT image text, for both SEO and accessibility reasons. Screen readers for visually handicapped users will read the ALT image text. Use your primary keyword at least once in the ALT attribute of an image on the page. This not only helps Web search, but also image search which can bring valuable traffic. Also, as mentioned earlier, SERP citations now often include a thumbnail image. along with the Title, URL, and snippet. The search engine may choose an image it finds on the page to display here. However, you can control it by adding the meta name=”og:image” content=”<some-image-url.jpg> 
 
 

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SEO resources

Book:
The Art of SEO – Eric Enge, et. al. ISBN 978-0-596-51886-8

 
 

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