There was a time when I thought that website SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, was a by-product of quality content on that website. While there is still some truth to that, I’ve come to realize that good SEO doesn’t just happen, it takes some serious thinking and some good old-fashioned hard work. You may not break a sweat, but it is going to take time.
I’m not going to go into the theory behind SEO, as that topic is well-covered elsewhere on the Internet. What I am going to do is document the steps that should be taken to properly configure a Joomla website for SEO, using the built-in features that Joomla is already equipped with.
Joomla and SEO
Out of the box, Joomla is equipped with what you need for good SEO, but here’s the catch: you still need to fill in the blanks that Joomla creates for you. So here’s the short list, with explanations following the list.
- In Global Configuration ? Site ? SEO Settings, set Search Engine Friendly URLs and Use Apache mod_rewrite to “Yes”
- In Global Configuration ? Site ? Metadata Settings, set Show Title Meta Tag and Show Author Meta Tag to “No”
- In Global Configuration ? Site ? Metadata Settings, in Global Site Meta Description add a description that you would like to appear in the “description” meta tag for your home page, and add a few relevant keywords in Global Site Meta Keywords.
- Remove the line “Disallow: /images/” from the robots.txt file
- Add unique Metadata Descriptions and Keywords in the Metadata Information for each article
- Add a custom page title for each Menu Item under Parameters (System) ? Page Title and set Show Page Title to “No”
- Add relevant “Alternate Text” and “Title” for each image that you use
- Make sure your content has relevant keywords
- Submit your site to one or more of the major search engines
- Use an XML sitemap, if possible
Global Configuration SEO Settings
This is pretty basic stuff, just make sure you rename your “htaccess.txt” file to “.htaccess” before setting Use Apache mod_rewrite to “Yes”, and that your server is running Apache and not Windows.
Global Configuration Metadata Settings
We’re going to take care of the Title Meta Tag in the custom page title for the Menu Items, so it’s okay to turn this off here. The Author Meta Tag is an esoteric little tool, in my opinion. You may have a unique reason to include this information in your website metadata, but it’s not likely.
The Global Site Meta Description is going to appear in the HTML of your home page and every other page where you don’t (or can’t) specify a unique metadata description for individual articles. It’s also what is likely going to appear in Google’s SERP (Search Engine Results Page), and this is what people will see and read before deciding to click through to your site. The sweet spot for length seems to be around 150 characters.
To use or not to use keywords seems to be a hot topic. On one side of the issue, you’ve got Google saying they don’t use the keywords metatag, and on the other side you have some good explanations for why it might be a good idea to keep using it. I’m leaning towards playing it safe and using a few (say, five or less) relevant keywords that describe the site in general.
Remove “Disallow: /images/” from the robots.txt file
Your robots.txt file is in your root directory, and you can use Filezilla or another FTP client to fetch that file, delete the line “Disallow: /images/”, and upload the file back to your site. For more on why this is a good thing, check out the video or slideshare in Brian Teeman’s post about hidden Joomla secrets.
Unique Metadata Descriptions and Keywords for each article
This feature is where Joomla as a CMS (Content Management System) really begins to shine, and you can find it under Metadata Information in your article create or edit screen. This is also where you’re going to need to start thinking about what to write for both the description and the keywords for each page. Take your time and make it count, and keep the description length to somewhere around 150 characters, and your keywords to five or less.
Custom page title for each Menu Item
If you don’t specify a page title Joomla will use the article title by default (for pages that are based on an article, anyway), but chances are you’re going to want to use something else for the page title. The page title is what appears at the top of your browser (depending on your browser or your browser settings) and in the tab for that page. It’s also what is going to appear as the title for the page in the search results. Enter the title in Menu Item ? Parameters (System) ? Page Title, and set Show Page Title to “No” unless you want the page title to show at the top of your content area, which you probably don’t want.
“Alternate Text” and “Title” for your images
The Alternate Text (or “alt”) attribute in an image tag is important for a couple reasons:
- It makes your site more accessible for people who use screen readers, and it explains what is in that space for users who have “images” turned off in their browser.
- Google uses the “alt” tag to index your images, which can help your search rankings, especially with Google Images. This is directly related to removing “Disallow: /images/” from your robots.txt file, which I mentioned above.
The Title attribute is what most browsers will show as a tooltip when a user mouses over an image.
Google also recommends using a file name that is directly related to what the image is and what you are trying to convey with that image. Read more about Google and images on this page at Google Webmaster Central.
Relevant keywords in your content
This is a huge topic, but what it comes down to is writing your content for your users (humans) and not search engines. Stuffing your content with keywords is a practice to avoid, as Google explains on this page. To quote Google, “Focus on creating useful, information-rich content that uses keywords appropriately and in context.” In other words, be real, and the search engines will treat you right.
Tell the search engines where you are
Eventually your website is going to be crawled by the search engines, but it sure wouldn’t hurt to tell them where and who you are. The most important one is Google, of course, but at Black Hills Web Works we usually submit our sites to Yahoo and Bing as well. Follow the links below to go where you need to go to do this.
Google Webmaster Central – you’ll need a Google account to use this, but you probably already have one of those.
Yahoo Site Explorer – in my opinion Yahoo has one of the more confusing websites on the web, but this is the direct link you’ll need to submit your site to them.
Bing Webmaster Tools – it’s not Google or Yahoo, but it probably wouldn’t hurt to submit your site to Bing. Additionally, they’ve got some tools, advice, and other information about SEO for your learning pleasure.
Use an XML sitemap
The Xmap component seems to be the most widely used and accepted XML sitemap generator for Joomla, and you can find what you need to know about it at this page on the JED. For what it’s worth, Xmap had a security issue earlier this year (2011) which you can read about on their website. If you want to look at something besides Xmap, you can check out the sitemap category page on the JED.
There’s a good possibility that I’ll be writing more about this topic in the near future, but until then, here’s some further reading:
Exploring the Joomla Meta Tags (Part 1) – the first of a four-part series by Kristoffer at Joomlablogger.net on the topic of Joomla and SEO
5 Quick SEO steps for better rankings and more traffic – from the March 2011 edition of Joomla! Community Magazine