Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Guide
Overview: Guidelines for Improved Search Engine Rankings
The purpose of this guide is to present a process that can be used to improve the visibility of URMC Web site pages on search engines such as Google. The guide is designed for content authors writing for the www.urmc.rochester.edu Web site.
Understanding Search Results
The layouts of search engine results pages will vary depending on the type of user query. Results pages for shopping queries will include pictures and lists of products from shopping sites. Geo-qualified searches will often include a “Local Pack"” of locations that match the query. Many search results pages will include paid search advertising as well. Figure 1 shows a typical Google search results page, where the user entered a geo-qualified query (“knee replacement rochester ny”). Search Engine Optimization (SEO) techniques can help pages rank both in the organic search results section, as well as in the Local Pack. Note: This guide does not address Paid Search advertisements that appear in search results pages.
Figure 1: Example Google Search Results Page
There are over one hundred factors that Google uses to compare pages and determine what organic search ranking position each should have for every search query entered. For the sake of simplicity, we will focus on the two most important categories of factors: text content of Web pages and links that point from one page to another.
It is also important to realize that rankings are not absolute. More and more, search engines are using information that they know about you (your physical location based on your network properties, your previous searches and clicks, etc.) to personalize search results. So, the same search query performed by two users may not produce identical search results. But, if the best practices outlined in this document are followed, you should be able to improve the average rankings for the topics you're targeting.
The Importance of Content
It can't be overstated how important it is to have content related to the search phrases for which you want to rank well. In Figure 2, a single mention of the keyword phrase “bradycardia” in a list of heart conditions is insufficient for that page to gain much visibility. An in-depth page devoted to bradycardia (“Better” in Figure 2) has much stronger ranking potential. A group of interlinked pages whose topics reflect likely search phrases (“what is bradycardia?,” “bradycardia symptoms,” “bradycardia treatments”) have the best potential for search results success.
Figure 2: Content Example
Additional Reading: What is Content Marketing?
The Influence of Links
One of the fundamental differences between Google, when it launched in the mid-nineties, and other search engines of its day was that it used a “citation model” — like that used for research papers — counting the links between Web sites. In the same way that the research paper with the most citations tends to be the most seminal of the published papers, the Google algorithm looks at the links into Web sites as a measure of their importance, or authority value. The Google designers chose these “external links” as a key factor because (1) webmasters could not easily manipulate links originating on someone else’s site, and (2) links represent a kind of popularity vote for Web sites. The theory is that if the site contains something worthwhile, people will link to it. Both the number of and quality of links are measured, where quality of a link is based on the authority value that Google calculates for each page. Links from Harvard.edu or NIH.gov will carry more weight than those from smaller, lesser known sites.
The Google algorithm also factors in the links that go from page to page within a site. Internal links do not have as much influence on rankings as external links do, but they can still be effective for improving rankings.