The internet has revolutionized the way companies market their products and services today, and one of the biggest changes is how businesses are leveraging their websites to market their online presence. In a competitive digital world, the key to success is reaching potential customers and driving them to your website.
In a webinar earlier this year, we discussed how Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has become a top priority in today’s growing world of technology reliance on web-based platforms, and how Liferay’s newest features can be used to implement SEO-friendly dynamic pages, illustrated by a real world customer example.
What is SEO?
For those who aren’t familiar with Search Engine Optimization (SEO), it’s the process of affecting the visibility of a website or web page in a search engine’s “natural” or un-paid “organic” search results. Unlike paid search results, like Google Adwords, where you’re essentially paying for your URL’s to display in a favorable position, SEO involves the natural algorithms that sort the results.
Organizations are always trying various SEO techniques to increase high value traffic to their sites from search engines such as Google, Yahoo, and Bing. Common SEO methods include getting indexed, controlling the crawl, and increasing prominence. It’s important that your page is highly relevant to the keywords that users would use in their search for that page.
SEO Strategy Considerations
When determining an SEO strategy, there are several important factors to consider:
Controlling Meta Information
First and foremost, it’s important to ensure that all of the properties being used to describe your page are relevant and descriptive of the page’s content. HTML pages contain metadata – title, meta tags, keywords, etc. – and search engines look at this metadata through sophisticated algorithms to determine its value, which is then used to score the page.
Liferay allows users to control the metadata for each page, along with the ability for localization. For example, the US page can have metadata in English and a Chinese page could have the metadata in Mandarin in order to maximize the score.
Site Map Protocol
Another feature that search engines provide is the ability to show searching users a site map of the website directly in the search result page to help them find what they’re looking for faster. For example, if you searched AT&T in Google, you will see search results for AT&T along with the site map, as shown in the image below. Liferay has an out-of-the-box capability of pushing your sitemap out to Google and Yahoo using the Site Map Protocol.
A good SEO strategy also involves the use of friendly URLs. Your URL patterns need to be descriptive of the content. Out-of-the-box, Liferay URLs in many cases aren’t good enough as they contain a lot of URL parameters. However, Liferay allows for the creation of custom friendly URLs through the Friendly URL Mapper to solve the problem.
SEO Friendly Sliders/Carousels
Lastly, many organizations struggle with the issue of SEO friendly sliders and carousels. In a nutshell, a page rendering carousels should only have the content of the relevant slide instead of all the slides. When users perform a search, the search engine crawls through each slide and indexes it as part of the same page. The challenge is tricking the search engine into viewing each slide as a separate page, while maintaining the animation.
For example, if a user searches for something that lies in slide 3 of a carousel, and the search results take them to slide 1 where the information isn’t relevant to what they were looking for, it can cause confusion and frustration. It’s easy to see why this is something companies want to avoid as it can result in a poor user experience that could deter the user from visiting the site again.
The solution lies in the URL. By creating unique URLs for each slide of the carousel, search engines can treat and index them as separate pages, making them SEO friendly.
To maintain the proper carousel transitions between slides, the slides are linked so that a simple AJAX call back to the server allows users to view all the carousel slides. In addition, all of the carousel slides are managed in one Liferay Web content article. This way, only one slide in the carousel is rendered during rendering, preventing any false positives when search engines are indexing the page. With this solution, you can still have carousels without sacrificing the SEO friendliness of a site.
Real World Customer Example – Sensus
Sensus is a global enterprise in utility infrastructure systems and resource conservation. For its global website, products are organized in a way as illustrated in the diagram below – where sensus.com contained multiple country sites, each with multiple divisions, and those with their own product lines, each with multiple products.
However, in reality, the associations between these entities were not as cleanly hierarchical as the diagram implies. In fact, all the entities could be associated with one another, as shown in the following diagram.
This presented the biggest challenge as it meant that a truly hierarchical representation for the content behind Divisions, Product Lines, Products and Solutions could not be created. And from an SEO perspective, all this content still needed to be searchable, and needed to be in a hierarchy that search engines understood.
Templates and Page Types Are the Answer
To solve this problem, we leveraged templates, which helped content managers organize their content in a way where it’s reusable, without losing the site map and structure of the content.
Liferay’s built-in rich WCM capability allowed us to divide a page into building blocks. For example, a product line page would be divided into the following sections – overview, products, and associated solutions.
We also created page types, where a single Liferay page can display as many articles as necessary for a particular page type. For Sensus, we had page types for Division, Product Line, and Product.
What about SEO?
When addressing SEO, the answer was in the method of content delivery. We needed to make sure that content authoring and delivery were decoupled to maintain SEO friendliness of each country’s site.
We achieved this through a process where content authors didn’t touch the Liferay pages. Instead, all they had to do was create Web forms and tag each article using Liferay categories, in turn capturing the hierarchy. That way, the article can surface in various places throughout the site based on how it’s categorized, allowing content authors to maintain a single source of truth for the content and also the hierarchy in the information architecture on the delivery side. Now when search engines scan through the pages and come up with a searchable index, the structure makes sense and there’s no loss of content organization.
As a result of this solution that enables the creation of a global website with shared content, we also encountered some SEO challenges that were specific to Liferay – HTML Titles and Breadcrumbs. As discussed earlier, search engines expect a page’s HTML title to be relevant to what’s on the page. However, since we’re using page types, where each page is displaying multiple products, we couldn’t have the same title for each product page, and Liferay out-of-the-box controls the page title based on the page type. Similarly, Liferay’s Breadcrumb capability had to show hierarchy of the content.
Both of these challenges were solved through a plug-in that enabled us to intercept the HTML Title and Breadcrumb generation code and replace it with dynamic logic so that it made sense for search engines.
In summary, SEO is something that’s becoming increasingly important for all public facing sites to focus on. A key SEO success factor lies in the strategy that must be defined early on in the planning phases of a project to ensure maximum SEO friendliness, and Liferay as a CMS provides a great tool for SEO that can satisfy almost all requirements.