Optimizing Drupal for SEO
This article at a glance -
Drupal has a bunch of great SEO tools. Here are several tips and suggested modules for fine tuning SEO within Drupal. Easy SEO wins can be achieved through configuring metatags and URLs. Don’t forget to setup an XML sitemap of your site and submit to major search engines. SEO isn’t a once and done effort, make sure to constantly research and update with search trends.
Yes, but is it good for SEO? This is a question we hear all the time when we mention all of the wonderful capabilities of a Drupal site. First off, let's dispel the myth that there is a CMS that automatically does magical SEO and makes all of your pages rank higher in search. If you want good SEO, the most important thing that you can do is write good and unique content that humans actually want to read. The CMS or web software has nothing to do with it. So let's assume that you already have great content and semantically perfect markup, there are tons of other little things that you can do to further boost your content in the eyes of search engines and Drupal is a great tool for implementing them.
To get the most out of Drupal SEO, you are going to want to download a couple of contributed modules from drupal.org.
The following is a list of our goto modules for SEO that I am going to talk about in this post:
Using Metatags to Help Search Engines
Metatags are important for search engines to index, categorize, and understand the content of your webpage. There are a lot of different metatags but a couple that really matter for SEO are the meta description and the title tags. Meta descriptions can be used as a summary in search engines, so it is important to write some compelling content here. It’s the first pitch to a potential site visitor so you may want to put a little thought into it. What if you have hundreds or thousands of pages on your site? The Drupal contributed Metatag module provides a way to dynamically set metatags based on content type, or on other content rules you may have. Working with the Token module you can have all of your metatags, including the description, generated based off of your content. For those pages that you are really trying to squeeze the SEO juice out of, Metatag allows you to override for when you need to fine tune things.
If you want to take things further with metadata, you can also install the Schema.org Metatagmodule which extends the base Metatag module. You can read more about the Schema.org project here. In a nutshell Schema.org is making a push for people to further define what kind of content they are writing by breaking things into categories of content that a search bot can read. The types of content that they have defined is very granular with deep sub categories. Check them all out here. Having Schema.org metadata, can give you a leg up on your competition as more devices and services start reading and prioritizing web sites based on this content categorization data.
URLs Should be Informative and Human Readable
Having URL paths that make sense can go a long way for SEO. Search engines are able to parse relevance from the words in a URL. For example a URL that is “example.com/node/34” gives no information as to what the topic of the page is. Alternatively, this URL “example.com/store/shirts/blue-shirt” can tell a lot more to a search bot. The Pathauto module enables you to make descriptive URLs. Similar to the Metatag module, you can use this with the Token module to automatically build new URLs based on the type of content you are creating. These are referred to as “patterns” in the Pathauto module. Paths generated by Pathauto can also be changed on a one by one basis, so you can overwrite the generated name in favor of a custom one.
Another useful module related to URLs is the Redirect module. The redirect module does a handful of useful things. Every time you go and change a URL, the redirect module will create a 301 redirect from the previous URL to the new URL. This is helpful when you are updating a page that may have been bookmarked or linked to elsewhere. 301 is the status code that a web server sends when a requested page has been moved and tells the browser to redirect to the new page. 301 redirects are essential to having good SEO, search bots give a poor evaluation to sites with a bunch URLs that go nowhere and humans don’t really like it either.
The Redirect module also comes with a really handy utility page called Fix 404 pages. 404 is the status code that a web server sends when a requested page doesn’t exist. We have all seen these annoying messages from time to time. Sometimes the page has been deleted and sometimes it has simply been renamed and moved, with a 404 message there is no way to know where the page you are looking for is and will leave you thinking that maybe you just visited the page in a dream. The Fix 404 pages utility gives you a report of all of the 404 URLs that your site is sending, it also tells you how many times a URL has been tried and the last time someone tried to go there. This report gives you the opportunity to add a redirect for those 404 URLs and send those users to a relevant page. This is a big boost for SEO because 301 > 404 in the eyes of a search bot.
Provide a Sitemap to Better Direct Search Bots
Search bots work hard, 24/7 365 days a year they are out there crawling the web to make your search experience better. So make it easy on them and provide a roadmap for traversing your site. This is done with an XML sitemap. An XML sitemap is simply an outline of your site’s pages with priority and update frequency all wrapped up in the XML format. We typically build a custom solution for generating an XML sitemap, but there is a Drupal contributed module out there to help you do it without needing to know how to write XML. The XML Sitemap module allows you to configure your sitemap based on things like content types or menu structure. Once you have a sitemap, go ahead and give those search bots a jump start and submit it to the search engines. Each search engine has a different process for doing this, so make sure you submit to more engines than just Google, the XML Sitemap module has a built in tool for submitting to search engines as well.
Research and testing
Lastly, let's talk about Google Analytics and so I don’t have to write that out a bunch of times i'm going to refer to Google Analytics as GA. GA won’t do anything to help your SEO, but it is a crucial tool for analyzing how effective your SEO work has been. The Drupal contributed Google Analytics module makes it easy to set up on your Drupal site. A good SEO strategy is all about testing and adjusting. Make some assumptions about what topics or keywords you think will drive traffic to your site but don’t stop there. Turn your assumptions into tested data with GA. Your website should be a testing ground for new search words, as you see traffic spike up around a search term adjust the rest of your content to cater to those search terms. GA is currently the best tool available for tracking visitors on your site. With testing and study eventually you will land on the right terms and words to use so that the right people find their way to your amazing content.