Ranking and SEO – light on a dark art

Search engine optimisation can seem like a bit of a black art, particularly given that search engines can and do change their algorithms with little or no prior warning or documentation. However there is growing awareness that if institutions, projects or individuals wish to have a visible web presence and to disseminate their resources efficiently and effectively search engine optimisation and ranking can not be ignored. Indeed at the JISC HEA OER Phase 2 Prorgamme meeting in January the projects flagged up SEO as being an area where they would appreciate more support and guidance.

Coincidentally the day before the programme meeting Jenny Gray of the OU raised a query on the oer-discuss list about an unexplained drop off in traffic to OpenLearn from google, which she suspected was a result of a change to the google algorithm. Several people responded with helpful suggestions including Lisa McLaughlin of the Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education (ISKME) who forwarded some invaluable advice on search engine ranking and optimisation from her colleague Julie Walling.

Julie has now written a similar post on the ISKME Research blog: Trouble shooting a Drop in Search Engine Rankings. This helpful blog post outlines a set of questions that can be used to troubleshoot whether a drop in rankings is the result of a change in a search engine algorithm, or due to an issue with the website in question. Recognising that SEO can be extremely complex and that the cause of ranking changes elusive, Julie sets out some basic principals to bear in mind. These include:

1. Structure sites so they are as content rich as possible
2. Pick one keyword per page and stick to it
3. Include your keyword in the anchor text of internal links
4. Attract high value external links

I can highly recommend Julie’s blog post to anyone interested in learning more about google ranking and search engine optimisation more generally and as an added bonus she also provides links to other useful resources on this arcane but important topic.