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Brand execution guidelines

Search engine optimization (SEO)

With nearly one million pages across hundreds of subdomains, asu.edu is a complex website rich with content. As people heavily rely on search engines to discover a website’s content, it is important for asu.edu to remain visible in that increasingly competitive space. With this model, the objective is to elevate a clear, single source of truth for key university information (e.g., academic calendar, contact and location info) for users to find.

 

To benefit both onsite and offsite search performance, the standards for asu.edu include:

  • Maintaining a single source of truth for shared information and tools.
    • Shared universitywide systems such as degree search, iSearch, class search, ASU Events and ASU Now should be optimized as the official university source of information for their respective areas.
    • Units should focus their efforts on the marketing and storytelling of shared content, as well as content unique to their unit.
  • Collaborating with units regarding shared keyword priorities versus competing. Disputes regarding academic content may be escalated to the Provost’s Office for review. 

Writers, designers and developers each have a role in search engine optimization of asu.edu. To learn about the unique role of each of these in SEO for asu.edu:

Additional resources — sign up for, or follow: 

Quick wins and long-term strategies: How to prioritize your SEO efforts

Looking to understand how you can prioritize SEO efforts when time or resources are limited? Always prioritize pages with the highest traffic and consider your SEO strategy as a phased approach.

Phase 1: If you’re short on time, resources or both, prioritize these critical SEO foundation items.

Title tag

These 55 characters in your HTML are a key SEO factor. The title tag is what's shown as the webpage title in search results, as well as link previews in social sharing, and they are critical for both SEO and user interest.

All page titles should:

  • Be unique. Title tags should summarize the page content, and should be different on every page.
  • Be descriptive but concise (50-60 characters). Longer titles will get cut off in search results.
  • Include relevant keywords. When possible, include the ASU brand name at the end.

Example: Cronkite Journalism Major Program | Arizona State University

More title tag reading

Meta description

While not a direct factor in search ranking, meta descriptions are often shown as the descriptive copy for search results and link previews in social sharing. Compelling, descriptive copy can drive user clicks which can have a positive impact on ranking.

Meta descriptions should:

  • Be unique and descriptive.
  • Be kept to 155-160 characters, as longer descriptions may get cut off.
  • Include keywords, but be written to be compelling to search users and invite clicks.
  • If using non-alphanumeric characters, be sure to use the HTML entity version to prevent display issues.

Example:  Arizona State University in Tempe, AZ is a public research university ranked #1 in the U.S. for innovation, dedicated to accessibility and academic excellence.

More meta description reading

H1 and header tags

Sensible use of header tags (H1–H6) can provide structure and context to content that helps search engines better understand it. They also serve as an important part of content accessibility for users.

Header tags should:

  • Have just one H1 tag, used to represent the main page headline if possible. While not mandatory, having a single H1 can help control search results when it is occasionally used in lieu of the title tag content.
  • Be deployed in a consistent and hierarchical manner. For example, if you use H2 and H3 tags for section headings and subheadings, try to do so on all your associated pages.
  • Be descriptive of the content they contain, as they can add relevance.

Example:

  • H1:  Majors and degree programs.
  • H2: Customize your academic experience.
  • H3: Minors and certificates.

More header tag reading

Sitemap

Sitemaps are directories of your website’s content that help ensure that all of the pages of your site are discoverable by search engines. They can also signal when content is recently changed so a current version can be indexed (added to pages available for search results) again.

Things to consider:

  • Sitemaps are XML files. Proper and consistent XML formatting will help ensure there are no issues reading the file.
  • You can submit sitemaps through Google Search Console.
  • Do not include pages in your sitemap that you do not want potentially indexed, including pages you have marked “noindex” or blocked in your robots.txt file.
  • Sitemaps are suggestions to help search engines but do not guarantee pages get indexed or ranked. They also don’t prevent search engines from indexing pages not in the sitemap.
  • Be sure to keep sitemaps current to reflect new and updated content. There are a number of tools which can help you generate XML sitemaps and automate this process.

More sitemap reading

Images

Optimized images can support a page’s keyword relevance, and get discovered directly through image search results. They also affect a page’s load speed, which has an impact on search ranking.

Image file size considerations:

  • Page load speed is a ranking factor, so pages with large images to load may see their search performance drop. Reduce image file size as small as possible while retaining overall quality.
  • Consider the right format for the image. Some image formats (e.g., JPG, PNG) can provide comparable appearance with a much smaller file size.
  • Reducing an image’s display size in HTML settings does not reduce file size. For example, if a 1500-pixel source image is displayed at 300 pixels, the full 1500-pixel image still gets loaded. Consider making a copy of the image resized to the final display size if possible.

Image optimization considerations:

  • Include alternate (alt) text — an HTML attribute that describes the image’s content. This should include relevant keywords.
  • Alt text should also be written in a natural style, as it is also used for accessibility purposes for those who cannot see the image.
  • While less critical than alt text, title attributes can also reinforce an image’s keywords. Titles define the text that appears when your cursor hovers over the image. For this reason, focus on helpful user context when selecting text.
  • The image filename can be optimized to include descriptive keywords. Name the image with hyphen-separated words that align with the alt and title attributes. For background images, titles are extremely important components of SEO as images and alt text for background images are not crawled in the same way as standard images.

Example:

<img src=”asu-tempe-campus-map.jpg” alt=”ASU Tempe Campus Map” title=”Map of ASU Tempe Campus”>

More image optimization reading

Link anchor text 

Anchor text — the words in a text link — can provide useful information about the page it links to. Search engines look at the way that a page is linked to by other pages as a signal about its relevance. For image links, the alt text serves as the anchor text. Look at how other pages are linking to the page you want to optimize.

Anchor text considerations:

  • Be concise and relevant to the page you’re linking to, including page content topic.
  • Avoid generic terms like “click here” or the page address.
  • Don’t use keywords excessively or unnaturally. This can be a spam signal to search engines. Focus on naturally relevant and varied text.

Examples:

More anchor text reading

Phase 2: As time and resources allow and as the items above are resolved, these should be the next priorities.

Page URLs 

Like other elements, page URLs are an opportunity to include descriptive and relevant keywords.

  • Separate keywords in URLs with hyphens. Do not use spaces, underscores, apostrophes or other special characters.
  • The page name should typically closely mirror the page title. You can exclude articles and conjunctions (and, the, a/an, or) for brevity.
  • In addition to general keyword relevance, the folder path in a URL is often shown in search results and can provide users context.
  • Review your CMS options for how default URLs are created.

Additional URL optimization reading

Set up your robots.txt 

The robots.txt file on your website gives search engine spiders direction on how to index your site. In particular, you can block specific sections or pages from being indexed and point search engines to your sitemaps for reference.

  • Disallow areas of the site that are not for public display, such as admin pages, form confirmation pages, staging sites or internal search results pages that may look like duplicate content.
  • Include the location of sitemaps so search engines have a directory of your content to crawl.
  • Specify the user-agent parameter for search engine spiders you want to give unique restrictions to. For example, Google uses separate spiders for web, image, video and news indexing.
  • Always be careful with disallow commands, especially if using wildcards for pattern matching, as you can unintentionally deindex some or all of your site.
  • You can use tools to validate your robots.txt for Google-specific spiders or other spiders.

Additional robots.txt reading

Implement canonical tags for duplicate pages 

The canonical tag tells search engines what URL should be considered the definitive version for a page’s content. This can help avoid duplicate content issues from the same content appearing on technically different URLs (such as the www and non-www version of a URL, or pages with URL parameters).

  • Be sure that a canonical tag is defined for your page. This may already be set by default in your CMS.
  • It is OK if a canonical tag is self-referential.
  • Define canonical tags for any URLs that house the same content as another. For example, if you have a printer-friendly version of a web page, be sure its canonical tag points to the original page. 

Additional canonical tag reading

Identify outdated pages

Content that is out-of-date can have a negative impact on the perception of your page’s relevance. Routinely audit your site pages to find old content to improve or remove.

Tips for reviewing:

  • Refer to your sitemap to review which pages are being suggested to search engines.
  • You can also use Google Analytics to see which pages are getting traffic, in particular pages that are getting little organic traffic.
  • Consider how content can be made more current and authoritative. What can be reworked, updated or expanded to be more relevant to users?
  • For pages that are truly no longer relevant, you may want to remove them from your site and sitemap. If there is another closely related page that is current, consider redirecting the outdated URL to that one.

Phase 3: Additional and more technical optimizations to review as needed or opportunities permit.

Redirecting pages (301 redirects)

If a website page has its URL changed or gets removed, a redirect will point users — and search engines — to the new URL. This process helps ensure that traffic and authority that went to the old URL will carry over to the new one.

  • If changing a page URL, be sure to implement a 301 redirect to the new URL.
  • Do not string redirects together. For example, if page A redirects to page B, and page B redirects to page C, you should change page A to redirect to the final destination, page C.
  • Do not 301 redirect to a page that is not relevant to the old page (e.g., the site homepage). This can be confusing to the user and a signal of irrelevance to search engines.
  • Even with a redirect in place, you should still update website links pointing to the old URL to go to the new URL.
  • While there are other redirect status codes (e.g., 302 and 307), it is generally recommended you use 301 redirects for SEO purposes.

Additional page redirect reading

Removing pages (404 status)

There are situations when it’s appropriate for a page to simply be removed without a redirect (producing a 404 status). While there are no hard and fast rules, consider letting a page 404 if it does not meet any of the following criteria:

  • Receives a good amount of traffic.
  • Enjoys quality backlinks from other sites.
  • Has a current and closely relevant page to redirect to.

Also implement a custom 404 page for your users so they have a way to continue navigating your site for other content.

Additional status code reading

Shallow site structure

Websites with a deep website structure can be harder for search engines to crawl and users to navigate. The site structure — the hierarchy of folders and files in a URL path — should be kept manageably shallow. 

  • Keep URL paths to two or fewer subdirectory levels if possible.
    • Example: domain.com/folder1/folder2/index.htm.
  • Rename consolidated folders as needed to retain keywords.
    • Example: domain.com/products/academic/textbooks/used/ could instead be domain.com/products/used-academic-textbooks/.
  • Fewer folder layers typically means shorter URLs which are also easier to read and share.
  • A rule of thumb is that it should take three or fewer clicks to reach any given page on your site.
     

Link to relevant, authoritative sites

Be sure to link to websites that you use as information sources or are referenced in your content. In addition to a good user experience, it can send positive signals about your content relevance by connecting it with trusted sites on the subject.

  • Link to relevant, quality sites like other ASU colleges and units, .edu sites, subject matter experts and reputable resources.
  • When linking to other asu.edu pages, be sure to use appropriate anchor text for the link (not “click here”). 
  • Avoid linking to sites where the content is dated, behind a paywall or low quality.
     

Optimize for mobile

Google uses mobile-first indexing, generally using the mobile version of a page for search result purposes. That means mobile optimization and SEO performance are now tightly connected.

Tips for mobile optimization:

  • Minimizing load times is critical for mobile performance. Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool can help identify what is slowing down your page, including large image files, bloated coding and CSS, uncompressed content and more.
  • Optimize for local search. Mobile means that, for on-the-go users, location and proximity are often important to their searches. 
  • Check Google Search Console for mobile friendliness warnings, or use Google Mobile Friendly Test