Search Engine Optimization Guide
This Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Guide explains how to make your pages rank well in search results. Optimization means people are more likely to find and visit your site.
Search Engine Basics
Search engines operate on mathematical instructions called algorithms, which locate, index and rank web pages.
Search algorithms are proprietary, which means they belong to the companies that create them. They are extremely valuable, so their owners keep them private and improve them often.
Since search algorithms are private and constantly changing, search engine optimization has developed through trial and error. It continues to change as search engine companies refine their algorithms.
In other words, there is no proven way to make your pages appear in the top search results. But if you pay close attention to the following topics, search engines will value your web pages as much as you do.
Search engines rate the trustworthiness of a website when determining its ranking. They generally consider government sites trustworthy.
But trust isn’t an invitation to publish pages that are poorly written, unstructured and not optimized. Trust is an advantage that allows government to provide British Columbians with easy access to the information and services they need.
Trust isn’t everything, though. You need to do a few other things.
To rank highly in search results, write compelling content. This content solves problems, offers instructions or directs people to services. Visitors will find your content compelling and share your pages through word-of-mouth, web links or social media. As visits to your pages increase so too will their search ranking.
How do you write compelling content?
Write the words and phrases your visitors expect. These are the same words your visitors will likely use to search.
- Interview readers to learn how they think about and describe your services
- Check Google Trends for queries relevant to your pages
- Run WebTrends reports to understand the words and phrases visitors use in searches
Use these words and phrases in your writing, including in your page title and sub-headings if appropriate.
If words or phrases are not approved for general use because they are colloquial, use them in definitions. For example, “Corrections operates provincial correctional centres—sometimes called jails—for offenders serving sentences of less than two years.”
If colloquialisms are completely forbidden, use them in your synonym metadata. See the CMS Manual for how to add synonym metadata.
Be sure your content follows the Writing for the Web guide. Check for spelling and grammatical errors.
Readers and search engines reward pages that are current. Update your pages regularly with compelling content that meets your readers’ needs.
Search engines pay attention to links, including their clickable text. Links that are easy to spot and clear about what is linked are valued by search engines and by readers.
To create effective link text
- Write concise, descriptive text or use the title of the linked file rather the generic “click here”
- Don’t use the linked file’s URL
Search engines prefer well-organized content. Use Headings 2, 3 and 4 to structure your content from the most to the least important. Headings are bolder and larger than normal text. This makes pages easy to scan and tells search engines and readers what’s important.
Only use headings when it makes sense. When there are too many, content is harder to scan.
Finally, don’t forget to use your readers’ words and phrases in your headings and in your page title, if appropriate. Search engines and readers are looking for them.
Create a Human Readable URL
Be sure your URL uses words that describe the content of your page. This helps search engines and readers understand the topic.
See the CMS Manual for information about human readable URLs.
Metadata tells search engines what your pages and assets are about. You must include it so search engines can classify and display your pages in search results.
For assets like Word and Excel documents, and PDFs, include basic metadata in document properties (title, author, subject, keywords). Check that internal information, personal names or jargon are not in document properties as search engines may display them in search results.
Title Your Pages
Titles tell search engines and site visitors what your pages are about. Use important words that appear in the body of your content. The title appears in search results so it is your first opportunity to let users know they’ve found the right page.
Be Accurate, Brief & Unique
Pages with accurate, brief and unique titles optimize best.
Your page title must represent your page’s topic accurately. Search results display just a portion of a long page title, so keep it brief.
For example, instead of “A Page Concerning Matters Related to the Role of Public Prosecutions in British Columbia,” try “Public Prosecutions in B.C.”
Each page must have a unique title to distinguish it from other pages. So, rather than “Contact Us,” write “Contact the Criminal Records Review Program.”
See this CMS Manual video for information about creating pages, including how to title them.
Describe Your Pages
Search engines look for information that explains what your pages are about. They consider both page content and metadata descriptions.
Each page must have an accurate, brief and unique metadata description. It must not be a list of keywords and should be free of spelling and grammar errors.
See the CMS Manual for information about adding descriptions.
Keywords help search engines match queries with content. Your keywords should describe your page content. Invest time developing keywords and put the most relevant ones first.
See the CMS Manual for information about applying keywords.
Apply Alternative Text to Media
You must add alt text to images, maps, audio and video files and other media. Describe the media and be sure the description relates to the page’s content. Use words from the body of the page.
For help adding metadata to media files, consult the manual of the software used to create them.