Insights on How to Improve Your SEO with DNN
Recently, I presented a webinar,
How to Improve Your SEO with DNN. It was a well-attended session with a torrent of questions that I couldn’t keep up with or answer in the time available. I’m always happy to see people engaged in a topic and like to answer their questions. Instead of the usual practice of emailing individual answers, I decided to share the questions and provide the answers. Thanks to all who participated.
And now, onto the questions. I have grouped these into general categories to give a generic answer that hopefully efficiently answers more than one question at once.
On SEO features within DNN Editions
Does this Webinar refer to the DNN Platform or Evoq Content & Social products? [Jeremy]
Is the URL Preview and Customization available only in the DNN Licensed versions? [David]
So the Advanced URL Management is only available in Evoq Content? [Megan]
Can the URL Providers be used with DNN Platform, or is it only available in Evoq Content and Evoq Social? [Jeremy]
Most of the features covered in the webinar are available in our
open source DNN Platform. A few features, however, are exclusively available in our commercial edition, Evoq Content:
- URL Testing and Preview function
- Creation of custom redirects for pages and creation of URLs with various domains
The URL Providers functionality is built into all versions of DNN. The bulk of the information (structuring content, custom URLs) is applicable to all versions of DNN, though the webinar demo was done on version 7.2.2 of DNN. I recommend that
everyone upgrade to the latest version of DNN to take advantage of these features.
On Duplicate Content
Duplicate Content – does the use of Vanity URLs hurt page ranking? [Dan]
If you create a page named "login.aspx" that is used to display a custom login module that is used instead of the default login page, does DNN consider the new page a duplicate page? [Clay]
Would you think that having a different language version of the same content is classed as duplicate content? [Chris]
Photo source: User Sam UL on
Duplicate Content refers to content that is reachable by a search engine under more than one URL. To enforce a single URL per page of content,
search engines penalize pages that are available under more than one URL by either ranking lower or completely excluding from search results. This keeps quality high in search results: nobody likes seeing a Search Engine Results Page (SERP) with 10 different variations of the same content.
Vanity URLs refer to short URLs using a persons real name, alias or username within a site. For the most part, a search engine crawler cannot distinguish between a user profile page and a page of content about a person. So the concept of vanity URLs is meaningless from the search engine point of view. Many pages accessed by vanity URLs will look similar to a search engine. But very similar is NOT duplicate.
As long as each page is different, it’s not duplicate content.
With respect to the login pages in DNN: it is possible to create a customized login page that replaces the standard DNN login functionality. As the custom page replaces the standard control, it is not duplicate content, because only one version of the page exists for the URL. Also,
nobody tries to get their login page to rank, so it’s not really worth worrying about these types of pages.
Different language is another item that often comes up under duplicate content discussions. It is a good idea to have localized pages if you have a global audience who expect to see content in their native language.
DNN can support localization by varying the site alias, which can be done with different top-level domains (e.g. .fr for France, .de for Germany, etc.). This, coupled with different languages, helps optimize content for specific languages and local versions for search engines. This is definitely NOT duplicate content. Even though the page might say the same thing, it’s definitely not the same page, so there is no problem with regard to duplicate content.
Final word on duplicate content
If you’ve ever used a file compare utility to detect differences between two files, duplicate content comes in when you compare two files with different file names, but substantially the same content. A file compare utility will show you they are the same file, with maybe one or two differences. That’s duplicate content. Varying by language, content, images, etc. That’s NOT duplicate content.
On Keywords, Meta Keywords and Tags
To recap, entering keywords is less important than entering a description? How many keywords is a good idea? [Trellawny]
I heard that using the keywords meta tag in DNN actually helps with SEO, while it doesn't do anything in Wordpress or in HTML websites. Is that true? [Alisa]
What is Tags on page settings? [Armin]
Photo source: Search Influence on
These questions related to my comment that the "Keywords" field in DNN is not important: while people are free to fill it out, it has no value for SEO purposes. That's because the field is easily spammed. As a general rule, if you "keyword stuff," then search engines are not likely to assign a high ranking factor, or any ranking factor at all.
Google does not use the keywords meta tag in web ranking, according to Matt Cutts, head of Google's Webspam Team.
Bottom line: fill out the Keywords if you like, but it’s not going to affect your Search Engine Ranking [in Google, anyway].
The "Tags" value, however, is a different field entirely. Many people get the two confused! To be clear: the "Keywords" field is a free-form text field that is saved with the DNN page and is then output as the "Meta Keywords" tag in the HTML header. The "Tags" field is an internal DNN field that allows the administrator to associate a page of content with one or more "Tags" in the DNN vocabulary.
This has nothing to do with the Meta fields in the HTML page, and, as a result, has
very little to do with SEO. You should use this field to associate a page with a a specific set of tags, to aid visitors in finding content by tag. There is a small SEO benefit in this: your page will be linked within your site, presumably with link text that is relevant to your page. But the tags have nothing to do with the Meta Keywords HTML field.
On Advanced URLs in DNN
Using Evoq Content, but the setting for Page URL under Page settings does not show (v7.1). Is there an Admin/Host setting that turns this on/off? [Rick]
What version of DNN supports the custom URL? We have DNN 7.0 and it's not in that version [Rosemary]
DNN 7.1, Evoq Content 7.1 and Evoq Social 1.1 all contain the "Advanced URL Management" feature that expands URL capabilities from earlier versions. This is installed and activated by default for new installations; however, if you have upgraded from earlier versions of DNN, this is NOT activated upon upgrade. You can, however, enable this feature once you have upgraded past version 7.1.
The resource I mentioned during the webinar is on the DNN Wiki: Activating Advanced URL Management in DNN [thanks to Rick for finding this, after asking his question]
I recommend that you upgrade to the latest version of DNN or Evoq Content/Evoq Social and leverage the improved URL features. This will improve the URLs for human and search engine consumption.
On 404 Pages
In DNN, the typical behavior I've seen is that requesting a non-existent URL generates a 302 error pointing to /PageNotFound.aspx?aspxerrorpath=/fakeURL.aspx - is there a way to change this behavior? [Jeremy]
What should a 404 page have on it? should it redirect? [Cheryl]
A 404 page displays when visitors follow a link or enter a URL that doesn't exist on your site. The name comes from the HTTP status code which is returned (404), which means "The URL you requested doesn’t return any valid content." These are important because they tell search engines to ignore a URL if it isn’t a real one.
Sometimes, people enter invalid links that point to ‘nowhere’ on your site. In these cases, you can’t tell what they were looking for and can’t show any content. You’re better off returning a 404 status code to say "this URL doesn't exist." Search engines and visitors will then know the link is broken. In the case of search engines, they will remove a URL from their index if it continually returns a 404 status code [though, not on the first time it happens].
See my blog post
404 Error Handling in DNN for more information on this topic.
Image: Here's a portion of our 404 page on dnnsoftware.com.
As for what should be shown on a 404 page: for SEO it doesn’t matter, because the search engines aren’t going to read the page once they see the 404 status code. For your visitors, it’s good to show ways to find what they are looking for in the site: a simple sitemap, a humorous image, whatever suits your site. At this point you’re optimizing for visitor experience and not for search engines, so design something that suits your visitors.
On Content Optimization
You talk about the way pages are constructed, could you tell us more about that? [Katia]
Can you use Module Title instead of Content Headings? [Dan]
How does content within modules (tabs that contract and expand) work with SEO? [Wesley]
How frequently should content on home page be changed to optimize for search? [Annette]
How does content within modules (tabs that contract and expand) work with SEO? [Wesley]
This set of questions relates to the optimization of the content on a page.
The structure of the page is essentially how the HTML of the page is laid out. HTML is a mixture of content (text and pictures) and snippets of code which instruct browsers how that content should be viewed. Things have evolved substantially since
Tim Berners-Lee developed the initial concepts on a NeXT computer. The essential idea is still the same.
The way the pages are constructed describes how the HTML is built: the order in which the content appears, the use of meaningful tags (headers, links, bold, italics, images and HTML specific tags to provide context) and the content itself. As I noted in the webinar, perfectly optimized pages are plain HTML pages with the right amount of content and markup and nothing else.
DNN Modules and SEO
It's far too easy to muddy these waters (with complex mark-up), but it is good to get back to basics when creating content. DNN is quite good at allowing this: we don't hide the HTML from you and you can build content that is well optimized.
DNN has "modules" that are blocks of content (and functionality) on a page: each module has a title that is set independently of the content. It appears in the context of a container, which is a design object specifying the title design, border design, size and width. The specific questions of module title vs. headings: this depends on the container. In general, containers will display the heading in some type of bold text for the block of content. Whether this is a good thing depends on the container.
When I create content, I name the module title to be something meaningful, but use a container that doesn’t display the module title. This gives me greater control over the HTML formatting of the module content, including setting H1, H2, H3 tags for the content. The default skin for DNN installs (the "Gravity" skin) includes container types that don't display the module title in the content. The examples in the webinar use the container (with no title) and the header for the page is set by using the HTML formatting tools.
See What the Crawlers See
Other crawlers may not be as sophisticated. One such tool to view the page as an SEO crawler sees it is
SEO Browser. If you can’t see your content in a tool like this [and I recommend trying a few], then chances are your display code has hidden the content.
The Importance of Fresh Content
Referring to how often content should be updated: search engines like fresh content, which is why blogs rank so well in many cases. Fresh content helps pages rank well, as long as the content is consistent with the topic of the site. That is not to say that static content doesn’t rank well: individual blog posts that are popular can rank very well for a very long period of time. So it’s good to have a mixture of continually refreshed content and specific pages (like blog posts).
On Instructing Search Engines not to index
Can you tell me what the difference between editing the robot.txt for indexing and manually setting pages not to be indexed within the page settings? [Karla]
What is the best way to minimize search engine ranking? [Ben]
Photo source: Timothy Vollmer on
The robots.txt file is installed at the root folder of a website that search engines routinely request when indexing a site. A robots.txt file can list out a search engine sitemap. Search engine sitemaps list out indexable URLs within a site. They also lists URLs that should NOT be indexed.
Meta robots tags are HTML tags included in the header of a page, which indicate whether or not a page should be indexed. It is possible to include the a meta robots tag that informs search engine robots to either index or no-index. The mtea robots tags and the robots.txt file have the same effect when
excluding a page.
If you want to include a page, then including it in a search engine sitemap file is a
better way of indicating this. DNN automatically includes all publicly available pages in the search engine sitemap. With DNN, the best way to prevent a page from being indexed is to mark it as not accessible by anonymous users, which will prevent it from being crawled. If you have a page that you want visible to everyone, but not included in search engine, either the robots.txt or the "noindex" tag are fine. But be warned: these are voluntary standards that Google, Bing and others observe, but other crawlers may not.
introduction to robots.txt is avaialable on Wikipedia.
- A Meta Robots Tag 101 from Search Engine Land.
On Replacing Content and Creating Redirects
Does changing the URL after the site has been crawled negatively affect SEO? What happens to the original page name? [Clay]
I am converting an HTML site to DNN. Will I lose my Google ranking from page by redirecting the old html page to the new URL in DNN? [Ben]
Photo source: Paul Downey on
Replacing an existing site with DNN is a very common use case: this will often involve having new URLs. As mentioned in the webinar, there is a general rule to consider when you’re replacing content: if
you’re already ranking well, you want to preserve that ranking.
Large changes to the content can have an adverse affect on the ranking. When you are number one, the only way is down. In these cases, high ranking pages that provide significant referral traffic should not be altered (if possible). If migrating to DNN as your CMS, the new page should have substantially the same content, and, if possible, the same URL.
Advanced URLs function of DNN allows you to specify the URL for a page and you can replace the page URL for a DNN page with one matching your "old" HTML (or .php, or .asp) URL to match. This is the safest way to replace well-ranking existing content.
If your existing content is not ranking well, then you can experiment with the URL and the content to make it rank better. Make sure the existing content is being redirected to your new content, and then you can experiment with replacing the URL with one that is friendlier, shorter and better.
The same goes for the content on the page: improving the content is worth trying. Keep in mind that changes are not instant: it takes time for search engines to update their indexes and reflect changes in rankings. Don't change URLs on a page more than one every couple of months: you need to let a change take time to have an effect.
Thanks to everyone who attended the webinar. I hope the responses help you out and I’m
happy to continue answering questions in the Comments area below. Your feedback is very welcome and helps us create webinars and blog posts that provide you with the information you need.
View the Webinar Presentation
Here are the slides from the webinar.