Longer Title and Descriptions on Google Search Results

In their often unannounced, sneaky fashion, Google has apparently snuck in an update to search results pages (SERP) that increases the size of the display Titles and Descriptions.  This gives webmasters and SEOs more room to describe and market pages!

The previous generally-accepted guidance for page title lengths was around 55 characters before Google chopped it off ... now it looks like you can to 65-70 characters.

For page descriptions, 150-160 characters was the consensus length, which generally came in around 2 lines ... now we are sometimes seeing 3 lines, and up to 15-20 more characters per line. That is a lot more space to descirbe your pages.

Here is a very recent example of a Google search:

So what to do with this new exciting update? Update your pages with longer page titles and meta descriptions! Give it a day or two, then check your search results and see how it looks. Iterate and tweak as needed.

And how do you do that on your Drupal website?  Our Implementing Google Ranking Factors in Drupal guide will give you the step-by-step details, or you can just make sure you are running the Drupal Metatag module and use it to set detailed, active and unique description and page titles for you home page and all other pages on your site. Be sure to check your Google Search Console results for what Google thinks of your page titles and descriptions.

Advanced Page Title Tags Using Drupal Views

In Part 1 of Page Title Tags in Drupal we looked at setting your front page and individual page <title> tags.  But reviewing our Google Webmaster Tools report on HTML Improvements, we saw that it reported five Duplicate Title Tags.

Duplicate title tags

These are all Blog archive pages, generated by Views to show teasers of all our blog posts published in a single month.  They are all just using the default - <title>FireRoad Blog | FireRoad Digital</title>.  So we need to enable a Metatag sub-module to let us set <title> tags for pages created by Views.  Look under SEO in admin/modules and enable Metatag: Views.
Drupal metatag module enable Views
This will add a new option inside all of your Views to set Meta Tags.  Edit one of your Views and you should see this in the middle section of the initial admin edit screen:
Drupal Metatag settings link inside of a Views edit screen
Out of box it is set to use defaults, which if we click through shows us:
Drupal Metatag module Views defaults
So, similar to the default for individual nodes, but using the [view:title] token rather than the [node:title] token.  So what is the [view:title] token set to?  Click on the appropriate View Display and look under Title.  For our main /blog page, it is set to ..
Drupal View page title

If we look at the source for the /blog page, the title tag is then appropriately set to <title>FireRoad Blog | FireRoad Digital</title>, following the rule set under the Metatag config we saw above.  And that's fine for that page.  But we need to differentiate each of the archive pages.  Each situtation will be different - you may need to find a token that you can use that is specific to that page, like the date or a username.  We are using a contextual filter to restrict the view to just show blog posts for that month and setting the title using the name of that month an the year, so we get a unique <title> tag for each month.  Such as <title>FireRoad Blog: December 2014 | FireRoad Digital</title>.  Just figure out a token or such that will make each page title unique.  And no more duplicate page titles ... and complaints from Google Webmaster Tools!  You can see all the available tokens if you click on the Open Graph option on the View's Metatag configuration and click on Browse available tokens (not sure why it got put there...)
Don't forgot to do the same for the Description meta tag.  We'll cover that in a future post.

Page Title Tags in Drupal - Make Them Descriptive and Unique

Your page title tag might just be the most important factor in on-page SEO.  And yet most Drupal sites pay it little attention- leaving it to Drupal defaults and resulting in a site full of uncompelling and ununique page titles.  And I'm not sure either of those are actual words.

So besides not making up perfectly cromulent words in your page title, what should you do with it?  Well, first let's look at how Google and other search engines use the data in the <title> tag.  Here is what Google search was returning for "fire road digital" when we first set up our site earlier this year.

The first line is often going to come from the <title> tag on your home page, although for the past year or so Google may choose something else it thinks is more relevant to the search (also known as dynamic page titles).  But still best to deliberately set it the best you can. The lower line (or the snippet) is coming from our meta description tag (usually- same caveat as the page title) - we'll cover those in another blog post.

Is that a good page title?  Meh.  Our company name + a "|" thingy + most of a summary of what we do.  We can do better.

In general, a good page title should be very relevant to its page and contain keywords for which you want that page to be found.  You usually get found readily for your own company name (unless it is highly generic or competitive), so little need for that in your title.  Plus it is already in the URL below.  If you are a major recognizable brand, you might want to include it, or if you have room at the end, go ahead.  "Drupal Web Development" are good keywords for us.  "Internet Marketing" - maybe, somewhat generic and probably not what people search for.  Hint: you'd be surprised how often people add "best" to the front of their Google searches ... nudge nudge, wink wink.

So, figure out 65-ish characters of the top keywords that you want to be found for that page and assemble them into a coherent, non-spammy phrase with the most important keywords toward the beginning, and do so for each page on your website - each one should be unique, targeted and relevant to that page.  Do not keyword stuff - make it sound reasonable and relevant.  65 characters is around the most that Google will show.

Ok, so we need to update ours (or at least what we suggest Google uses).  By default, Drupal uses "<node title> | <site name>" for each page on your site, except the front, where it just uses <site name>.  So we are going to need some help from a contributed module to give us more options.  We are using the multi-purpose Metatag module - there is a more singlular-purpose Page Title module, but Metatag does everything it does and more, and the two can conflict, so just use Metatag.

Once installed by the method of your choosing, look under SEO on admin/modules and enable Metatag. Go ahead and enable the Metatag:Open Graph sub module- we won't talk about it this time, but it will help you with Facebook (more to come!).  Make sure that the Page Title module is not enabled - it can conflict.  Navigate to admin/config/search/metatags to configure.  If you expand the Global: Front page and Node (might instead say Content) sections, it should look something like this (same as default Drupal): 

Default settings for Drupal Metatag module

Being super-skilled Drupal people, we had already installed and done basic configuration of the Metatag module before we launched.  Here is our original configuration for the front page:

Let's update the front page first.  Click on Edit to the right of Global:Front page.  In the Page Title field, enter your front page page title.  We changed ours to "Drupal Web Development, Marketing Automation and SEO in Dallas, TX".  Our niche is highly-skilled technical Drupal development focusing on site configuration for optimal on-page SEO.  We also believe that marketing automation is going to explode in 2015 and we want to help small businesses use it, and we really like working with local Dallas companies.  So that's how we want to be found.  Edit yours and Save.

If you expand the Node (might be Content) link it will give you default options for individual content pages (via the Override link), using Tokens.  The default is probably ok for your site to get started.  If you are properly constructing the title of each of your content pages with keywords, then you will get a good <title> tag for those pages.  You may want to change the default to fit your particular site situation.  The Metatag module also now lets you super-optimize individual pages under the Metatag >> Page Title field on each content page.  Work on them one-by-one as you can.

Google Webmaster Tools is great for checking that sitewide all your page titles exist, are unique, the right size and informative.  Here is what it said about FireRoad:

All good except for five duplicate title tags !?  What did we do wrong?  Well, nothing really - but there is one more thing we need to do.  And it's a little more complex, so we will save it for another post.  Hint: it involves Views!

Making Marketing Automation Work for SMB and Non-Profits

Marketing Automation!  You are probably starting to hear that phrase more and more.  What is it you ask?  Software and technologies that help marketers more effectively market on multiple channels (websites, email, social media) and automate certain tasks (sending welcome emails, tweeting, lead nurturing) as well as analytics and marketing intelligence  (tracking site visitors, search terms, A/B testing, buyer behavior).  Even some older ideas such as auto-responders are now being called marketing automation - like at MailChimp:

Mailchimp Marketing Automation intro diagram

The underlying principle of marketing automation is to take a process that is effective in bringing you customers and automate it.  

The first part is the most important - if you automate a process that doesn't work, then you will just become much more efficient at failing to get new business.  So first you must understand and identify your successful process, or you must develop an effective one.  There are so many moving parts in today's digital marketing - a small business owner or director of a non-profit just doesn't have hours in the day to perform everything manually.  Research shows it often takes five "touches" before converting a prospect to a client.  That's a lot of work, done over and over.

Marketing Automation is still in an early phase, and most of the solutions available are intended (and priced) for large enterprises and big brands.  A Hubspot or Eloqua implementation can cost $2,000 a month plus five-figures and dozens of hours of training to get it going. But here at FireRoad Digital, we provide solutions for small businesses and non-profits.  So we are going to help you get going with a marketing automation process you can understand and afford.

This is start of a series of blog posts that will cover all aspects of SMB and non-profit digital marketing automation, with of course, a slant toward use with Drupal websites.  We will cover :

  • creating a strong marketing message and effective marketing process
  • understanding the Reach, Engage, Convert funnel process that turns anonymous Internet users into clients
  • learning which marketing channels your business should be in, and the tools used to market to those channels
  • understanding how your prospects are finding you, and what is important to them 
  • automating your email marketing messages, social media postings, client touches
  • creating eBooks and premium offers to start the lead nurturing process with prospects

Since we are not FireRoad Analog, we won't cover offline activities such as mass snail mail, phone calls, and other non-Internet activities that may be important to your business.  But digital stuff - we got that!

I've been a triathlete and multi-sport athlete for many years, and my coach once told me - "if your training consist of lots of slow runs, bikes and swims, then you will get really good at running, biking and swimming slowly."  So let's not get good at performing a bad process over and over - let's put together a killer process for generating growth, then let the robots take it over.

Stay tuned..

Get Insights from Google about your Drupal Website using Webmaster Tools

Webmaster Tools, according to Google, is a "free service offered by Google that helps you monitor and maintain your site's presence in Google Search results" and "can help you understand how Google views your site and optimize its performance in search results."  It is an invaluable tool that you should be using.

Some of the things you can do with Webmaster Tools:

  • receive messages from Google about issues it has found with your site (including crawling and security issues)
  • be sure that Google can properly view all your content
  • understand which search querries are leading viewers to your site
  • see which websites are linking to your site (backlinks)
  • confirm that Google is reading your sitemaps
  • see how Google views your semantic microdata
  • find out recommended HTML improvements
  • learn if you have duplicate or short meta descriptions and page titles
  • see how fast your web pages are loading

This information covers the core of modern SEO practices.  But to view it and use it, first, you need to verify your site ownership with Google to begin using Webmaster Tools.  Which we hve covered in a previous blog post - Verify your Drupal Site!.  Do that first, then wait a few days for some data to accumulate.  Then come back here and we'll walk through a few of the most important Webmaster Tools reports.

First, let's look at the home page.  You should see all the sites you have added and verified.  And hopefully a "No new messages or recent critical issues." message for each.

Google Webmaster Tools home page

Click on your website name link to bring up the dashboard for your site.  If you have any messages, check those first.  It could be that Google can't index your Drupal site, or worse, that it found malware or a security issue.  Take care of those first- a security issue could get you completely blacklisted from Google!

Our example site below shows no messages or site errors that Google tracks.  There are some 404 errors shown under URL Errors.  You can learn more about those errors so you know what to fix under Crawl >> Crawl Errors.

You want to see those pretty little green checkmarks.  A upward trend on your Search Queries is also a good thing.

There's too much to cover completely here, but you should definitely check :

  1. Search Traffic >> Search Queries.  What terms are Google users searching for that leads them to your site.  There is also data on your click-through rate and the average position you show up on search results (10 per page).  Are these the terms that you want to be found for?  Are people seeing you in search results, but not clicking?  Here at FireRoad we once wrote a blog post about configuring a certain type of complicated large computer monitor we were using.  We get tons of traffic to that post, but it really isn't useful traffic since we don't sell or service those monitors.
  2. Search Traffic >> Links to Your Site.  Which sites link to your site?  Lots of quality links (that is, from sites that Google thinks highly of) helps your SEO.  it shows those sites respect your site and content enough to link to it.  Lots of un-quality links (that is, from Estonian link farms) can really hurt your SEO.  If you've been using offshore "$100 gets you on the front page of Google" link building services ... stop.  That might have worked years ago, but now it does the opposite.  You can also disavow any links that you don't want and request Google not consider them.
  3. Search Traffic >> Mobile Usability. Having a mobile-friendly website is critical now.  Google will tell you if it thinks you have issues with mobile usability.
  4. Search Appearance >> Structured Data.  If you are using semantic microdata on your site to better tell Google what your content means, it will show up here, along with any errors.  We will have a guide to using microdata on Drupal websites out soon.  You can also use Search Appearance >> Data Highlighter to manually identify it.
  5. Search Appearance >> HTML Improvements.  It only shows a few suggestions, but on important issues it may find on your meta descriptions, page titles and non-indexable content.
  6. Google Index >> Index Status.  Make sure all your pages are being indexed.
  7. Google Index >> Content Keywords.  What does Google think are the most relevant keywords on your website?  Are they want you want?  If not, change your content.
  8. Crawl >> Sitemaps.  Do you have a XML Sitemap on your website?  It helps Google understand your site structure.  It should show up here, and make sure all your pages are included.  If not, see our post on Setting up an XML Sitemap in Drupal.
  9. Other Resources >> PageSpeed Insights.  How fast does your site load?  The faster it loads, the better you will rank.

With very little work, you will be up and running with Google Webmaster Tools and using its free tools to better understand and improve your Drupal website.

Setting up an XML Sitemap in Drupal

Google and the other search engine crawlers do a decent job of finding their way around your website. But, sometimes they could use a little help, as well as to understand the relative importance of your web pages and how often they are updated.

This can be done with an XML Sitemap.  And of course, there is a very popular Drupal contrib module for it - aptly named, XML Sitemap. Installation is easy, but you will need to configure a few things before it starts doing its magic.  We will look at the Drupal 7 version.  And as always, it's good to have a site and database backup before you start.  We are using the currently released version- 7.20.

So, after installing the module in one of the usual ways, a new section in /admin/modules will appear - navigate down toward the bottom :

Enable XML sitemapXML sitemap engines, and XML sitemap node (as shown above).  And Save.

Now we need to prepare our content to be added to our XML sitemap.  Edit the structure of each content type you want added to the sitemap (such as a Basic page - admin/structure/types/manage/page), then click on the XML Sitemap vertical tab near the bottom left.  Then under Inclusion, select Included.  For most pages you can leave the default priority as is, or change it for frequently or infrequently updated pages.  Then click Save.  Do the same for any other Content Types you wish to include.

Drupal configuration screen to include content in an XML Sitemap

When the XML sitemap module was first installed, it will have created a default (but empty) XML sitemap.  Next we need to rebuild it so it will pick up all the new pages we configured the Content Types to include.  Navigate to /admin/config/search/xmlsitemap

Click on the Rebuild Links tab, then when it changes, click on the Rebuild sitemap button (even though it may tell you that you don't need to).  When done, you should see some numbers shown under Links and Pages.  See if this is about right for your site.  You can view more details on pages in your sitemap and priorities under the Settings tab.

The only thing left to do is tell it to submit your new sitemap to the search engines.  Click on Search Engines and check Google and Bing.  Save.  Done!  Wait a day and check on your Google Webmaster Tools account that it is receiving your XML Sitemap.  You don't use Webmaster Tools !?  You should!  It's free and packed full of information from Google on how your site works with its search.  Look for an article here soon on how and why.  You'll notice the module also suggests you verify your site using the Site Verification module.  Good advice!  We'll cover that soon too, although it's fairly easy to use.

HTTPS is now a Google Ranking Factor

You may have noticed that when you use your web browser to do online banking or shopping, and it generally switches to HTTPS / SSL mode (with the little lock graphic) for added security.  Looks like Google wants to make that the standard for everyone soon. According to the Official Google Webmaster Central Blog

"Over the past few months we’ve been running tests taking into account whether sites use secure, encrypted connections as a signal in our search ranking algorithms. We've seen positive results, so we're starting to use HTTPS as a ranking signal."

When HTTPS mode is enabled, all traffic is encrypted between your computer and the web server. Which is generally a good thing, but does add a small performance penalty for the time it takes to encrypt and decrypt all the traffic.  Often this is done on non-ecommerce Drupal websites just for the user login and user editing pages, as most content is really not that security sensitive.  But with this announcement from Google, it's time to start thinking about switching your entire site over to HTTPS.

So, how to do that in Drupal? The complete process is too complex for the scope of this blog post, and you will need to make changes on both the webserver and the Drupal sides.  On the server side, you will need to install an X.509 SSL certificate and make some configuration changes. Many web hosts will greatly help with that process, including our hosting partner, Pantheon. On the Drupal side, the easiest way to enable HTTPS mode is by using the Secure Pages module.

Screenshot of Drupal Secure Pages module configuration

The Secure Pages module will not let you engage secure mode until the server is correctly configured to use SSL.  To best comply with the Google initiative, you should select Make every page secure .. and delete all the pages listed in the Pages box, so that every page runs in HTTPS.

Ironically, that Google blog post (and the entire website) is not running in HTTPS mode.

Google And Drupal : Alt and Title Tags for Images

Generally when you see an image on a webpage, the <img> HTML tag is being used on that web page to instruct the browser which image file to display and how.  The code looks like a little something like this (from this very page):
<img src="" alt="Squirrel using a video camera">
Simple enough, but what’s that alt tag?  
The alt attribute is used to help search engines and assistive technology such as screen readers for the visually impaired to understand the image.  Googlebots are getting smarter and smarter, but may not yet know that image is of a 1940’s film camera being operated by a 1940’s squirrel. Or that it might be an Australian spotted flying squirrel.  Or maybe it’s a muskrat.  I’m a human and I can’t even really tell what it is.
Sites like Google Images use this alt data to help categorize their collections of images, and the use of alt tags across your site is known to be one of the many Google search engine ranking factors.  So, not only is the use of the alt tag required to achieve HTML conformance, it’s good for SEO.
So how do we enable it on our Drupal sites?  Easily, of course.  First we make sure our Drupal site is providing a place for a content editor to enter the alt text for all images and that the resulting text is included in the resulting HTML code.
For an example, let’s look at the default Drupal content type Article. Navigate on your admin menu to Structure >> Content types, then under Article, click on manage fields.  If you haven't changed the default Article content type, it should look like this:
Figure 1- Screen shot showing Article content type fields

Figure 1: Article content type

The Article content type comes with an Image field by default.  You can also add an Image field to any new content types that you create. Click on edit under Image. Scroll down about halfway until you see this.

Figure 2- Screen shot showing how to enable the Alt tag on the Drupal Article content type

Figure 2 - Enable Alt Field on Article content type

On the Article content type, the Enable Alt field checkbox should already be checked- comes that way by default.  But it won't when you add an Image field to a new content type you created. You will need to check that box.  And notice the Enable Title field checkbox?  Go ahead and check it too - we will talk about it shortly.

So then how do you enter Alt text for images?  Let's create a new Article and find out.  Navigate to Content >> Add Content >> Article.  Enter title & body content.  Scroll down to the Image section.

Figure 3 - Screen shot showing adding an Image to an Article

Figure 3 - Adding an Image to an Article

Choose a file and upload it. I've chosen a picture of four lovely donkeys standing in field.  It's also generally a good idea to name the field descriptively (and use keywords related to your content if applicable).

Figure 4 - Screen shot showing Added Image

Figure 4 - Added Image

Save the node and you are done!  The alt text will show up in your page HTML code.

A few more loose ends though:

  • what about all those little design-element images throughout your website- do they need alt text?
  • what about inline images I add to a page using the WYSIWYG editor- how do I add alt text to them?
  • what about that title attribute you said you'd talk about later?

Ahh good- you've been paying attention.  Let's start with the first one.  You probably have small graphics, lines, shadows etc. all over your website, sprucing up the design.  The W3C standards say that for images that have no semantic meaning to the viewer, you can set the alt tag to null.  ".. if the alt text is set to null (i.e. alt="") it indicates to assistive technology that the image can be safely ignored."

For inline images (like all screenshots I've included in this post) - your Drupal WYSIWYG editor should have a way to enter the alt text.  We use CKEditor on this site, which looks like this while inserting an image. Other editors work similarly.

Figure 5- Screen shot showing setting the title tag for inline images using CKEditor

Figure 5 - Setting the alt tag for inline images using CKEditor

And finally, the title tag.  It tells the browser what to display as a tooltip when the viewer hovers his cursor over the image.  It is generally more useful when the image serves as a link, either to a larger version of itself or to another webpage.  The best practice then is to put a description of what will happen when the user clicks on the image.  It is generally not thought by the community to have any search engine ranking value.  But it is a good practice to follow for good user interaction, which may indirectly lead to better conversions.

If you check the Enable title field checkbox on the Image field in the content type, it will add an additional field under alt for you to enter title text for images.  In CKEditor, the title text can be entered under Advisory Title on the Advanced tab.