Customizing SMF > Building Your Community and other Forum Advice

Forum SEO is a myth

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SlammedDime:
As the author of Sitemap and SimpleSEF... I almost wholeheartedly agree... however with some points about your sitemap observations and Motoko's on 'pretty urls'...

From Google's own webmaster tools...

--- Quote ---Sitemaps are particularly helpful if:

Your site has dynamic content.
Your site has pages that aren't easily discovered by Googlebot during the crawl process—for example, pages featuring rich AJAX or images.
Your site is new and has few links to it. (Googlebot crawls the web by following links from one page to another, so if your site isn't well linked, it may be hard for us to discover it.)
Your site has a large archive of content pages that are not well linked to each other, or are not linked at all.
--- End quote ---
I'd say the very first one applies well to forums, and the third may apply to many forums as well that aren't well established yet.

Furthermore...

--- Quote ---The optional priority tag describes the relative priority of all pages on your site. This priority can range from 1.0 (extremely important) to 0.1 (not important at all).
...
Setting the priority of pages will never affect your site's ranking in Google search results. Search engines use this information when selecting between URLs on the same site, so you can use this tag to increase the likelihood that your more important pages are present in a search index.
--- End quote ---
Sitemap uses dynamic priority based on how old a topic is and how many posts it contains, so more recent topics will have a higher priority and older topics have a lower.

And also...

--- Quote ---The optional changefreq indicates how frequently the page is likely to change.
...
The value of this tag is considered a hint and not a command. Even though search engine crawlers consider this information when making decisions, they may crawl pages marked "hourly" less frequently than that, and they may crawl pages marked "yearly" more frequently than that. It is also likely that crawlers will periodically crawl pages marked "never" so that they can handle unexpected changes to those pages.
--- End quote ---
So while this is only a hint, it is somewhat valid, and again Sitemap calculates this dynamically based on the number of posts and age of the topic/board.  If a topic is active, it is changed more frequently thus should have a higher frequency for the search engines.


--- Quote from: 青山 素子 on March 29, 2011, 11:55:03 AM ---First, the standard SMF URL:

hxxp://www.example.com/index.php?topic=394582

Here, you only really have to remember the topic ID number. It's not as easy to memorize as some things, but it's not super-humanly difficult.

Now, a sample "friendly" URL:

hxxp://www.example.com/topic/should-britian-eat-so-much-fish-394582.html

I think that perhaps this might be easier to memorize than some of the more common topic titles, but you suffer a bit here from the length and time. Four hours later, if you try to pull the page up on a different computer you not only have to still know the topic ID, but now you have to try and remember the words too! Was it Britian or England? Eat or Consume? Of course, if the rewrite is working correctly (pulling only the ID at the end), the following should take you to the same topic:

hxxp://www.example.com/topic/nudity-buffer-394582.html

This means, of course, that the software will need to find some way of signaling to a search engine that such a URL as the above is not the correct URL either through the fairly-new canonical link tag in the page header, or via redirect to the "correct" URL. Of course, this means more computation time is spent making sure that the URLs are preserved instead of, you know, serving the page.

--- End quote ---
This is exactly what SimpleSEF does... only uses the topic ID part, so directs to the right topic regardless of what friendly words you put in front of it.  I don't really see this as an issue for search engines unless people go posting links with invalid words but a correct topic (but in the case of SMF 2, at least there is the canonical tag, albeit, however lightly used by search engines.

Arantor:

--- Quote ---I'd say the very first one applies well to forums, and the third may apply to many forums as well that aren't well established yet.
--- End quote ---

'Dynamic' content can refer to an awful lot of things. It's more for sites that have regular content updates rather than totally dynamic-driven sites like forums.


--- Quote ---Sitemap uses dynamic priority based on how old a topic is and how many posts it contains, so more recent topics will have a higher priority and older topics have a lower.
--- End quote ---

Yes, I was aware of that - but at best it's a vague indicator, in ranges rather than the more limited, more targeted variant that Google et al are expecting.


--- Quote ---So while this is only a hint, it is somewhat valid, and again Sitemap calculates this dynamically based on the number of posts and age of the topic/board.  If a topic is active, it is changed more frequently thus should have a higher frequency for the search engines.
--- End quote ---

Except most people seem to think that's it's gospel and a command for 'only index this' rather than anything else.


--- Quote ---This is exactly what SimpleSEF does... only uses the topic ID part, so directs to the right topic regardless of what friendly words you put in front of it.
--- End quote ---

Good to know, but while it achieves that, it still breaks the 'memorable URL' mentality attached....

青山 素子:

--- Quote from: SlammedDime on March 29, 2011, 01:21:58 PM ---This is exactly what SimpleSEF does... only uses the topic ID part, so directs to the right topic regardless of what friendly words you put in front of it.  I don't really see this as an issue for search engines unless people go posting links with invalid words but a correct topic (but in the case of SMF 2, at least there is the canonical tag, albeit, however lightly used by search engines.

--- End quote ---

Heh, posting links with funny URLs might be interesting.

I never said it was a problem with search engines (they'll ignore the URL mostly, anyway), just that you're no better off for the much-argued point of it being easier to type directly or remember, and in fact might be worse off if you must use the correct phrase. The argument that the URL will help drive users to click on the link ignores that the page title is the biggest text on the search engine result page and is also a bit better for SEO purposes anyway.

SleePy:
I should point out that while this topic mentions SEO, the contents posted in it has seem to of focused on SEF urls.  These are two things really, even though SEF falls under SEO.  Search Engine Friendly URLs is being discussed and has the myth that some bots couldn't handle urls with query strings in them (any bot nowdays that can't won't have very many users using their search). Then there is SEO, which is optimizing your actual page to give the search engine better and more direct content relevance to that page and thus to search results.

I don't believe in SEF, although have made a few mods and even use SimpleSEF on one of my sites.  The reason for using it was consistency with the reset of the site that didn't contain any query strings and was meant to keep it clean and organized.  I could of left it out, but it made the pages very easy to remember and doesn't break out of the structure I have for the site.

SEO on the other hand is important.  While many will argue against it, I see doing proper (x)HTML and other front end programing as key to ensuring that content is well indexed.  Not having a bunch of poor coding, random images, and random characters meant as a alt character for when a image can't be displayed, will help keep screen readers and search engines from misinterpreting their usage.

Arantor:
The reason I focused on SEF URLs is because it's the number one 'SEO technique' promoted out there, and for all the wrong reasons. Using it for nice looking URLs because that's clean and tidy is a separate thing altogether - not for SEO benefits.

SEO is important in and of itself - it just doesn't apply to forums by definition. The examples you mention such as valid X/HTML and proper alt tags for images, they're not really SEO things at all, they're actually accessibility - it just happens that people who put the time in getting accessibility and other things right improve the site as a whole, not because of SEO.

SEO, ultimately, is about targetting the content of your site at search engines, not actual users. Except that a forum who targets content at search engines isn't likely to be particularly popular.

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