Author: Ron Graham
Webservant’s Notes 2015
—Google Algorithm Upgrades and SEO Measures
The information below is mainly a record for your webservant. The page covers some technical matters not relevant to quarterly reports.
Optimizing for Google
Whilst we have ensured that Yahoo and Bing have indexed the site properly, my main attention has been with Google. Google has been extremely helpful with its indexing, reporting, and advice. The result is a marked increase in traffic to the site.
Previous Google Algorithm Upgrades
Prior to 2015, the simplybible.com website weathered Google’s algorithm updates. For example there was Panda in February 2011, designed to keep poor quality sites from ranking. There was Penguin in April 2012, which tried to combat spamming and link manipulation. In September 2013, Hummingbird moved Google into understanding the meaning of phrases and natural language rather than operating on individual keywords. Then came Pigeon in July 2014, which helped to prioritize results according to the user’s location. These and some more minor algorithms were upgraded at times. All these neither harmed nor helped simplybible.com to any great extent.
The Mobile Friendly Upgrade
By contrast, in April 2015, Google made a major change that lifted the profile of simplybible.com so that pageviews nearly doubled. For all of 2015 we had more than 1.2 million pageviews. This Google upgrade was intended to favour mobile friendly sites. The simplybible.com website always was amenable to narrow screens because that was one of the original design goals. This gave the website a good footing on which to become mobile friendly.
Prior to 2015, we had worked on improving that feature, using css3 media queries. We divided the style sheet into six cascading sections. The first section provided initial styles suitable for wide screens. The following sections each specified a progressively smaller maximum width. In each section styles were adjusted, if necessary, to optimize display for the specified width.
All we needed to do then was tweak those adjustments and insert a viewport meta tag into the header of each page. we also changed the DOCTYPE from XHTML strict to html5. These changes to document header were mostly an automated process.
In 2015 individual pages were gradually improved where, in the mobile view, something remained too wide, or links were too close together. So we achieved a fully mobile friendly site.
During 2015, there was a rapid takeup by mobile phone and tablet users. The policy now is to favour mobile display where there is a compromise needed between mobile and other devices such as pc and notebook. Of course mostly it's possible to make things good on all devices.
Search Engine Optimization
There are a number of things that help to get a simplybible.com page among the first ten items listed by Google. Here are the main ideals...
- Meta title: Make this no more, and not much less, than 65 characters. Use key words and phrases that a Googler might use to find the information that the page provides. The meta title does not have to be the same as the h1 heading for the page.
- Meta description: Make this no more, and not much less, than 160 characters. It should accurately describe the page and include a call to action. Include key words and phrases relevant to the page.
- Canonical: Every page must have a rel="canonical" meta link in the document header. This ensures that Google will not index duplicates of the page that it may find, but will index the content under the canonical URL supplied.
- Headline: This is the h1 tagged page title that displays at the top of the page. It does not need to be the same as the metatitle. With styling, it appears as a main title and a subtitle. It should capture interest so the user will scroll into the content. It should also include a key phrase. All other headings should use h2 or h3 tags leaving the h1 tag unique on the page.
- Outline structure: By keeping an orderly structure in the document, we allow it to be better understood by search engines, but also of course by the users. Structure is basically proper use of h1 h2 and h3 tags. These provide main heading, main points, and subheadings respectively, but they can be styled to give them visual prominence whilst retaining markup structure. New html5 tags, such as nav and aside, can help to separate parts of the page from the core content.
- Key words and phrases: The keywords meta tag may contain a few keywords or phrases, but not many. The place to include key words and key phrases is the document body where the content is. Weave these words naturally into the content. If it is natural for a key word or phrase to appear many times, let it do so. For example a lesson on grace could be expected to use the word grace a lot. But don't contrive a word's inclusion or give the appearance of spamming. Some pronouns can be replaced with the noun where natural. Synonyms should be used. For example if evangelist is a keyword, use gospel preacher in some instances. Spread the key words and phrases evenly through the document and certainly near the beginning and end.
- Alt tags on images: Try to describe the image accurately, if possible with a key word.
- Internal links: On each page include one or two links to related pages on the site. These should be embedded in relevant text —either a portion of the page content, or a synopsis of the page being linked to.
- Outbound links: If very relevant, a page on another website can be linked to, provided that site is of high authority. This will slightly raise the authority of the simplybible.com website. These outbound links should use target="_blank" to open a new window. In the link text include the words "(opens new window)".
- Page load speed: Google takes note of load speed. Whilst we cannot avoid blocking1 by our js and css scripts, we can keep them concise to load more quickly. Use few images and use sprites where appropriate. Don't embed videos but link to them with a css styled button. Generally, don't use anything that needs to be called from other servers during page load, except Google analytics. The idea is to reduce the number of server calls to speed up loading.
- Sitemap xml: A sitemap in xml must be maintained. It should list every page and selected images. Each time this sitemap is altered, it should be tested on Webmaster Tools.
- Sitemap html: An html sitemap is useful too. Some search engines may prefer it. This map doesn't need to be on one page. A hyperlinked list of main indexes is sufficient for one page. In turn, those indexes, and their subindexes drill down to lower levels and ultimately include every page on the site. This html sitemap is really just the set of indexes by which users navigate the site. This set of indexes doubles as a sitemap for search engine bots.
- Author byline: Author markup is important for a website's status in the eyes of Google. At the top of the body of index.htm we place a special itemscope markup. Then we put a byline on all other pages of the site. This byline is a link to the author bio page.
- Pagination markup: Where a set of pages may be regarded as an article, pagination markup will cause Google to regard the set of pages as such and improve their importance. In the document headers, include the metatags link rel="prev" and link rel="next". In the page body, have an obvious pagination markup with hyperlinks.
- The .htaccess file: It's helpful to the search engine bots to have a .htaccess file with redirects to solve dead links and other "not found" problems. Webmaster Tools very kindly reports all crawl errors, listing anything that was not found.
- Long filenames: The normal filename can be extend to include a key phrase. For example f123-is-there-no-balm-in-gilead.htm (note the dashes). Google takes note of descriptive file names. However, we do this only when a page already ranks highly2 and we just want to give it a little extra push.
The 2016 Upgrade
In the year 2016, a soft upgrade of simplybible.com is intended. Rather than drastic changes, pages will be improved in many small ways, using (A) the guidelines above, (B) the list of projects on the Tally page, and (C) a simple critical view of pages to spot errors and design faults.
Of course not every one of simplybible.com’s hundreds of pages can be listed in Google’s top ten! However it is a goal to identify pages with that potential, and to try to make them into landing pages. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.
The main goal for any page on simplybible.com is to provide a well structured, informative, and quality experience for the visitor.
That concludes the 2015 report for simplybible.com regarding the influence of Google algorithm upgrades, and our ongoing search engine optimization strategies.
2Note:— Update 2018, All filenames extended. As of May 2018, all filenames for Bible study pages have been extended with an explanatory phrase.