Category: techblog

How to tip the odds in your favor in search results – Titles, links & metatags (part 2 of 3)

(Cross-posted from the W&M Creative Services Blog)

We started with a quick overview of what Google says to concentrate on in your search rankings (do what’s best for your visitors) and how the W&M site search works. Now let’s move on to your actual web pages, starting with the things you create first when you make a new page.

Clear Site Hierarchy

Try to structure your website with the most important information “up front,” either linked from the homepage or very easily accessed from it. Using this kind of hierarchy in your site helps both users and search engines determine what is most important on your site.

Readable URLs

The system or file name is pretty much always the first thing you set when creating new content and it is what forms the URL for your page. For your system name try to be as descriptive as you can. Use dashes (-)  to separate words if you want a multi-word system name, for instance “meeting-minutes” rather than “meetingminutes.” Using a character like the dash or underscore to separate the words makes the URL easier for Google (and your users) to see what your page is about, a page like “” is much harder to remember and figure out what the content is about than “” If there are key words in your page URL those will also be indexed in Google’s results, so this is one more spot where using meaningful names for your pages can help improve your search rankings.

Concise and Effective Page Titles

Each page in your site should have a short but unique title that clearly indicates to both Google, and the person viewing your site (either in search results or actually on the page) what the page is about and how it differs from other pages on your site.

Metatags (where needed)

Years ago the keywords metatag was a factor in search engine results but in recent years Google has begun ignoring the keywords field, mainly because sites were “stuffing” the keywords field to bump up their search results rather than putting in the most relevant keywords for their site. So this is not something you’ll need to worry about for your page.

A page’s description metatag gives Google and other search engines a summary of what the page is about. Although these do not directly influence the search results any longer, they are still important as search engines may use them as descriptive snippets for your page if it turns up in their results. Something to note, if the search engine finds text it deems more relevant to the user’s search, such as a sentence containing their search term, then that may be used as the summary for the search result instead of what’s in your description metatag.

As with page titles, the description for each page should be unique and specific to each page. If you copied the same description from page to page, how will users be able to distinguish which of your pages they want to visit when they come up in a search result? If all of the results from your site appear the same the user may skip your site altogether since it is unclear.

In the next post we’ll look at how the main content of your page affects your search rankings, with tips on how to improve those rankings using your images, headings and general content.


How to tip the odds in your favor in search results (part 1 of 3)

(Cross-posted from the W&M Creative Services Blog)

There is no magic bullet for getting your site ranked highly in Google’s (or any other search engine’s) search results. However, there are a handful of best practices that can help you make your pages more relevant to users and thus more likely to become top-ranked results in Google, this is referred to as SEO (Search Engine Optimization).

First, a starting thought from Google’s SEO Starter Guide (emphasis mine):

You should base your optimization decisions first and foremost on what’s best for the visitors of your site. They’re the main consumers of your content and are using search engines to find your work…Search engine optimization is about putting your site’s best foot forward when it comes to visibility in search engines, but your ultimate consumers are your users, not search engines.

Search results on

On the W&M website we use a Google Custom Search Engine which, when you boil it down, is just Google’s normal search engine except it’s results are restricted to only look on a particular set of sites (in W&M’s case, anything ending in “”). So all of the following tips from Google’s SEO Starter Guide will apply just as well to a site’s search results as to Google’s (although they may not match exactly).

In the next two posts we will work from the top down on a web page, from page URLs to image descriptions, exploring how each element affects search results — stay tuned…


Should you use QR codes?

The answer is…it depends. Sorry if you were hoping for a more definitive answer but, like many technologies, it really depends on how you are planning on using it and why.

Mashable named QR codes one of the 8 Big Trends That Shaped the Mobile Phone Industry in 2011, and being in on the latest trends is always tempting. I am all for exploring the latest technology, but I think a key step to take before using them (or any new technology) in your organization is familiarizing yourself with the technology beforehand. Sign up for that new social media site and use it personally for a while, or in the case of QR codes, how many times have you scanned a QR code with your phone? Or known others who have? When have you found it helpful?

Scott Stratten‘s UnMarketing Keynote at the National Arts Marketing Project conference offers some (rather humorous) examples of how not to use QR codes:

If you get past the step of concluding a QR code would be a useful addition to something your organization is doing, there are a few things to keep in mind:

Is the web site linked in the QR code optimized for mobile devices?

People are using their mobile phones for viewing whatever the QR code sends them to. You need to make sure the destination website is at least a mobile-friendly site (so the page is navigable on a small screen with no Flash, giant images, heavy Javascript or other visual effects), if not totally mobile-optimized.

Since your users are on mobile devices with smaller screens and slower download and processing speeds you must consider the structure of your content. Does the page require filling in a lot of information? Or downloading a large document? Or viewing a large amount of text or photos? If so, that’s probably not the best suited to viewing on a mobile site or interacting with on a, typically slower, mobile network.

Is the content useful in a mobile setting?

Another thing to think about is whether the information you’re linking to is something that a person who is on a mobile phone would find useful and interesting. The link could utilize the fact they are on a mobile phone to add your organizations event to their personal calendar, or a contact to their address book. Or you could offer additional photos or videos related to something you’re advertising; “exclusive” content that’s just for folks who scanned the QR code. However, if you’re simply directing them to a page on a website that they could just as easily see on their computer, that’s not really rewarding the scanner for their time and effort (however minimal) to scan the QR code.

Is there a reward/motivation for scanning the code?

Something to keep in mind for higher education institutions in particular, a recent survey reported that most (75%) of college students won’t scan QR codes, so whatever the content is, it needs to be something that motivates the students enough to be willing to download a QR code reader (if they don’t already have one) to find out the information.

Learn More

Intrigued? Hubspot offers a quick 4 step setup guide that can get you started. Plus, here are a few more good tidbits about QR code use:

“QR codes function as context portals, enhancing our in-person experience with related digital information — for example, a flyer for a career workshop with a code driving you to a basic (mobile-friendly!) registration form or an advertisement for a concert featuring a code linking to a short video preview. There’s a lot of debate about the future of QR codes, but whether they stay or or go these types of informational way stations will be critical connectors in this new landscape, delivering contextually-relevant content.”
-Georgy Cohen, Aligning Content Online and Offline, Meet Content

“QR codes do enjoy a high-level of awareness among college students yet only a fraction (21%) could properly scan and activate the code. Why the discrepancy? According to our findings, students simply struggled with the process. Some didn’t know a 3rd party app was needed, many mistakenly assumed it could be activated with their camera, and others just lost interest, saying the activity took too long.”
-Don Agguire, QR Codes Go to College, Archrival Youth Marketing

“Employ simple language around the code itself.  Not necessarily every user knows what a QR code is or that you must download the app prior to using.  An example ‘Scan this code with your smartphone to watch these stories’ and be as specific as you can as to what the viewer will see.”
-Nicole O’Connell, To Scan or Not to Scan: Use of QR codes in Enrollment Marketing

Another interesting read is Mashable’s Why QR Codes Won’t Last which drummed up a lot of discussion in the comments.

Have you successfully (or unsuccessfully) used a QR code in a campaign? What was your experience?


First notes on Facebook Timeline for Pages

So as the internet chatter predicted, Facebook rolled out Timeline for Pages today. The page administrators have 30 days to fill in and polish up their timelines and then Facebook will roll over all pages to the new layout at the end of 30 days.

A few things to note:

  • The timeline won’t go live until you hit “Publish” or at the end of March, so fill in as much as you can before then, pinning important posts to the top of your page, starring important events in your timeline, etc.
  • The timeline cover photo is the same dimensions as the personal page one, 849 pixels wide by 313 pixels tall. A photo is not selected by default for you so you’ll have to choose something from your existing photos (it must be at least 720 pixels wide) or upload a new image.
  • In addition to the cover photo you’ll need to have a profile icon which should be square and at least 180 pixels wide.
  • Photos, likes and apps are now at the top of your Page along with your “About” blurb. Photos show in the first spot, then likes, then you can order the apps after that (you get a dropdown menu that will reveal all the apps once there’s more than 2).
  • You can no longer have an app as the default tab for your page. This is a big change and means that the “Welcome” and “Like Us!” tabs that so many pages have created will now be relegated to being just another tab the user has to find and click on. I will be very interested to see how pages adjust to this new paradigm.
  • Fans can now contact you privately with messages that will show up in the newly designed admin panel along with insights, new likes and activity.
  • The “Use Facebook as <page>” option is now buried under the Admin Panel in the Manage dropdown at the top of the page (the “Edit Page” option is also in this menu).

I’m sure more “features” will be discovered as more folks transition to the new layout. If you find something of interest, please let everyone know about it in the comments.


EDUniverse…go explore!

I wanted to spread the word about a new site that launched on Friday called EDUniverse. It’s a great centralized place to keep up to speed on blog posts and presentations from higher education folks all over the web. The site is a great resource for finding new, relevant and interesting higher ed related content, discovering higher ed folks on Twitter, and just keeping up with what’s going on in the industry. I was asked by mStoner to be an early contributor to the site and am so excited to see it live (and had a great time at the launch event in Boston this weekend, so great to meet and chat with so many amazing higher ed folks in person). I’d encourage you to sign up for an account and start exploring.


Better Facebook statuses with links

Having links, photos or videos in your Facebook status updates is shown to increase engagement by your fans. When there is more than just a plain text status update you are more likely to capture your audience’s attention and stand out in their news feed if you have an interesting visual element.

Facebook auto-generates a thumbnail or small image preview when you include photos or videos in your status updates. If you are linking to a webpage in your update (which you can do by simply pasting the URL into your status), Facebook will create a preview of that link to include with the status by looking on that page for a suitable title, description and image to use as the thumbnail. The title and description of the preview typically come from the page title and the first bit of content on the page. The image is pulled from anywhere on the page that Facebook thinks is a suitable image. If there are no images found on the page you are left with just text, which is not as intriguing for your fans.

You can assure that there’s always an image to include by using one of two methods: adding an “image_src” link tag to the head of your HTML document, or by including an appropriate image on the page (this can either be included to supplement the content of the page or hidden from view with a bit of CSS styling).

The syntax for adding the image_src link is:

<link rel="image_src" href="" />

By including this code in your HTML header you are telling Facebook to use this, and only this, image for your page. This is useful if you want to enforce consistency when folks link to your site by having the same logo or photo associated with your links. However, the side effect here is this will restrict a user from selecting any other image on your page (if there are any available) as the thumbnail for the link.

The second option is to have an image in the body of your page somewhere, either in the content or hidden from view on the page. This allows you to have both a “default” image to use if there isn’t one available on the page, and to allow selecting a more appropriate image from the content if it is available.

If you do not want to show the image you can hide it with:

style="display: none;"

added to your HTML image tag, this will hide the image from view in the browser, but allows Facebook to still see the image and include it for use as a link thumbnail.

Bonus Tip: You can trick Facebook into having two links in one status update by pasting the URL of the first link into your status update, adding a space at the end so Facebook recognizes it as a link and adds the preview, then you can delete that URL, compose the rest of your status update, and paste in a second supplementary URL.


#heweb11 #tnt8 and #austintx

Yes that’s a lot of Twitter hashtags but that’s what’s been filling up the past few days for me. I, along with four other folks from W&M Creative Services, travelled to Austin earlier this week to attend HighEdWeb 2011 in Austin, Texas. Tina Coleman and Andrew Bauserman presented on our new events system at W&M, and Joel Pattison and Justin Schoonmaker offered a Photoshop workshop. Our former director Susan Evans (now at mStoner) also presented on creating a Creative Services team.

I presented alongside Doug Gapinski from mStoner about mobile strategy for higher education. The talk was well received on Twitter (tracked via hashtags for each session, ours was #tnt8) and I’m excited that folks were so interested in our topic. HighEdWeb’s magazine Link summarized our talk summarized our talk twice (!) if you’re curious about what we discussed.

I attended a lot of great talks and have some great ideas to bring back to campus. Here are their Twitter hashtag commentary (with a quick-and-dirty archive courtesy of Twitter RSS) and summaries courtesy of Link:

As always this is a great conference with great speakers and networking opportunities, looking forward to HighEdWeb 2012 in Milwaukee!


Facebook Profiles vs Pages vs Groups

(Cross-posted on the W&M Creative Services Blog)

There are a lot of ways for people to connect on Facebook. What started as just a network for college students has mushroomed into a community of over 750 million active users where seemingly everyone (and nearly every business, celebrity, brand and university) has a presence. There are three main ways that an entity can have a presence on Facebook: profiles, pages and groups; not all of these options are suited for every occasion. Here are quick overviews of each type with answers to some of the most common questions about their differences.


Facebook profile silhouetteProfiles are for people and only people. On your profile you can share photos, videos, web links, and general status updates with people you have connected with as “friends.” If you create a personal profile for any other entity aside from yourself Facebook will get grumpy at you as it violates their terms of service agreement. So this boils down to no fake names or personas (use a Page) and no creating multiple personal accounts (like one for work use and one for personal).

If you are concerned about mixing work and personal Facebook use, keep in mind that if you are an admin of a Facebook page it is not listed anywhere publicly, so no one will know to contact you or associate you with that professional page. You can utilize friend lists to keep work and personal Facebook friends separate and control what each group sees by selectively sharing information via your Facebook privacy settings.
For more on friend lists and privacy see the Facebook Help Center.

If you have created a Profile rather than a Page, for your business or brand, Facebook now offers a way to convert your Profile to a Page. Be warned however, only your photos and friends (who will be converted to “fans”) will be moved over, your wall posts and any other data on your profile will not be saved so make sure if you want to keep that information you have it backed up somewhere. For more details on how to convert a profile to a page, check out the Facebook Help Center.


Facebook page iconPages are essentially profiles for any entity that isn’t a real-life person on Facebook. Pages have the same photo albums, wall and info page as a personal profile, but you can have an unlimited number of “fans” rather than “friends” (which is limited to 5,000). Many celebrities also maintain a fan page in addition to, or in place of, their personal profile. This avoids the friend limits of a profile and when the celebrity is also a “brand,” is a way to keep their business and personal entities separate.

Facebook allows there to be one or more administrators for a Page. A cool feature released by Facebook allows an administrator of a Page to post wall messages or comments while masquerading as the page itself, rather than as their individual account. This feature is another good way to keep the business and personal aspects of Facebook separate if you manage a Facebook page for work.

For detailed info on how to create and manage Facebook Pages, visit the Facebook Help Center.


Facebook group iconIf you have a need to more frequently or directly communicate with a small community of people then a Facebook group is the way to go. You can utilize Facebook’s group chat, shared documents, and messaging features (where members will get emails rather that status updates in their Facebook stream as with a Page), to communicate directly with the members of your group.

There are three kinds of Facebook Groups:

  • Secret – Only members can see the group and what members post
  • Closed – Everyone can see the group. Only members see posts
  • Open (public) – Everyone can see the group and what members posts

If you are debating between a Group and a Page, consider how you plan on using it. Do you want to have a real-life “club” feel with a directly engaged community? If so, use a Group. If you want to offer interesting information to a large audience and publicize your organization, use a Page.

For more on Facebook groups, visit Facebook’s official Group help page.

Speaking of Facebook Groups, if you’re in charge of (or have any interest in) social media and are part of the W&M community, please join our W&M SMUG (Social Media Users Group) Facebook Group.