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How to optimise your forum or messageboard for the search engines
Things I have learned in the trenches...
netchicken1




msg:3278889
 2:30 am on Mar 12, 2007 (gmt 0)

(I wrote this for my site, and hope people here find it useful please move it to a more relevent forum if there is one.)

This is a topic that seems to be under researched on the Internet. so I thought I would outline some of the major factors that will help you get indexed better in search engines, that I have found are useful.

Firstly, WHY?

Why should I optimise my forum? After all I just want people to chat on it thats all.

The answer is twofold. Firstly optimising your forum will allow the search engines to index it in their databases. The better you are indexed, the more hits and visitors you will get from people through the search engines.

Secondly, if you want to monitorise your site with adsence then the better the site structure the more relevant the adverts.

In the end the two go together, the search engine sends visitors who join your site (hopefully) and some manage to click on your adverts.

So here are some major strategies to improve your board.

Get rid of duplicate content
The search engine only access your site as a visitor, now if visitors see the Quote, or Reply, or Print features, then the search engine will follow those links and index the content.

What do you end up with?

Multiple links to the same content. This is called "duplicate content" and can ruin your site in the search engine rankings.

These two links go to the same page, yet to a search engine are completely different. It will think I have two pages with the same text on them. (that is why I have stopped them as actual links)

mysite.com/xmb/viewthread.php?fid=6&tid=3702&action=printable

and

mysite.com/xmb/viewthread.php?tid=3702

How to remove it?

Remove any instance where a guest might have access to the same content from two different URLS.

I did this by bracketing some of the code so that only members will see it.

if ( X_MEMBER ) {
code here
}

Your code names might be different but the concept is the same. Visitors here do not see any of the tools, - Reply, Quote, Print etc that members see.

While you are at it get rid of any links that do not point to content you want indexed

Message boards go in for feature bloat, but search engines like simplicity. So don't let the visiting bot have access to any places you don't want indexed, these might include members profiles, members lists. FAQ's.

Get rid of all links to places you don't want indexed. You can cut them out using the Robots.txt file. I have. But I found that many of the searching bots ignore it. So cut the information out at the source.

So visitors to the board don't see the links to the members names, and many other features.

This is also good SEO (search engine optimization) generally to cut out links from your site to places that are not directly related to the content. So have links in your content to sites with the same type of content, but remove links to places where the content is not the same type.

Get active metatags on your board

I have made the title metatag using the Title of the post that is made. It generates easily enough with the title variable in it.

The description metatag is the first 150 letters of the post.

This then means you need to write your posts with that in mind. A good descriptive heading, and a summery in the beginning of the post.

To be extra sure I have the title at the very top of the html as H1 text

Get all the text not needed off the board.

Extraneous text only serves to dilute the meaning of your post to the search engines. they read all the text in the profile, the links, the buttons, etc and add that together as the content of the page.

Turn all text that is not relevant to the post into graphics. At the top of my page the 4 links there are deliberately pictures, not text.

Strip the forum bloat out

This is a philosophical issue, as well as practical. Who the heck in their right mind is going to join a board just to get stars by their name and some stupid stats to boost their egos? Again this dilutes the content of the post with extraneous words, but also puts coding and complexity that is unnecessary.

Get rid of it all, and avoid forum bloat by really thinking if what you want to do adds value to the site for the search engines and the visitors.

Simplify, simplify, simplify
Really, if there is no real need for it get it out.
Take tables for example, now bots are not upset by how many tables you have on your site, but to decrease files sizes and make changing easier remove as much of the table structure as you can. Many of my pages are now table free. sometimes bots only index the first 50 or so lines. get out anything that pushes your content below that range.

Clean up your header
Sometimes looking at the code in the header of a message board can make me cringe. You have miles of CSS squashed in, form code, BBcode functions, and heaps of other crap that only serves to push your content, the actual words on your page that are so important, to the bottom of the page.

Get it all cut down. Try and externalise the Jscript, and the CSS, and move as much code out to the footer as you can.

You will see on my pages that it sometimes generates an error message in the bottom left of your browser,thats because I moved the BBcode function out of the header to the footer. Its huge, ugly and in the wrong place. Eventually I will work out how to stop the error but that better than losing 100's of lines of your code to unnecessary stuff.

There will be more to come on this topic but I hope this helps people to get better indexing in search engines and more income from their adsense. It sure has for me.

Get links to your content

Old content is not bad content. There are many posts from years back that will still be accessed by people if they knew they existed.

Every thread on your page is potential page in a search engine, and potential doorways to gain visitors and income for your site. Don't neglect the old threads.

Sometimes the path to old content is too deep for the search engines to index. You need to bring that path to a more manageable level.

On one hand this is the most obvious section. get as many links on other pages to the content on your board. However there are methods of doing this that you may not have considered in the past.

Create a sitemap and keep it updated

A sitemap gives the links to your threads all in one file. The search engines will read through the sitemap and record the threads posted there regardlesss of date.

Join Googles sitemap program and get your sitemap indexed in their system. It give you an instant entry into the search engine!

Other search engines, such as yahoo and MSN also have their own programs. (links to them are somewhere here in the forum, I forget where just now)

Keep your sitemap updated on a monthly basis and reinclude it to the search engines.

Creating a sitemap using an existing program I use this one [micro-sys.dk...] also helps you to just what the bots are indexing, if there is too much rubbish being listed, then use some of the tricks mentioned to make those liks disappear.

Put links to your content on vanilla html pages

Create pages that hold the links to your threads. For example threads from my Military forum are listed here on their own html page. This page has good ranking in google itself, and feeds many people through to board threads.

The search engines index those html pages and link directly to the threads regardless of their age.

Note in the index page of the site that there are many links to threads on the board. (OK the page needs some work but that not what I am talking about). This serves to give the search engines and the humans as many opportunities to find the content as possible.

Note that the thread titles are written to reflect their content as well. yet another way that search engines can accurately index your posts.

Get linking pages high in your code

At the top of this page are two links, one to "recent posts" and the other to "what people are reading"

By having this content at the top of the page the search engines are more likely to follow the links and index the threads.

"Recent posts" is often called by another name on other boards, but usually only show posts in the past 24 hours. Whats use is that?

I found the code and bumped it up to show an entire week of posts. That gave yet another path for the search engines to find the fresh content.

"What are people reading" is the old Who's Online, which shows the pages being accessed in the last 10 minutes.

This is an underutilised source of internal links to your board.
From following this I can often see that google searches are hitting old and good content.

Get links to content higher up the page in the code

Look at my index page and you will see that on the top left of the page are the links to the last 25 posts. In the code these links are very near the top and so are more likely to be followed.

If I had it in the right column, then it would be at the end of the code and much less likely to be followed by the bots.

Give many possablilites for people and bots to see content using different routes

The "last 40 images" is a method I used by which people can see older posts on the site in a differnet, in this care image, format. Images can stand alone and provide an alternative way by which viewers can see your content.

Of course its less useful for the bots as there is no text in the hyperlink, one day I might rectify that with the thread title above the picture. Just as soon as I can work out the sql code.

This is still a growing topic area but I hope that I have given people some ideas to getting their message board system better linked in the search engines.

 

rogerd




msg:3280175
 2:54 am on Mar 13, 2007 (gmt 0)

Great summary, netchicken, and these points will be particularly useful for those whose forums may not have comprehensive SEO hacks available. Nice post!

rogerd




msg:3280185
 2:59 am on Mar 13, 2007 (gmt 0)

Don't forget,

Use robots.txt to put any irrelevant content off-limits for search indexing. With a little bit of online searching, you can probably find a ready-made robots.txt file that prevents indexing content like member lists, help content, etc.

Enviromed




msg:3280207
 3:52 am on Mar 13, 2007 (gmt 0)

Great job netchicken1 Your forum has a nice design.

How do you handle posters including their website url's on your forum?

netchicken1




msg:3280208
 4:03 am on Mar 13, 2007 (gmt 0)

Doesn't bother me :)

In fact I ask them if they would like to make a post in the appropriate forum.

Sure if the members are just there to spam I would cut it out. but often i find people with other sites like to post legitimate posts with their url in their sig.

Thats OK by me as long as their content is good. What goes round comes round.

blend27




msg:3280242
 4:42 am on Mar 13, 2007 (gmt 0)

---Get rid of duplicate content

I would say it would much easier to prevent duplicate content from the get go.

The NON Duplicate content "content" should only be reachable by one URI

mysite.com/xmb/viewthread.php?tid=3702

AKA

if

URI is

mysite.com/xmb/viewthread.php?tid=3702

then content

ELSE

different content or no content at all

otherwise

i link from my good ranking page that no one knows about to

mysite.com/xmb/viewthread.php?tid=3702&dupfilter-kickin_please and you are done

:)

better yet make it transparent, so you could see who is invoking the method... oops

Adversity Sure Fire




msg:3280335
 8:01 am on Mar 13, 2007 (gmt 0)

Hi Netchiken1

I wanted to visit your forum. May i know the url pls.

thanks

Whitey




msg:3280467
 11:54 am on Mar 13, 2007 (gmt 0)

Great post - helps to clarify some fundamental things.

Which forum software have you found the easiest to work with?

tinusg




msg:3280530
 1:01 pm on Mar 13, 2007 (gmt 0)

And then you just end up with bbpress, my favorite forum software.

Nick0r




msg:3280667
 3:26 pm on Mar 13, 2007 (gmt 0)

Superb post! Many of those changes I've made on my forums (including the one about only showing things like links to member profiles, duplicate content to logged in members which IMO is key) with great success.

[edited by: rogerd at 6:08 pm (utc) on Mar. 13, 2007]
[edit reason] typo [/edit]

elguiri




msg:3281679
 2:23 pm on Mar 14, 2007 (gmt 0)

Who the heck in their right mind is going to join a board just to get stars by their name and some stupid stats to boost their egos?

I'm STILL a junior member! I want to be Preferred

pontifex




msg:3282356
 2:04 am on Mar 15, 2007 (gmt 0)

good post!

what really gets me angry is, that you MUST optimize your out-of-the-box open source software these days for 3-4 days until you have something good SEOed... kind of bad!

so much about "Google does not want you to tweak your site to rank better"... take any of the big 5:

phpBB
osCommerce
wordpress
serendipity
drupal

(or others)

and you have a 5 day optimiziation period in front of you, before the site is REALLY(!) optimized!

2 pennies,
P!

netchicken1




msg:3282406
 4:10 am on Mar 15, 2007 (gmt 0)

The amazing thing pontifex, is that I have talked to people involved in developing the messageboard system I use and they are not interested in SEO'ing the default package. I have even offered them my code to use in the next version, and they don't want to know.

Its the forum bloat that they like that I was talking about before, that they want. More buttons, more labels, more stats, toys, bling, etc.

So one of the most popular additions to the board is a portal hack that gives a different interface which is full of confusing, complicated, and fundamentally useless information about the board.

No one cares about SEO yet they all hang out as much bling as they can to attract visitors.

I think that messageaboards are fundamentally a dated concept, sites like digg reddit, etc are showing the way forward. Show me a new successful website based on tables and php old style messageboard system.

There is none

Therefore we have to adapt the boards structure to reflect the new trends in webdesign.

For me that involves cosmetic changes as removing tables, and getting away from 1990's structured look.

But it also involves recognising that the audience has moved on and matured in the last 10 years. no longer the bling of a messagebaord system entices people to stay.

What does?

Good content, clean design, strong lines, organic structure.

Also the fundamental structure of the messageboard system is flawed. How many people ever look deeper than one or 2 pages in a forum?

To get to the information you have to visit the main page, then click on a forum, then click on a post.
Until that 3rd click you have little idea of the content of the post.

No wonder so much good content and ideas are lost. We need to create a structure where information about a thread jumps out at people and they can quickly see the contents, or theme, of a topic.

I have tried to do that by showing the first 250 words of the post in the index page, and the recent pages, but even then I am sure there is more I can do.

Whitey




msg:3282472
 6:23 am on Mar 15, 2007 (gmt 0)

Maybe it's time for a "lite" forum version that's simple and SEO compatible.

[edited by: Whitey at 6:23 am (utc) on Mar. 15, 2007]

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