Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, is a multi-discipline field that aims to increase site visibility and visitor count through prime placement on search engine results pages, or SERPs. SEO best practices are constantly changing and evolving; techniques that would have been impactful during the earliest days of the web have become table stakes and are essential to being indexed.
The best way to climb the SERPs is to build unique, engaging content and share it online with others who are as passionate the topic as you are. Google and other commercial search engines utilize complex algorithms that consider hundreds of factors before ranking pages in order of relevance and usefulness. Wikias that earn first page (or first position!) placement are considered authorities in their area.
The exact value assigned to each ranking factor is kept secret and changed often to discourage those looking to game the system and to keep up with searchers’ behavior, such as the increased use of mobile devices over time. These changes have made some strategies ineffective over time, but both new and established Wikia communities can benefit from some tried-and-true SEO best practices.
Before exploring the qualities search engines are looking for in a first position result, it is helpful to understand how a wikia’s images or article pages end up in a search index in the first place.
Crawling and Indexation
Crawling is the first step in indexation. Search engines send out automated bots (also known as "spiders") that access each sites like an extremely fast user, and scan page titles, note image names and placement, and check the usage of keywords common to other documents in their index.
Search engines use the data from crawls to decide which pages should or shouldn’t be added to their database. Remember that search results are an incomplete listing of the available documents on a particular topic, so they are not an accurate picture of the entire internet. Rather, search engine databases hold selected data so that billions of pages that can be accessed in a fraction of a second.
So how can a community ensure that its pages are indexed and ranked above the rest? It begins with on-page content.
On-page SEO concerns include everything from URL structure to page load speed, but some of the most important page elements are in the hands of community members like you.
Keywords Usage and Placement
In earliest days of the internet, search engines broke queries into keywords components and searched for exact matches on the web. Today, Google utilizes semantic search to process the intention of a user's query and aid in disambiguation. This is why searches for “Spider-Man” and “Spider Man” have the same results, and the reason the query “Nashville” brings up things to do in Tennessee, while “Nashville Cast” leads to Connie Britton’s filmography.It was once a common SEO practice to include blocks of related terms on a single page to capture the bots' attention, but today this technique make search engines think you are a robot! Modern search algorithms prefer natural human language and are on guard against sites that have thin or machine-generated content.
Consider the page being created or edited and ask: “If I wanted to find this page using a search engine, what words would I put in the search bar?” Those are the best terms to include in the article name. Include synonyms in page content where appropriate (e.g. Grand Theft Auto, GTA cars, GTA vehicles, cars in Grand Theft Auto), but each usage should seem natural.
Content is deemed relevant when it is a close or exact match to searchers queries, so keyword research can be helpful when deciding which keywords to include.
File Names and Descriptions
Google and other search engines are getting better at understanding video and images, but detailed file names and descriptions send strong, clear signals to the bots. This best practice also aids blind and visually impaired users who use screen readers to access Wikia.
For example, the file name for this picture of Steve Rogers should include “Steve Rogers” and/or “Captain America.” The image description could include more details like “Commander Steve Rogers in Avengers Vol 5 Issue 37.”
Internal linking improves user experience and helps search bots find and index content. Remember that search spiders access pages through links.
Imagine a visitor who is learning about this topic for the first time. Where are the natural places they would want to click to learn more? That is where you should add a link.
- Don’t go overboard. It is estimated that search bots follow 100-200 links (including those in the header and footer) before giving up.
- Mix up the anchor text where possible throughout the wikia, even if you only link out to a single article just once per page. An article about Harry Potter might link to one about Voldemort from either “The Dark Lord” or “He Who Must Not Be Named."
- Use the Special:Insights page on your wikia to find articles without links (no dead ends!) and clean up any red links in the Wanted Pages section.
- Categories build the architecture of a community and help humans and bots understand the relationship between pages, so use the Special:Insights page to find and clean up uncategorized pages.
Strange as it may seem, about half of the ranking potential of a wikia comes from factors outside of its direct control. Being the first to publish about a topic, earning (not purchasing) links from other respected sites, or becoming the topic of discussion on social media can have a significant impact on rankings.
It was once possible to guide the bots by posting links to a new wikia in directories, forums, and blog comments sections, but today most of those sites automatically add a
rel="nofollow" attribute that tells search bots not to pass the value of that link back to your wikia.
Best practices for individual communities are to support and encourage new contributors and focus on building quality content, and to let natural external linking build from there.