I spent some time over the past few weeks looking into Search Engine Optimization. Why? Because we’re trying to motivate students to do their best work for our fact-checking project, and one of the big motivations is knowing that you have a page that people are actually using to get answers to questions. So if we want to make our student’s work meaningful, we should also try to make it findable.
As always, the biggest piece of SEO is getting people to link to you. We don’t have that yet on Digipo. But a lot of SEO these days is making the page load really fast, be legible on mobile, and having a descriptive page names and URLs. And so we made a couple changes to the site — went to quick, static page generation, phrased titles as questions (which is how more an more people are using Google), generated URLs that were descriptive, and used Dave Winer’s excellent and mobile friendly Medium-like template.
And so we did that, and guess what? We just cracked the top 5 Google results on one of our titles:
Apply all the caveats — we own this space of this phrasing of this specific question. Ask it slightly differently, and you will get another resource. And our rank may float down over time. But this still feels amazing, that a person could ask a question like this and get an answer (in this case) from a WSU student. And the fact that can happen will motivate other students to do their best work.
We can still do more — the pages pull through Google hosted images that are often too big and uncompressed: maybe we can programmatically resize them. Our headers for images need to have less aggressive anti-cache settings. Etc. But to me, this initial success shows it’s really possible for this student project to make a real difference, and shows the value of thinking about optimizing for search.