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Thread: Navigation vs. Search Engine Friendly

  1. #1
    Thinkin' out loud again Builder's Avatar
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    Navigation vs. Search Engine Friendly

    The 50th Anniversary of my Boy Scout Troop is coming up next year. We have found almost 600 names of current and former Scouts which I have set up in a database. To make it easy to find names, year of joining, Eagle Scouts, etc. I have set up a bunch of different "sorts" with a PHP script, e.g. one can look up all Scouts who joined our troop in 1984. I have over 50 "links" right now and there may end up being more.

    This will be going public on our website so that these former Scouts might just find their name on a "vanity search", find out that we will be celebrating our 50th and possibly contact us. We certainly want to invite as many as possible to any big event that might be planned.

    As a result, I want the list/database to be very crawlable/search engine friendly. Just to get things working and test out my admittedly poor PHP skills I set up some "old school" dropdown lists. When a Year (for example) is clicked on it displays the names and other data in an iframe below. I know I can do better aesthetically, but is there something I can do navigation-wise, to make it more friendly to bots and search engines? Preferably while making it easy for real, live, humans to use it.

    The techy stuff:
    The PHP file/script pulls the variable from the link, then opens the XML database file, opens the XSL file, plugs the variable into the XSL file, which runs the variable against the database. Styled results are then sent to the user.

    Thanks for any suggestions,
    Kevin
    A good friend will come and bail you out of jail...
    but a true friend will be sitting next to you saying,
    "Damn... that was fun!"

  2. #2
    Rick
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    Your best approach is to provide plain links to HTML pages containing these names. Those pages need to include information like the name of the city, community, and school where your scout troop was based so that they will be more likely to appear in a search for the person's name AND one or more of those other keywords. The <title> tag(s) should certainly read something like "Boy Scout Troop 12 CityName Year - Page x" both for SEO and to catch the eye of your target audience. Since the snippet is likely to be constructed from the page content in such a search (as opposed to the <meta> description), add a mention of your 50th Anniversary plans in a paragraph of text at the top of the page to give yourself a better shot at getting the user to click on your link in the search results. You're probably not going to have a lot of link juice to play with, so break the list down somehow into no more than 6-10 pages.

    In designing the whole thing, I'd put more emphasis on the search engine friendliness than user friendliness. In the end, I think you want the search engine traffic far more than you need to provide users with the ability to search your data with an attractive interface. So, in designing the starting page to all of this, I'd have a list of plain links to these plain roster pages, and be sure to use method="post" for the search <form> to prevent Google from trying to crawl those sorted list pages. It would also be a good idea to include the list of links to the roster pages on another page, like an HTML sitemap page if you have one. Good luck!
    Rick Trethewey

  3. #3
    Custom User Title entrecon's Avatar
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    In terms of a "vanity" search you will also want to make sure you include "qualifying" words peppered throughout the site. The big one is the city where the troop is. If you have someone with a common name, they will usually add other words in to make sure they find the results about them. Depending on your area, other qualifying words might be the name of a High school or camp.
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  4. #4
    Thinkin' out loud again Builder's Avatar
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    Aaach... I know that plain HTML links are best for search engines, and kinda knew that would be the answer to my query. I was hoping to avoid having a huge list of plain text links. One thought I'd toyed with was some sort of cascading list (either JS or CSS), e.g.:
    By Joining Year:
    >>>>1960s:
    >>>>>>>>1964
    >>>>>>>>1965
    >>>>>>>>[etc.]
    >>>>1970s:
    >>>>1980s:
    >>>>[etc.]

    I also know that the links to all those pages won't be immediately visible on the page, so other than perhaps being "prettier", it gets me no search engine gain over plain ol' dropdown lists.

    Perhaps a compromise is in order. Plain HTML for my alphabetical lists which contain all 500+ names, and then some other method for more esoteric, so-to-speak, sorts. I must ponder...

    Once again, Rick, you provide astute advice that I should have remembered but didn't. My title tags do have most of the information you suggest, but I neglected to include meeting places (we've had 3 over the years). It will be easy enough to add that information to the database and then pull it for display in the title tag. Those title tags are also built dynamically (somewhat) by what the user wants to see. Joining year shows up if they click on 1975 for example. I think I will also add a "boilerplate" City to that on your excellent advice.

    My index page does have the mention of the 50th Anniversary on it, but eventually will only be part of a whole section of the website devoted to that event. These rosters will likely end up down the food chain a level or so when it's all said and done.

    @entrecon: Good idea about using a camp as a "qualifying word". We've also been through at least 2 council names due to mergers. So an "old" guy (hey, I resemble that ) might search under an old council name as well.

    Just had a thought on how to incorporate at least most of what both of you mentioned about keywords. For each year have a list of "highlights" for that year -- where we were meeting, council name, who was Scoutmaster, where we went to summer camp, any big trip we took, etc. All easy enough to add to the database and a template or 2. More to ponder...

    Many thanks to you both!

    Kevin
    A good friend will come and bail you out of jail...
    but a true friend will be sitting next to you saying,
    "Damn... that was fun!"

  5. #5
    Rick
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    I think you misunderstood my advice about the <title> tags. I should have been clearer. I meant that the tags on the roster list pages should be aimed at the probable search keywords your members would use when searching for themselves or other old friends. So you want the titles on these pages to read like:

    CityName/CommunityName Scout Troop 12 - Page 1

    Each title needs to be unique. Even if it's just the page count at the end that changes, you're OK. Then, in a paragraph at the top of the page and within a word or two of the CityName include a mention of the event so it has a good chance of being included in the snippet in the SERPs for name searches. You'll also want to make the <meta> description mostly about the event in case the search engines use it for the snippet.

    If you limit yourself to 6-10 pages for this, your list of links should be pretty easy to work with. Good luck!
    Rick Trethewey

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