SharePoint Best Practices: A Comprehensive Guide To
Optimizing Your SharePoint Website
A White Paper from Geoff Talbot @Emgage
In life being obtuse, being disconnected from others, being difficult to find is typically never a good thing. A lack of knowing often raises the suspicion levels of others, you appear difficult to trust and people become increasingly wary of you.
What on earth does this have to do with getting your SharePoint Site ranked on Google?
When your website is difficult to find on Google, it also raises suspicion levels, and begins to breed mistrust. Not only will you
not benefit directly from inbound search traffic but your brand will also
appear less valuable and this will hurt your organization, perhaps more than you could possibly imagine.
Your organization's website should be easy to find on Google and on the other major search engines. Increasingly consumers are using "search" as a method of proof. If you rank highly on Google for a specific search term that is relevant to your business you are typically considered to be a trusted authority.
There are a lot of myths out there about
SharePoint Websites and getting them ranked on Google. Phrases like,
"SharePoint is impossible to optimize" are thrown around like candy at a kid's party. These phrases are of course not true at all. Making your SharePoint site easy to find on the search engines is not impossible. In fact, the deep functionality that lies dormant within SharePoint's framework makes it ideal for SEO; you just have to know how to unlock it.
When it comes to websites, SharePoint could be compared to a deeply introverted child prodigy; it is difficult to fully understand the potential of the child, until you unlock the secrets inside of them, enabling them to express the full potential of who they are in an outward and positive manner.
The focus of this white paper is to simply take you through the process of optimizing your SharePoint website in a way that is simple and easy to understand.
The Internet is like the busiest shopping mall in the entire galaxy. Not only are there billions of shoppers, there are also over a billion websites online (Internet Live Stats). As you can imagine in a shopping mall this busy, it would be very easy for a shopper to get lost, for them not to be able to find exactly what they are looking for. As you can also imagine, with over a billion storefronts it is also very easy for website to get lost also, for it to remain hidden and unloved, off the beaten track, stuck behind monster department stores, with no one ever finding it or noticing it.
So how can we make your SharePoint website easy to find?
Well this is the process called Search Engine Optimization (SEO). In many ways SEO mirrors the physical process of making your off-line storefront easy to find. You don't design a store or shop in a way that aims to please everyone who walks in off the street. Instead, you create your store specifically with your ideal customer in mind, there are multiplied elements involved in this choice, they include:
physical location(s) of your store.
The store window - what your ideal customers will see as they walk by.
- Your signage and any brand promises.
interior design - you want it to be comfortable so people stay longer.
Customer Relations - typically you want this to be as human as possible.
Your offerings - you want to provide the things (including the experience) that they are looking for.
Competitor locations - typically you don't want to start a business in an already saturated area.
So how do these elements relate to your SharePoint website and getting it ranked on search engines like Google? Let's look at each one of these elements individually.
1. Search Engine Positioning = Your Physical Location
Search traffic is like foot traffic in that people are not passive, they are actively moving or looking for something.
As you begin the process of optimizing your SharePoint site one of the first questions to ask is,
"what kind of things are our ideal clients often searching for?"
It is unwise to try and create the demand. It is much smarter to assess the demand and then meet it. No one would typically build an arts and craft store for elderly women right next to a male prison, so why try and optimize your website for "search terms" that no one is looking for?
Thus, the first part of any SEO project is to do
research that assesses demand. You must find out exactly what your ideal customers are already searching for online, so that you can position your SharePoint website on the search engines in a place that captures their attention.
For more on the Research Process go to the
2. SharePoint Home Page Optimization = Your Store Window
No one puts their least important and least attractive product in their store window. The whole purpose of the store window is to attract those who are walking by with the stated goal of getting them to enter your store and browse.
When it comes to SEO and your homepage, your goal is optimize your home-page with the "search terms" that are
most attractive to your ideal customers. Typically you will identify these keywords during the research phase mentioned above; often they will be the most relevant and the most frequently searched keywords.
Note: Your choices here should not be too specific or narrow, otherwise they will exclude relevant people from noticing and then entering your online store. An example of this would be to optimize the home page of an online clothing store for only infant clothing lines, when the store also sells clothes for toddlers, young children and teenagers.
3. Optimizing for Humans and Not Search Engines = Your Signage
If you were walking past my store and I, as the store owner were to run out onto the street, grab you by your ear and drag you into my store, there is a pretty good chance that your experience with my store would be negative. The best shopping experiences are typically ones where you feel as though you had your choices respected.
Furthermore, if your signage, if your brand promises and your offerings have an inhuman, sterile feel then your ability to convert foot traffic into satisfied customers will be seriously limited.
One of the tricks when it comes to optimizing your SharePoint website for organic search is to not over optimize your content. You will be less than successful if the copy on your website is filled with "search terms" that don't read well. Writing web copy that is optimized for both search engines
and human beings is an underappreciated art form, see the
Optimization Process in the Application section below.
4. Internal Link Building = Keeping Me in Your Store
One of the advantages of using
SharePoint to build your website is that it allows you to build very deep, complex entities, with uniquely branded sites for each vertical or division. Search engines like Google love big sites (sites with lots of interlinking pages and posts) as in their minds "size" equates to authority and demands respect.
Imagine also that you had a very small shop that someone could walk around in less than 3 minutes. A typical visitor is not going to stay for very long in your shop, they are going to either buy something and leave, or look around quickly, not buy something and leave. You have a very limited ability to engage them.
With your SharePoint website it is very important that you create a "large store," in other words a website with a large amount of enriching and engaging content for your ideal client and customer to explore. There are two ways that you should do this:
A well-planned menu system.
- Create 2-3 relevant internal links on each page of your website to other pages or pieces of content so that you are always inviting the visitor into a deeper experience with your brand. This is caused an internal link building strategy.
5. Optimizing For More Than Product = Customer Relations
If we went on a date together and all I did was talk about
what I had to offer it would most likely be a very short and very unsuccessful date. Likewise, it is important that you use your website to engage your visitors on a human level. If you are only optimized for the products or for the solutions you offer, then you are missing out on building human equity into your brand.
There are an infinite number of ways you can optimize and engage your ideal customers
outside of your product pages. They include:
Featuring and optimizing pages on your website for influential people who work for or interact with your organization.
Creating a branded blog that connects strongly with your ideal customers and the challenges they face on a daily basis.
Write white papers/podcasts/webinars that offer solutions (like this one) without pitching products.
6. Optimizing For Specific Product Lines - Your Offerings
Have you every been to a store that has a bit of everything?
Generally speaking, I find these stores very frustrating, perhaps my latent sensory disorder is playing up, but there is so much there that I can't generally find what I am looking for. Sometimes websites can operate in this way, there is so much been offered and it is all arranged in a haphazard way... finding what you are looking for is extremely difficult.
As you are creating and optimizing your SharePoint portal for search, one of the questions you want ask in the early stages (the research phase) is:
"How can we separate our ideal clients into specific personas with specific needs?"
Once you have done this you can then designate a specific area of your SharePoint website to each persona and there you can address their specific needs. You can also optimize each section of your website for search to meet the specific demand of each persona.
For example: Using the online clothing store analogy, you could create a section on your website for new moms (persona) who are specifically looking for baby clothes (needs). By optimizing these sections of your SharePoint site with relevant search terms, you will be able to attract new moms who are looking for what you have to offer.
Note: In my experience, many companies fail to get the most out their SharePoint websites because they do not optimize deeply enough for specific verticals.
7. Optimizing in the Gaps - Avoiding Your Competition
You would be foolish to start a hair salon in a place where there are already 50 hair salons within half a square mile. Similarly, a big part of the research phase when optimizing your SharePoint websites is to
find gaps in the market, to find relevant search terms that are not overly competitive.
There is no way that a new website is going to rank highly for a search term, if 50 of industries biggest brands are already targeting this search term. The smart thing to do is to find gaps in the SEO market, identifying specific search phrases that your competition has yet to target.
Discover how to do this in the
Research Process in the Application Section below.
At the beginning of this white paper we used the metaphor of the Internet being like the world's biggest shopping mall. Before you begin optimizing your SharePoint Website I wanted to once again return to this metaphor.
"Imagine losing your 4 year-old son or daughter in the worlds biggest shopping mall with over one billion people. Also imagine that you've been told that there is a giant camera, an eye in the sky, that can quickly pass through the crowd, moving through the people extremely quickly as it looks for your child. What kind of information are you going to program into the camera? What kind of information will help them find and identify your child? The more information you give them the more quickly they will be able to find your own flesh and blood."
The following elements are extremely helpful when it comes to finding anyone:
- Their Name
- Their Address
- An Accurate Description
- Distinguishing Features
- Accurate Photos
- Habits and Particular Idiosyncrasies
When the search engines are trolling through billions and billions of pages, posts and web files, you are going to want to help them find your child (your piece of content) by naming it (optimizing it) as accurately as possible. But you are going to have to do one thing first... you are going to have to actually create your child.
The Research Process = Creating the Child
As we discussed in the ethos section it is imperative that you begin the process of optimizing your SharePoint website with in-depth SEO research. The goal here is find match between what your business/brand is offering (both the tangible and intangible) and what your ideal clients are searching for on big search engines like Google.
So how do you do this research? There are a number of possible ways that you can do it:
- Hire an SEO firm/consultant.
- Buy a product like Market Samurai or MOZ and do your own research.
- Cheat and analyze your closest competitors and see how they are optimizing their sites (looking at the source code, using products like MOZ/Majestic to analyze them).
- A combination of these options
How you do your research is up to you. The overarching goal of the research is to clearly identify a large number of key search terms that you will use to optimize all the pages and pieces of content on your SharePoint site.
There are four golden rules when it comes to keyword research. You are looking for keywords that are:
Relevant - to both your business and your ideal clients
Have Significant Search Volumes - A significant number of your ideal clients must actually be using these terms.
Moderate to Low Competition - If the competition for the term is too high, you will never rank highly on Google.
Have Commercial Value - People who search for these terms, should typically buy things when they do.
Below is an example of some research done on Market Samurai to identify for keywords for
So let's imagine that we are creating a SharePoint website that is designed to be a home for "Hospitality News." To choose our child we are going to "pro-create" based on these keywords, we will go through the following research process:
Of the six search terms above which ones are relevant to our Hospitality News site? The only search phrase that is not relevant is "news now com." All the rest could work.
2. Search Volume
The SEOT column represents the maximum number of websites visits the top ranked website on Google could expect from these terms each month. Of the remaining 5 terms, "Hotel Industry News" and "Hospitality Industry News" are the terms with the most web traffic.
The TAComp column is a measure of the competition. It tells us in this case that for the top ranked keyword "Hotel Industry News" that there 9 pieces on online content that are using this keyword in their title with at least one external link pointing to that piece of content which includes that search term in its anchor text. Complicated I know, but simply put this tells us that the competition for these particular search terms is low, and that we should be able to get our piece of content ranking.
4. Will Ranking for these Search Terms lead to Business?
The SEOV column is a measure of the value of that keyword. In this case, it is telling us, the expected value per day of ranking "number one" on Google for each keyword. Both Hotel Industry News and Hospitality Industry News are estimated to be worth $476/day, this is good value.
So Which Search Term Will I Choose?
Looking at this information, I have decided to create and optimize a piece of content on my SharePoint Website based on the search term "Hospitality Industry News." I am choosing this search term over "Hotel Industry News" because our website is more than just hotels and because there is slightly less competition for this keyword.
The Optimization Process = Raising the Child
They say that it takes a village to raise a child and they are right, but what is also true is that the primary role of raising the child belongs with those who created him. The same is true is regards to successfully optimizing your SharePoint Website. There are specific things that you must do, but there is also a role that your wider community must play.
- The Parental Role =
- The Community Role =
Both of these roles are important and we will unpack them below.
Simply put On-Factors are things that you as a content owner have direct control over when it comes to optimizing your SharePoint Website. They are known to be more difficult to optimize in general because of header codes and inflexible page structures etc. But you should not confuse more difficult with impossible. There are ways that you can adjust, compensate and take advantage of the deep functionality within SharePoint websites.
Continuing with the example above, we have decided to name our baby
"Hospitality Industry News" (a strange name for a baby I know). We are going to have to make sure that he is extremely easy to find in the world's largest shopping mall (the Internet). The greatest fear that any parent has, is that of losing their child so we want to be sure that Hospitality Industry News is hard to lose and easy to find.
Remember the following elements are extremely helpful when it comes to finding anyone. Let's highlight the corresponding analogies for website SEO.
- Their Name =
Title (Meta) of your content
- Their Address =
URL of your content
- An Accurate Description =
Description (Meta) of your content
- Distinguishing Features =
Headings in your content
- Accurate Photos = Alt Tagging your Photos
- Habits and Particular Idiosyncrasies =
Search terms in the web copy
1. The Name of Your Baby
Every piece of content has a title or a name. In fact every piece of content has two titles. It has the title that people read and it has the title that the search engines read. See an example of a meta- title below in the highlighted text:
To create a meta-title on your SharePoint website, go to Page > Edit Properties > SEO Properties. You should see a screen that looks like the one below:
To overcome some of the obstacles with SharePoint websites and SEO we are going to want to be super aggressive with out on-page factors. To do this, here I've included out search term
"Hospitality Industry News" at the very beginning of our meta-title. Make sure you include the your primary search term at the very beginning of your meta-title, the search engines think that how you begin your title indicates what is more important. Make sure your title is no more than 70 characters.
2. URL of Your Baby
One of the first things we teach our children is their "physical address;" this is a key identifier to helping find anybody. Where you are from is very important. When it comes to optimizing your piece of content on your SharePoint website, you get search engine credit for including your targeted search phrase in your URL.
With SharePoint it pays to create friendly urls as these don't include /pages or .aspc and this simplifies the url and makes it easier for the search engines like Google to read. Creating friendly url is reasonably complex, to do this you are going to need to go to Site Settings > Term Store Management and then create your friendly URL. Again be aggressive and use your targeted search term at the beginning of your friendly URL.
3. Description of Your Baby
If someone is looking for your child, an accurate description will help them find him or here. It is exactly the same when it comes to creating a meta-description of your SharePoint Website content. An example a meta-description can be found below:
Your meta-description should be no more than 160 characters. You should use your targeted search term at the very beginning of the description and if possible you should include a call to action or very compelling language that encourages people to click on the link when they search on Google.
How do you do this? To create a meta-description, go to Page > Edit Properties > SEO Properties. You should see a screen that looks like the one below:
4. Headlines that describe your Baby
When a search engine is scanning a piece of written content it gives more weight to specific types of words. For example: it looks at the headings throughout the piece of content. The assumptions here is that the headings you use, typically highlight the nature of your content. When optimizing your website content it therefore pays to use your targeted search term in some of your H1 or H2 headings.
It typically pays to include your search term in at least 2 headings when optimizing your SharePoint website content.
5. Photos of your Baby
The search engine robots can admire your photos the way that a human being can, instead they look at the code behind the photo to assess exactly what the photo is about.
Photos are an extremely important part of any search process. If your child was lost, one of the first things the authorities would ask you for would be a photograph of your child. How you tag your photos for the search engines is very important because Google like the authorities takes your photos seriously.
To tag your photos for the search engines you want to use the "alt tag" option within SharePoint. See the image below, to see exactly how to do this.
6. Habits and Idiosyncrasies - Your Web Copy
Every child acts, talks and thinks differently from another, this is actually one of the things that makes each of us unique, in a very real sense our habits and idiosyncrasies could be considered to be "identifiers."
Every piece of content that is created also has these "identifiers," and the search engines scan content looking for particular habits and idiosyncrasies that make that content unique, they then use these patterns to decide how to index each piece of content.
When it comes to optimizing your SharePoint website, the way you write your web copy is very important. In our example of optimizing a piece of content for "Hotel Industry News," we are going to want to mention that term in the copy several times.
With SharePoint Websites I recommend a slightly more aggressive approach when it comes to optimizing copy:
Make sure you use your targeted search term at least twice in your first paragraph and at least once in the last paragraph.
Use your targeted search term at least twice in the middle section of your web copy. If possible, in one of these instances make the search term bold, underlined or in italics.
Try and write a minimum of 400 words on each page. This is not always possible but it helps.
Both of these roles are important and we will unpack them below.
"When we go back to the metaphor of a child who is lost in a global shopping mall, not to over simplify but the bigger the search party the more quickly your child will be found. Your child is going to be found much more quickly of members of the crowd are pointing towards where they last saw him or her."
It takes a community to raise a child in the physical and in truth it also takes a community to successfully optimize a piece of content for the search engines in the virtual.
What Exactly Are Off-Page Factors?
Off-page factors" are what other websites (including social sites) are saying about your piece of content. When no one is talking about your piece of content (linking to it, sharing on social), search engines tend to think of it as unimportant.
Let's highlight the corresponding analogies for website SEO when it comes to Off-Page Factors:
Crowd Talk = Social signals, people sharing your links on social media
Announcements by Authority Figures = Directory links and links from high quality blogs
General Help = Links from lower authority blogs.
To overcome SharePoint websites, I recommend that you be more aggressive with building off-page factors. Ways to do this include:
1. Crowd Talk
The more you can encourage others to engage with your pieces of content in the social spaces the better it will be for your search rankings. As the search engines increasingly push their algorithm towards providing local search results (due to massive increases mobile search volumes), social signals have become increasingly important in search rankings.
So it is imperative that you have overarching content and social strategies that are interlinked and working with your SEO strategy.
One of the ways the increase your social sharing of your content is to form alliances with likeminded business communities so that you all share each others content on multiple social channels. One company that facilitates this kind of activity in Social Monkee.
2. Authority Figures Announcement
In the case of a missing child, often authorities will make an announcement over the airways asking for information. This is helpful because an authority figure has influence and they can reach a large number of people extremely quickly.
Getting authority websites talking about and sharing your content is a critical element when it comes to successfully optimizing your SharePoint website. The search engines give a lot of weight to links from high authority websites.
The following strategies are useful when it comes to procuring these kind of links from high authority sites:
- Get your SharePoint Site listed in Important Directories like DMOZ
- Create profiles and a presence in high value, industry specific forums
- Get your content featured on high ranking authority blogs via Guest Blogging, Interviews and Commenting
3. General Help
The bigger your team, the faster you will find your child. When it comes to optimizing your SharePoint website you are going to want as many people as possible pointing to your website.
One of the great things about SharePoint websites is that they typically contain a large number of pages, posts, and images and each one of these provides another entry point to your website and business. A great external link building strategy involves the procuring of externals to each piece of content you produce and not simply links to your home page or sales pages.
There are several ways in which you can build and procure genuine links to your latest blog posts and web pages:
- Blog commenting strategies
- Getting links from your client websites and blogs
- Creating viral content that is aggregated and displayed on other sites
Having your SharePoint website ranked highly on the engines is a critical component to succeeding in today's 21st century environment. Building a
website with SharePoint is challenging but when successful the benefits are huge.
Our goal here at Emgage is to help you and your business thrive within your SharePoint environment. It is our belief that with the assistance of our products
Turbo, the power of SharePoint can be unlocked giving you all the business tools that you need in once centralized area. The value of having your SharePoint website, your SharePoint Intranet, your document storage, your business forms and applications and your workflows all in one place cannot be under-estimated. Efficient collaboration occurs when things are made simple.
That is our goal at Emgage, to put everything in the one place and to make everything simple for you, for your Users and for your clients. To book a demonstration of our products below.
Request a Demonstration of Our Products
Learn why the enterprise and SMBs choose Emgage to empower their Intranets