Why should EPiServer editors focus on SEO?

According to the SiteAttention promo video, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) will help websites like Betty's car manufacturing company "I-Roll" (obvious pun on Volvo) increase their revenue. (Perhaps fellow Swedish car manufacturer SAAB should have focused more on SEO?)

Producing great content alone isn't enough if users can't find it. SEO helps bridge the gap between content and search engines.

(TL,DR? Jump to the summary.)

Expert SEO advice plugged directly into EPiServer

SiteAttention for EPiServer CMS is an SEO tool by Danish company SiteAttention A/S. The plugin can be downloaded from EPiServer World, and comes in license versions Freemium (free) and Premium.

Main features

  • installs as a regular EPiServer module via DeploymentCenter, small footprint
  • shows SEO improvement suggestions in realtime while the editor types
  • can be used to improve previously created content as well
  • improvement suggestions are easily comprehensible for editors with no prior SEO experience
  • graphical elements like pie charts and status bars help the editor interpret the data quickly
  • percentage scores add a game-like quality and makes achieving 100% a fun challenge
  • when new SEO rules/advice are added, they become available to all editors automatically

Freemium license version

  • is free to download and use
  • is a functional but stripped-down version
  • includes a selection of SEO best-practises rules/advice for text content, titles etc
  • provides simplified matching of content against keywords/phrases 

Premium license version

  • has a monthly license fee
  • includes more best-practises rules/advice for text content, titles etc
  • enables categorizing of important keywords and phrases, for editors working with content in different business areas/topics
  • can suggest keywords and phrases based on content
  • can suggest keywords and phrases by analyzing frequently used search phrases (via Google Keywords/AdWords integration)
  • can retrieve web traffic data to measure effect on pageviews and search queries (via Google Analytics integration)
  • supports keyword analysis using English, Danish, Swedish and Norwegian language (Norwegian is not listed on the Premium info page, but it is indeed supported)

SiteAttention rates the SEO friendliness in realtime while the editor types

Installation footprint

Please see the press release for installation and activation instructions.

The installation footprint is small. The following is added to your website root:

  • an assembly in \bin
  • an xml file in \lang
  • a new folder \modules\SiteAttention containing ASPX, CSS and JS files

Config files and database are not touched by installation.

After installation, a new module called "SiteAttention" will be visible under the CMS tab.
Note: This tab has no function other than to display SiteAttention's own website in an iframe. Wasting dashboard space with blunt advertising like this is bad IMHO. (Disabling the tab is a bit tricky, but a quick fix is to empty the contents of the \modules\SiteAttentionInfo.aspx file. Don't delete it though - will cause a 404.)

Dashboard tab used for advertising adds no value to the website

You'll find the plugin configuration under Admin Mode > Tools > SiteAttention. This is where you activate the plugin, enter license key and adjust settings for properties.

Adjusting generic settings

The plugin need to know what kind of properties each pagetype contains.

By default, the only properties SiteAttention will monitor are variants of string (String, LongString, Xhtml) - properties like PageName, Heading, MainBody etc.
To show other propertytypes, uncheck the box "Only show Properties of type String, LongString and XhtmlString".

Also by default, most built-in properties are hidden. To show and configure all properties, uncheck the box "Only show selected built in Properties".
Note: Use with caution. Editors really shouldn't be given the option to mess with built-in properties for pagetypes. Properties like PageName often affect the page's FriendlyUrl and will mess with visitors' bookmarks. 

Configuring how SiteAttention interacts with pagetype properties

The user interface

The Admin mode plugin and the dashboard tabs inherit the look-and-feel of EPiServer CMS. 

However, the user interface that is showed during editing is differently styled and feels distinctly more like a third party tool than an integrated module. Unfortunately there is no way for the site owner to apply EPiServer styles since the stylesheets are hosted externally at SiteAttention.com. 

Still, it's a sleek, intuitive and functional interface. 

Exploring the SEO toolbox

Using tools and rules

The SiteAttention toolbox docks discreetly in the lower right corner while editing, and slides into view when clicked. This is a nice feature that keeps the tools ready to use without stealing too much of the editor's workspace.

Most scores are updated automatically while content is typed, however sometimes it seems the page must be saved to force the score to be updated. No big deal.

Most of the rules/advice are useful and intuitive. However, some of them might feel a little bit forced for editors who are used to writing natural flowing content, without systematically repeating keywords and phrases. E.g. the rules "There should be keywords and phrases in all headers" and "The body text should contain between 4 and 8 keywords per 100 words".

While this can improve SEO, it forces editors to add words they otherwise might not. It depends on how much SEO experience the editor has.

Some of the SEO rules forces the editor to use more words than natural

Integrations with external sites

For Premium users, the integration with Google Keywords (AdWords) and Google Analytics is a really nice touch. Statistics about pageviews, search queries and keywords are retrieved and used to suggest improvements to the editor. 

Google Keywords and Google Analytics are of course free standalone tools which most editors should have some experience with. Even if they don't, the data is incorporated in SiteAttention in a way that is intuitive for editors, and can add valuable statistics.

The SiteAttention engine is not actually fully integrated into EPiServer, it is hosted on SiteAttention's own servers, and interfaces with the EPiServer content using a little Javascript magic. This way, the engine can introduce new rules and algorithms, which are instantly available on each EPiServer site without the need for a re-installation. (This also allows SiteAttention to be reused for several CMS systems).

This model naturally requires that website owners can trust SiteAttention.com not to archive sensitive analytics data and details about keywords, categories etc (which I'm sure they don't). For many businesses, content/keywords strategy is what gives them an advantage over competitors.

SEO has changed - Quality content trumps trickery

SEO used to be a shady businessSEO used to be a complex and shady business, reserved for experts who could trick search engine robots into boosting their site's ranking. Content quality often didn't matter as long as page ranking was high. High visibility = traffic = sales.

Search engines have evolved since then. Their algorithms now reward content written for humans, not robot spiders. The major search engines have implemented penalty systems where sites that over-optimize get a lower ranking. 

As a result, content quality has improved in the last few years. More and more editors focus on creating well-written, well-structured content, which on its own helps improve SEO.

SEO practises have changed a lot as well. In the past, getting a good ranking required an arsenal of meta tags, artifical keyword stuffing and other trickery. Now, good content combined with a manageable set of meta tags and keyword placement will give good results.

Content strategy and SEO are now two important pieces of the same puzzle. 

Summary

The good:

  • Pain-free installation and setup
  • Intuitive and requires minimum pre-knowledge of SEO
  • Even free version adds a lot of value
  • Makes improving content into a fun challenge rather than a chore
  • Integration with backend analytics tools
  • Will make the editor more aware of the correlation between good content and SEO

The bad:

  • Dashboard tab should be used for something more useful than self-promotion
  • Limited ways to customize the module since engine and styles are hosted externally
  • Editors without understanding of SEO will alter their content without knowing why or what it does, just to reach a 100% score. Content quality (as in readability for humans) may suffer a bit from this.

 

Thanks to SiteAttention AS for providing us with a Premium license for review purposes, and for quick response to a few bugs that were encountered during my research.