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[IPS News] 4.4: SEO Improvements

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It's been said that the best place to hide a dead body is on page 2 of Google.

While we can't promise to get you to page 1 for a generic search term, we have taken some time for Invision Community 4.4 to do an SEO sweep.

Moz.com defines SEO as "a marketing discipline focused on growing visibility in organic (non-paid) search engine results. SEO encompasses both the technical and creative elements required to improve rankings, drive traffic, and increase awareness in search engines."

We have the technical skills and were fortunate enough to have Jono Alderson of Yoast lend his time, knowledge and vast experience to improve our SEO.

This blog article gets a little technical. It's completely fine to leave at this point with the comfort of knowing that Google will be a little happier on your site with Invision Community 4.4.

The majority of the changes are designed to send stronger signals to Google and friends over which content to slurp and which to look at a bit later.

Still here? Good. Let us roll up our sleeves and open the hood.

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Pagination
The most visible change is that we've taken pagination out of query strings and placed it in the path.

For example, the current pagination system looks a little like:
yoursite.com/community/forums/123-forum/?page=3

Which is fine but it gets a little confusing when you add in a bunch of sort filters like so:
yoursite.com/community/forums/123-forum/?sort=asc&field=topic&page=3

A better approach would be to make a clear signal to both Google and humans that pagination is a separate thing.

Invision Community 4.4 does this:
yoursite.com/community/forums/123-forum/page/3/?sort=asc&field=topic

Not only is this good for search engines, but it's also good for the humans too as it is more readable and no longer confused with filter parameters.

Of course, we ensure that the old style pagination is redirected (via a 301 header) to the new pagination URL automatically so nothing breaks.

Canonical Tags
These tags are a way of telling search engines that a specific URL is the 'master copy' of a page. This helps prevent duplicate content from being indexed.

Without it, you are leaving it up to the search engine to choose which is the master copy of the page.

For example:

yoursite.com/community/forums/123-forum/ and yoursite.com/community/forums/123-forum/?sort=desc&field=time may show the same content but have different URLs.

By setting the canonical tag to point to yoursite.com/community/forums/123-forum/ regardless of filters sends a strong signal to the search engines that this is the page you want to be spidered.

Invision Community sets these tags in many places, but we audited these in 4.4 and found a few areas where they were missing.

For example, viewing a member's profile doesn't always set a canonical tag which may confuse search engines when you click on "View Activity" and get a list of content items.

Soft 404s
When an application or website wants to tell the visitor that the page they are looking for doesn't exist, it sends a 404 header code along with a page that says something "We could not find that item" or "No rows available".

If a search engine spiders a page that looks like a 404 page, but it doesn't have the 404 header code, it logs it as a "soft 404".

Given the short amount of time Google has on your site to discover new content, you don't want it to hit many soft 404s.

Invision Community 4.4 omits containers (such as forums, blogs, etc.) that have no content (such as a new forum without any topics yet) from the sitemap, and also adds a 'noindex, follow' meta tag into the HTML source.

Google will periodically check to see if the status of the page has changed and happily slurp away when content has been added.

Other changes
Although the changes listed here don't deserve their own section in this article, they are no less important.

We have audited the new JSON-LD markup added to Invision Community 4.3 to help search engines better understand the relationship between pages.

The "truncate" method that is used to display a snippet of text in areas such as the activity stream now only sends the first 500 characters to the javascript method to reduce page loads and page 'noise'.

The profile view in Invision Community contains a mix of information pertinent to the member and content they've authored.

We've ensured that the content areas are using a specific URL, with appropriate canonical tags. This will help reduce confusion for search engines.

If you made it this far, then well done. It's time to slam the hood closed and mop our collective brows.

These changes will certainly help Google and friends spider your site a little more efficiently and have a clearer idea about what pages and data you want to be indexed which can only improve your ranking.

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