Google rankings and SEO: Optimize your content for search engines

Search engine optimization (SEO) can increase your site’s visibility by helping your pages rank higher in search engine results.


If you want want to increase visits to your website, you can step up your web game by optimizing your content for search engines like Google, Yahoo! and Bing.

What is SEO?

SEO is a huge and dynamic field, but the basic principles are common sense: Search engines aim to list the most relevant results for a user’s query. To determine relevance, they look for sites that are rich in keywords that match a user’s search, are built following best practices, and that other credible sites are linking to.

By using the WashU Web Theme, you’re already ensuring your site follows many of the best practices search engines consider. But programming can only take your site so far. It also needs quality content and incoming links to make up the rest.

How to optimize your content for search engines:

  • Make a list of the keywords your audience might use to search for a site like yours
  • When possible and practical, include target keywords on the pages of your site, especially in page names, subheadings and image captions; remember that Google ranks each page separately, so different pages should focus on different keywords
  • Use the most important target keywords in your site title, if possible (site URL also used to be a significant factor for SEO but is much less important now)
  • Before uploading images to your site, save them with filenames that include keywords that are relevant to the image and the page content
  • Include images on your site; caption images that appear in the body, and use the alt tag for images that do not show a caption
  • Provide transcripts of audio files, videos, and any other non-text content that a search bot can’t “read”
  • Follow the best practices for web writing
  • Ask writers and managers of other websites to link to pages on your site; it’s even better if their link text includes a relevant keyword or phrase (e.g., The Washington University Sleep Medicine Center provides effective treatment options for many sleep disorders.)
  • Link to pages within your own site when appropriate
  • Avoid black-hat tactics; search engines penalize sites that appear to be trying to cheat the system

It can take a few weeks or even months for search engines to fully index and start ranking a new website, so be patient.

To track your site’s visits, be sure to install Google Analytics on your site.

Using paid ads to get onto page one (SEM)

If your website exists in a competitive niche and organic SEO isn’t getting the results you need, you can also consider targeted ads on sites such as Google or Facebook. This is often called paid search, or search engine marketing (SEM).

Please contact us if you are exploring paid advertising options.