last person joined: 10 days ago 

Ask a question. Give advice. Share resources. Looking for software or hardware recommendations? Want to know how others are using text messaging in their work? Trying to find examples of IT policies? The NTEN Discuss forum is a great resource for all of the above and more! It's the general discussion list for the NTEN community, and folks all over the US (and the world) are sharing their questions, answers, and news about nonprofit technology.

Basic SEO questions

  • 1.  Basic SEO questions

    Posted Nov 15, 2017 18:29
    Hi all,

    I need to start working on the SEO for this here platform. The software will let me add a canonical URL, meta description, and additional meta tags for the platform, each group, and even each thread. I have no idea what those things are.

    I'm sure I'm not the only one who might be interested in this info so I thought I'd ask publicly. What is a canonical URL? What's the difference between a meta description and meta tags?

    Thank you in advance!

    Bethany Lister
    Community Engagement Manager
    Nonprofit Technology Network
    2020 Nonprofit Technology Conference Logo  w/ Baltimore Skyline

  • 2.  RE: Basic SEO questions

    Posted Nov 16, 2017 09:16
    So canonical url is something where your CMS may produce two different URLs to the same entry. When one is more friendly for search you can enter that as canonical URL so search engines will use that instead of the other. It's a little tricky and more common with eCommerce sites than a typical marketing site - Heres some more information. Use canonical URLs - Search Console Help

    Now the rest of the tags can vary from a few simple tags to a very deep assortment. This depends on many factors most commonly how your CMS is setup and what SEO tools are available.

    So for meta description this is the content that would appear along with the link in your search result. Depending on other meta used (opengraph description) it may be the content that shows in a social post as well. It is recommended these be between 70 - 160 characters (spaces included) and that you should have a unique one for each post. This content tells a search engine a lot about the content of the page.  You want to naturally weave keywords into the content that are relevant to the content. It is also considered a good practice to include the name of your organization in the description as well.

    Keywords are not used by Google any longer; however, bing and other platforms still look at them. So if you have the capability to set those you should.

    Opengraph tags if you can set them are used most notably by Facebook and LinkedIn. These provide additional data to these platforms to help them a) get to know your content and b) render a rich media post (the nice little box you get when you add a link to your status update). An Opengraph Title, Description, Image are all things that if you have the ability to, you should set on a per entry basis.

    It's important to keep in mind that social platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn will scrape your page when someone adds a link to create a rich media "card" to go along with a status updated automatically. Setting Opengraph tags simply lets you share forward what you would like them to display instead of what their code logic will choose.

    Then there are Twitter specific tags that can help you define the content and style of a Twitter card should someone share your page/entry on Twitter.

    In addition to meta tags you want to do things like make sure images have alt tags and have file names that are human and often have keywords in them. Also using headers on pages to organize your content is important. Make sure you only have one H1 tag on a page and that your H2, H3, ... are used in an outline fashion. It is more important to select headers in an content outline context than how they look. So don't choose an H4 after an H2 just because it is smaller. If you need to separate the look from the content context then that is something that should be explore in your CMS build/setup.

    Hope this helps.

    Seth Giammanco
    Principal, Technology
    Brooklyn, NY

    2020 Nonprofit Technology Conference Logo  w/ Baltimore Skyline

  • 3.  RE: Basic SEO questions

    Posted Nov 16, 2017 11:32
    Hi Bethany,

    Great question! I'm glad NTEN wants these threads more out there in the world to help folks learn from our amazing community.

    Seth got you off to a great start, so I only have two things two add, one of which will be technical.

    tl;dr: Meta descriptions are for humans. There are one or more technical problems getting in your way that the forum software is probably causing.

    First, meta descriptions. As best I know, these are entirely for humans. That is to say the words that appear in them don't directly impact your ranking in anyway, but a good description can entice a searcher to click through to your page because your meta description appears relevant to them. As Seth mentioned, social sites may also use these descriptions to preview links for people. And even Google doesn't always show the meta description you wrote but instead tries to customize it for the search term.

    Second, I think you should talk to the forum provider about SEO. I'm seeing a few things that suggest not all messages are getting indexed. I get the sense that there are some technical problems that need to be fixed before any type of text optimization you made would have much impact.

    Some things I've found:

    1. Thread URLs are messy and a message can have multiple URLs. This is really bad for search and is what a canonical URL should address. However, a forum should automatically provide a canonical URL for each thread by default, so that's what I'd send this up the tech support chain. As an example, you can find the WordPress May 2016 question of the month at at least these three addresses respectively found from a search engine, forum search results, and clicking through from the "Discussions" tab of the forum.
      1. https://community.nten.org/communities/community-home/digestviewer/viewthread?MID=40787
      2. https://community.nten.org/communities/community-home/digestviewer/viewthread?GroupId=571&MID=40787&CommunityKey=76218446-efc9-4c49-9462-59b5d88daecb&tab=digestviewer
      3. https://community.nten.org/communities/community-home/digestviewer/viewthread?MessageKey=552084db-30e6-4e7d-9704-0069a6601312&CommunityKey=76218446-efc9-4c49-9462-59b5d88daecb&tab=digestviewer#bm552084db-30e6-4e7d-9704-0069a6601312#bm0.
    2. Closely related, the above thread does not have a canonical URL specified in the HTML, so search engines have no way of knowing those three addresses represent the same page. Worse, they may think you're trying to trick them into thinking you have three pages when you only have one.
    3. You can see that all those addresses start with "https://community.nten.org/communities/community-home/digestviewer/viewthread", yet when I do a search on Google for "site:https://community.nten.org/communities/community-home/digestviewer/viewthread", I'm given 2,610 results which is less than half of the Discuss threads alone.

    Taken together, those two things say to me that Google is unable to crawl your website effectively, has possibly been penalized for "duplicate content" (#1 above, though this is especially speculative), and definitely there's something amiss that's technical and not content-based.

    At a bare minimum,

    • Each thread needs a canonical URL (and I don't think you should have to manually create those).
    • Search Engines need to be able to crawl the forums. (I have no idea why they aren't.) Starting by setting up Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools for https://community.nten.org and submitting XML Site Maps to each would be a good start. They'll be able to tell you what other problems they see when you sign up.
    Hope this is all useful, and good luck!

    Mark Root-Wiley

    MRW Web Design / MRWweb.com / @MRWweb
    Thoughtful WordPress Website for Nonprofits & Mission-Driven Organizations
    Seattle, WA

    2020 Nonprofit Technology Conference Logo  w/ Baltimore Skyline

  • 4.  RE: Basic SEO questions

    Posted Nov 16, 2017 13:42
    What a great explanation! You're a great teacher, Mark!

    Tricia Maddrey Baker
    Social Media/Communications Manager
    Aplastic Anemia & MDS International Foundation
    Bethesda, MD

    2020 Nonprofit Technology Conference Logo  w/ Baltimore Skyline

  • 5.  RE: Basic SEO questions

    Posted Jan 04, 2018 01:11
    Check out these articles for more info:

    1. SEO Meta Description Best Practices from Moz
    2. How to: Conduct an SEO Audit
    3. Organic SEO Tips
    4. Quality is Key
    Let me know if you've any questions!

    Ali Jaffar
    Lead Developer at Key Medium LLC

    Visit www.keymedium.com for info on how we can help your organization succeed online, or explore nonprofit advice and news at www.donors.today

    2020 Nonprofit Technology Conference Logo  w/ Baltimore Skyline

  • 6.  RE: Basic SEO questions

    Posted Nov 17, 2017 08:08
    To some extent this should be automated, to some extent you should be able to manipulate it manually. You should definitely have manual control over the main community landing pages.


    A url like this is neither person nor SEO friendly:


    ...and should be more like this:


    That's something the website should do automatically, which any CMS ought to be able to handle.


    For that page, is:

    WordPress - NTEN Community

    Well, that would be ok for the main landing page of the community. Google usually shows 70 characters, so maybe could be:

    WordPress - NTEN Community - So we can get to know each other, please

    The full sense isn't always going to be clear and relies on forum users writing snappy titles. But at least then every one will be slightly different.


    What's the description meta tag for that page? Let's take a look...

    <meta name="DESCRIPTION" content="Hidden page that shows all messages in a thread" />

    Oops. That's really not good and clearly wasn't meant to be displayed to search engines. Maybe it could automatically use the forum description instead:
    A place for nonprofit WordPress developers and content managers of all skill levels.

    Or , the first 25 words of the post itself:

           So we can get to know each other, please post a little bit about yourself and your experience with WordPress as a reply to this...

    However you do it, avoid repetition of phrases in the title and description.

    Jason King
    Freelance WordPress development and Google Ad Grant management
    Mirepoix, France


    Twitter: @jasoncsking

    2020 Nonprofit Technology Conference Logo  w/ Baltimore Skyline