SEO

Drupal Search Engine Optimization (D7)

As anyone who builds websites will know, search engine optimization (SEO), i.e. optimizing your website & its content to be more readily searched & discovered via search engines, is both deceptively simple in nature yet takes a good deal of time to maintain correctly. Drupal, the CMS system that I have focused my career on over the past four & half years, has many features that give it a leg up in the SEO battle, though in the end the single most important way of improving a site's SEO is by having good content. That said, there are some tools to help improve a Drupal site's SEO capabilities and a new book from Packt Publishing aims to guide you through it. So, how good is it?

Disclaimer: I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for this review.

The book has just five chapters: an intro to what SEO is all about, how to configure Drupal's core functionality to improve SEO, contrib modules that can help, building an SEO strategy, and tips for maintaining & monitoring the site's progress. All of this comes in at roughly one hundred pages, which is pretty short compared to the previous Drupal 6 SEO book, written by self-made Drupal SEO expert Ben Finklea, which was over 250 pages.

As the maintainer/co-maintainer for two of Drupal's most commonly used SEO-focused modules (Nodewords for D6, Metatag for D7) I was hopeful to see the modules I've put much of my personal time into improving see some promotion, and I wasn't too disappointed in this regard.

The third chapter starts with a page explaining what contrib modules are how to search the Drupal website for them, which should indicate the audience this is written for. It then proceeds to briefly summarize the "Top SEO modules for Drupal", which includes SEO Tools, Facebook social plugins, Global Redirect, Metatag (booyah!), Page Title, Pathauto, Search 404, SEO Checklist, SEO UI, SEO Watcher, Sexy Bookmarks, TagClouds, XML Sitemap. So there's that. Once it finishes explaining what each of the modules is for it then goes into a brief summary of how to configure each module. And this is where I have a problem with the book.

One of the reasons I collaborate with the prolific Dave Reid on the Metatag module is that it covers most of the metadata that pages need, and you don't really need any other modules to handle this functionality. Specific things it is able to handle are the page title (the normal HTML "title" tag), the canonical URL tag, Open Graph tags (used with Facebook), Twitter Card tags (used with Twitter), Dublin Core tags, etc, along with some of the more basic "description" and "keywords" meta tags. Our idea is to have all of this functionality (and more over time) bundled together so it can be easily customized via one location, rather than having to go to one module's page to change the canonical tags, another for the page title, somewhere else for Open Graph, etc.

Why do I bring this up? Well, as with every other Drupal 7 -focused SEO article I've read, the book promotes using the Page Title module for handling the title tag even though the Metatag module has always let you customize the page title (even Dave's first code in early 2011 had it!) thus making the Page Title module completely redundant. Secondly, while Drupal core outputs a canonical URL tag on its own, with Metatag you can actually control what is output and override it per page (if you really need to), but the book discusses using GlobalRedirect module for this and not Metatag; yes, GlobalRedirect can help with other things, but you sure don't need it to add the canonical URL tag.

Another aspect that would have improved the book is a good explanation of what tokens are and how to use them as many of the SEO modules use them extensively. For the uninitiated, tokens are the small strings found in e.g. Metatag's fields on node edit pages that are wrapped in square brackets that get converted into something more useful when the page is displayed, e.g. [site:url] will output the main URL for the site, [node:title] shows the title of the current node page, etc, and it definitely would have helped to cover these in detail.

The rest of the content is fairly good, I'm just a bit disappointed at the inaccuracies in its coverage of modules. Between that and the book's length, this is a book I'd only recommend if you really are new to SEO best practices, and even then expect to need to do a lot of additional research.

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Archive of Page Title module with critical bug fixed (654758)

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While working on multiple sites I've used a wide range of Drupal modules for the purpose of boosting the site's search engine ranking by way of common SEO practices.  One common requirement for this is to be able to override the browser title, aka "page title" beyond just using the article's title.  Thankfully there happens to be a module (i.e. a plugin) specially for this, the suitably named Page Title.

The Page Title module lets you set up a series of rules to control the title based on different things - the type of content, the vocabulary the keyword/term belongs to, etc, which covers for the vast majority of uses.  For those occasions when you need a little more flexibility there's an option to allow each item to be overridden on an individual basis, so e.g. one node can have some extra words added to the title.  The workflow should then be:

  • If an item-specific title is assigned, use it,
  • Otherwise use the configured rule (dubbed a "pattern"),
  • If no rules match the current situation, just a default.

The problem was that for taxonomy term pages ("category" or "topic" pages in in layman's terms) the overridden title was never loaded, it always used the rules.

After about two hours of poking around and testing different techniques, I put together a patch that should work correctly.  In my albeit limited testing it seems to correctly handle page rules and overrides for both normal content (nodes) and term (taxonomy-term) pages and so should be fine to use.  While I have submitted a patch there are always users who do not know how or are otherwise unable to deal with patch files, so to give others a chance to test this change I'm providing a full download of the module's current latest code with the patch applied.  If you happen to have some time to test it out, please do so and submit any feedback or virtual high-fives to the original issue on drupal.org.

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New Information Architecture book is awesome

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I picked up a review copy (review forthcoming) of O'Reilly's new Information Architecture for the World Wide Web, 3rd edition, and so far it is a simply inspiring book. I'm only fifty-ish into its almost 500 pages but I've already started to brainstorm ideas for a huge improvement to the website at work, which I intend starting shortly after the holidays. Of all of the tech books I've read this is so far one of the best from a general knowledge point of view - the lessons to be learned in this book aren't just for web development, they're for anyone creating any sort of software. While I'm far from finishing it I already would have to count it as a must-read for anyone developing websites, both internal and public-facing, you won't be disappointed!

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