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Mar 03 2021
Mar 03

This post is an updated part of our Marketer's Guide to Drupal series. This guide will walk you through considerations for choosing an open source CMS, plus case studies and CMO advice to bring your site to the next level.

Supercharge SEO with Drupal

“Over the last 20 years, Drupal has grown into one of the largest enterprise content management systems in the world.” - Drupal Founder Dries Buytaert

Along with the growth of Drupal, the marketing landscape is vastly different now than it was 20 years ago. The same techniques once used to make the top of the search engine no longer work, so marketers need to understand the powerful role a CMS like Drupal can play in building a successful SEO strategy. 

The release of Drupal 8 marked a significant stride in giving content authors more control. That focus continues to evolve with Drupal 9. Notable editor-focused features include a templating engine called Twig for component variety, an API-first foundation to “write once, publish everywhere”, and an editor-friendly content block authoring experience. Layout Builder additionally provides a "drag and drop" module that lets editors add components to pages and add pages to the site with no code. Now, Drupal 9 has even more upgrades for marketers, tech-savvy or not.

This shift places the marketing team in the driver’s seat more often and allows them to get involved in the CMS decision. In this post, we’ll outline some ways you can up your SEO game with Drupal.

Traditional SEO is Dead

No longer will well-placed keywords alone get you to the top of the SERP ranks. Content is still King in the world of marketing, and it’s what helps you improve your SEO.

Every algorithm change Google has made has one thing in common: it aims to provide the best content based on what it "thinks" the user is trying to find. In other words, the user’s intent. If you want your rankings to stick, don't try to cheat the system. Attract your prospects with informative, entertaining pieces that they can use to take action. And avoid no-value posts that are keyword-stuffed with your industry and the word "best" 100 times. Google can see through it and so can all of your users.

That said, there are a few other factors that are critical to keeping your rankings high that can’t be ignored, including quick load times and mobile-friendliness. Drupal 9 is built with several of these factors in mind to help us make needed improvements quickly and effectively.

Mobile-First Mentality

Drupal 9 is created with responsive design capabilities built-in, so you can begin to address many problems immediately. That’s not to say all of your responsive problems will be solved. Content editors still need to think through their content and imagery, and themers will still need to do configuration to establish things like breakpoints. But Drupal 9 will set you on the right path, giving you and your team many of the tools you need.

You’ll also have the option to choose different images and content for desktop and mobile versions right from the WYSIWYG editor, making it easier to see the differences for every piece of content when you add it and before you publish. This means a solid visual of both versions in real-time for faster publishing and peace of mind knowing exactly what your users experience on any device. 

The Need for Speed

Another big factor that could affect your rankings is speed on both desktop and mobile. Google places such high importance that they provide a PageSpeed Insights test to show where and how your website is slowing visitors down. Drupal 9 is “smart” in that it caches all entities and doesn’t load JavaScript unless it has to. This means the same content won’t be reloaded over and over and instead can be loaded quickly from the cache. It also uses a feature called velocity, which makes creating and publishing new dynamic content experiences is significantly faster than in Drupal 7 and older Drupal versions.

Responsive design is a must-have in today’s digital landscape and speeding up your website on both desktop and mobile is a surprisingly effective way to contribute to your SEO efforts. In short, if your marketing team is focused (as you should be) on top rankings, Drupal 9 provides many of the tools to make that happen. 

Accessibility = Key for Search

Drupal 8 spurred an overall commitment to accessibility from the community, and with the release of Drupal 9 came another big push toward improving web accessibility, including: 

This is important because, as we know, the relationship between web accessibility and SEO is closely intertwined. Although accessibility is not actually a Google ranking factor (yet), improving accessibility on your website has a high chance of improving your SEO rank.

SEO Friendly Modules for Drupal 9

There are thousands of modules available for Drupal 9, many of which are perfect for marketers. Whether you’re looking to try out something new or to find something that fits what you already know, you have your pick. Here are our favorite SEO modules to use when optimizing your site:

  1. Metatag - allows you to automatically provide metadata, aka "meta tags", that help search engines understand your content. This must-have module offers over 300 different meta tags for different purposes, so take a look and find the right ones for your site.
  2. Two Metatag submodules that we highly recommend are Twitter Cards and Open Graph. Connect your site to Facebook, LinkedIn, Slack, Twitter, and other social platforms and control how links will look when shared on them.
  3. Schema.org Metatag - provides a way of adding some of the hundreds of standardized metadata structures from the international schema.org project on a site, making it easier to clearly define metadata that Google et al can use to more accurately understand your site’s unique information.
  4. Pathauto - helps save you time from manually having to create URL path/aliases as new content is created.
  5. Sitemap - provides a site map that gives visitors an overview of your site. It can also display the RSS feeds for all blogs and categories.
  6. Redirect - Almost every new site needs to incorporate 301 redirects for old page URLs. This gives site admins an easy interface for creating those redirects in Drupal.
  7. Google Analytics - this simple module allows site admins the ability to easily configure Google Analytics in Drupal.
  8. Easy Breadcrumbs - uses the current URL (path alias) and the current page's title to automatically extract the breadcrumb's segments and its respective links.

Thankfully, because Drupal is open source, you’re not out of luck in the instance that you can’t find a module that works for you. There are many options available for making a new one that works, from building it yourself to enlisting help from a Drupal team like Mediacurrent.

Visualize SEO Success with Siteimprove

In addition to Drupal's SEO-friendly modules, an SEO optimization tool like Siteimprove can…

  • Give content editors information about their technical SEO to make more informed decisions
  • Gain an understanding of how SEO and content intersect for your overall strategy
  • Flag potential issues before your content is published
  • Provide insights about the SEO impact on unpublishing a page

The Siteimprove module works directly in Drupal, giving editors access to these insights while they’re adding content. This means no more waiting to fix it post-publish. It is important to correctly set up Siteimprove in order to get the most out of it and effectively transform your strategy into a workable roadmap for your site.

SEO and Beyond

Drupal’s content management system is perfectly structured for search optimization and its core features support many of the critical SEO elements. But features only take you so far on their own. To manage and continuously improve your SEO, consider a dashboard like Siteimprove that you can customize to show you just how the data is processed and how it impacts your business's goals.

Setting those custom data points and interpreting the data that comes in can be time-consuming and difficult, so if you need any help, our team of Siteimprove certified experts can apply our knowledge to configuring your dashboards and making sense of the data. Get started with a Siteimprove tune up.

Feb 11 2021
Feb 11

In our recent webinar, we set out to help higher ed marketing teams rethink their digital focus for the year ahead. 

We tapped a group of experts with years of experience helping some of the best-known colleges and universities deliver engaging digital experiences to discuss key web strategy takeaways. Members of the expert panel included:

  • Muzel Chen - Senior Digital Strategist, Mediacurrent 
  • Diane Kulseth - Senior SEO Consultant, Siteimprove 
  • Steve Persch - Technical Product Marketing Manager, Pantheon

If you missed our webinar or want to watch it again, check out the full recording: 

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The live audience came ready with their most pressing questions on topics from personalization and SEO best practices to harnessing analytics and breaking down the communication barriers between Marketing and Admission departments. Below is a summary of what was discussed on the webinar. 

Personalization 

Is personalization dead?

Diane Kulseth: I've seen some higher education institutions using personalization effectively by auto-populating forms. That can be really helpful to keep things seamless for the experience for the student. At the same time, we're talking to a generation that's getting more and more skeptical of the internet. 

There's a misconception that adopting new technology will automatically save you time. Technology, like personalization, can save you a lot of time but it will also take time to implement correctly.

Steve Persch: Technology buying decisions are often made on the assumption that by buying a tool, you will get to spend less time doing a certain task. I think a similar motivation leads a lot of people to buy personalization. They think getting a more powerful measuring tool will fix their problem, but it actually gives you more to measure and requires more of your time.

Muzel Chen: There’s also the issue of how do we use personalization effectively? Students want to get information right away and personalization can reduce these obstacles in navigation and process.

Personalization can mean many things, but in the context of higher ed, we can personalize content for an audience based on their common demographics and behaviors. But it also depends on your medium: are you trying to personalize in social media? Website? Email? Text message? Audiences have different expectations from each marketing channel, which is predicated by the amount of PII (Personally Identifiable Information) they have disclosed to those channels. 

Depending on the context and level of personalization, they can range from convenient to creepy, and striking that right balance can be tricky. But when it works, visitors experience a higher level of engagement because of the convenience and they feel the institution cares about them.

SEO Best Practices for Subsites and Domains 

When thinking about a redesign, I know websites should have ONE main goal, but how do you handle a few different audiences without creating microsites? For example, prospective vs. current students?

Muzel Chen: Some of these issues are mitigated by dedicating an area in your architecture for those specific audiences. But there are situations where it feels the content is servicing all audiences or only one exclusively. These situations typically result in microsites which can be difficult to manage. 

An easy way to address those needs is to start with an audience-neutral page, have the audience self-identify, and place those audience-specific pages at a deeper level. For example, common pages where this occurs are: campus living, parking permits, and health services. These top-level pages will have content that speaks to all audiences and grows in detail as the visitor goes deeper into your site. The details can then begin to diverge by audience type. 

Do you see any trend of separate sites vs. subsites for academic departments (or other smaller units) within a university or college?

Muzel Chen: Over the last decade, it's been very common for higher ed to have subdomains (separate sites) for each individual department or school. But, these sites grow out of hand and become difficult to manage especially when there's not any established governance for tracking content updates across all of the subdomains. 

More institutions are starting to transition to the subfolder (or subsite) practice. It’s easier to see the big picture of all your sites and manage them all within their content management system. 

How can one build a culture of importance for SEO across a decentralized organization (i.e., schools, departments, and offices, like Admissions, all run their own websites)?

Diane Kulseth: I think the biggest part is tying it back to what it all means. Whether it's donor relations, increased revenue for the university, or admissions, tie it back to their goals. That's first and foremost and all of that helps the website and it helps your students. It helps your donors. It helps your prospective parents of students to be able to better navigate the website. 

SEO is great for SEO's sake and building great traffic, but it's also really helpful for all your other marketing initiatives to make sure that people are able to get where they want to go on a seamless web experience that loads properly and is easy to navigate with strong information architecture. 

Marketing Strategy and Analytics 

What are some of the challenges you've seen higher ed leaders face when implementing marketing technology?

Muzel Chen: Reporting. I often see data collection tools being misconfigured. Or collecting lots of data without really defining its purpose. Everybody wants to get access to analytics data, and once that's provided, they use it once and never touch it again. Suddenly, you have 100 users and nobody is providing insights. Without data, all planning comes down to guesswork.

Steve Persch: You almost need Google Analytics for your Google Analytics to track who's using it.

Which analytics data seems to be the most valuable to higher ed? I realize this is likely very organization or campaign dependent, but anything generally useful that may not be obvious?

Diane Kulseth: First and foremost, you want to have your reports on RFIs or requests for information and your applications, and then connect that to enrolled students within your CRM or admissions platform. 

Beyond that, once you start digging deeper, it's really important to start looking at insights like when people are coming to this page from an advertising campaign, are they actually engaging with the page for a substantial amount of time? Are they going elsewhere? How are they responding to your marketing messages? Can you get even more granular and start looking at the demographics behind them? Are these men, women, what are their age ranges? What other insights can you glean from your different tools? I think all of that can be really helpful, but again, start with your basics: RFIs, enrollments, and applications.

Overcoming Department Silos 

Do you have any tips for how Admissions and Marketing can work together?

Steve Persch: Shifting to an iterative or agile mindset for your website is especially difficult when so much of a university operates on a semester or year-long calendar. There's an expectation that you need the web plan for the next year or 10. Saying we're going to do small experiments and get feedback week by week is challenging to accomplish in the higher ed ecosystem. However, I think that you need to find a way to do it with strong cross-departmental relationships across those silos. 

Muzel Chen: We talked about analytics access as one of the technology challenges, but as far as a people challenge, what I see most often is communication. A lot of departments are still siloed — especially marketing and admissions.

A good starting point here is setting up a meeting cadence where you can share common challenges to solve and opportunities to pursue. For example, an ideal project is to link marketing and admissions data, which tracks the visitor as they leave the main site and enters the application process. Marketing could validate their campaigns by reviewing the application data, whereas admissions could personalize the student experience by using marketing’s data. 

Optimize Your Higher Ed Site 

Explore how RainU CMS can help your school launch on Drupal in 30 days or less with a Pantheon-powered hosting solution. Together with Siteimprove, Mediacurrent’s digital strategists can help you optimize your website for SEO, accessibility, and overall performance. 

About Drupal Sun

Drupal Sun is an Evolving Web project. It allows you to:

  • Do full-text search on all the articles in Drupal Planet (thanks to Apache Solr)
  • Facet based on tags, author, or feed
  • Flip through articles quickly (with j/k or arrow keys) to find what you're interested in
  • View the entire article text inline, or in the context of the site where it was created

See the blog post at Evolving Web

Evolving Web