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IPB 3.1: Search Engine Optimization

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Many of our customers have expressed interest in optimizing their forums for search engines, and to that end IPB 3.0 introduced many great features to facilitate this. You may recall from our blog entries leading up to 3.0 that we introduced friendly urls, canonical tag, dynamic meta tag support, and many other useful changes to make indexing your website easier for search engine spiders.

Here are a few blog entries detailing the new features in IP.Board 3.0.

For IP.Board 3.1 we have consulted with an industry specialist to determine some areas of IP.Board where we can optimize the software to better adhere to standards and facilitate easier discovery of content. By making some minor changes to how the software behaves, we can help search engine spiders more easily index your forums, and more easily filter out content that should not be indexed.

Appropriate header codes for errors

Error pages do not need to be indexed by search engine spiders, as they provide no real content that one would expect to search for using a traditional search engine. We have changed IP.Board 3.1 to issue a 500 header code ("Internal Server Error") for most generic error messages. Errors that are indicating the user does not have appropriate permissions will now be delivered with a "403 Forbidden" header code, while error messages that indicate the content could not be found (i.e. an invalid topic id) will issue a "404 Not Found" header code. By using more appropriate header codes, search engines will more easily be able to identify that certain pages should not be indexed, as they are true errors.

The infamous "icon" alt attribute

XHTML Strict standards dictate that an alt attribute must be supplied with every image. The idea is that the alt attribute can be read by screen readers and other assistive technology (as well as by search engine spiders) to better identify what an image represents. Many images in IP.Board are used merely for visual "eye candy" purposes and don't have specific meaning. The title attribute used for anchor tags wrapping the images is more than sufficient to dictate what the link itself is used for, while the image is routinely nothing more than an icon used in place of text to look nicer.

As such, IP.Board 3.0 frequently used "icon" as an alt attribute for many images, because that is what the image was. However, search engine spiders are seeing this as an increasingly relevant term on many IP.Board forums as a result, when clearly many (if not most) forums are not really about "icons". To that end, we have removed "icon" as an alt attribute (in some places, specifying no text as the alt attribute) to de-emphasize the unimportant term. We will be making similar tweaks to other textual and meta data on the page to better help search engines identify what is truly important within any given page.

Cash in on social networking

Social networking is all the craze these days. Love it or hate it, it is hard to deny that social networking is changing the landscape of the internet. Sites like Facebook and Twitter are serving millions and millions of users on a daily basis, making them excellent places to promote your own website to garner interest and put out word of mouth advertising for free.

While IP.Board 3.0 already supports Facebook Connect out of the box, making it easy for users with a Facebook account to simply login to your site using their Facebook credentials, we decided we wanted to do something more for IP.Board 3.1. Pulling IN content is great, but pushing OUT content is even better.

IP.Board 3.1 will feature buttons when viewing a topic that will allow you to quickly push out any given post to Twitter and/or Facebook, making it easier for you and your members to share specific content on your website with large audiences. What's great about this is that this sort of content sharing is much more targetted than generic advertising. If a member shares a specific post on his Facebook "wall", it's much more likely that his friends and colleagues will be interested in the content, and more prone to following the link to your website, than an advertisement block on a random website, or within search engine result listings. Friends and colleagues often share similar interests, after all.

Even more to come

While we feel the above changes are simple but useful tweaks to the existing software, there are some more similarly simple changes we intend to implement to IP.Board 3.1 in order to better position your site to stand out from the crowd. We hope that you feel, as we do, that these improvements will only improve your site, both for search engines, and for your actual users.

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