Unlike a regular website, where you write content for each page, target keywords and optimize text, a forum community's content is predominantly written by users. They don't know or care about your site's SEO and just want to interact with other users or find answers to their questions.
To keep your community moving forward, Invision Community implements many best-practice SEO techniques and approaches for you automatically, without you needing to lift a finger.
Even still, there are a few additional steps you can take to potentially help your site rank better.
How Invision Community helps you automatically
Invision Community does a lot of automatic SEO for you behind the scenes to help your site rank better or to help search engines understand your content. Some of those include:
A sitemap file helps search engines to locate pages within your site. This helps search engines find pages so they will be crawled quicker. Invision Community automatically generates a sitemap for you that points to all of your content URLs, and submits it to Google.
Another way a site can help search engines is by providing metadata about a page. For example, if the page contains a review, additional data can be supplied to the search engine with rating count, average, and so on. There are dozens of items that can be described in this way, and doing so can mean your results in search engines display this additional data. This makes results more useful to users, potentially leading them to click on your result versus another. It can also help search engines understand your content better.
Search engines can penalize your site in situations where the same content can have multiple URLs. With software that generates pages dynamically, such as a community, this can happen frequently because there are URLs to get the last read post, the latest post, the first post and so on, all ultimately pointing to the same topic page. Invision Community takes care of this for you by setting a canonical URL for every page, telling the search engine which is the definitive URL it should use.
The HTML markup used to generate a page is possibly the most important factor impacting SEO. Each HTML tag has a specific meaning (e.g. H1 is an important title) and allows search engines to determine the structure of the page. It's therefore important that tags are used correctly and in the appropriate context - known as semantic markup. Invision Community has been built with semantic markup principles in mind right from the start.
Google has been transitioning to a mobile-first approach when crawling sites and it's likely this does or will factor into its PageRank system. Now more than ever it is important that your community offers a genuine mobile experience. Invision Community achieves this by supporting responsiveness - where the theme adapts depending on size of the screen being used - by default.
What you can do to improve ranking
Let search engines see your content
One of the most important things you can do to help with SEO might seem obvious, but we've seen many people unwittingly neglect it: ensure that search engines can see your content!
It's tempting to lock down your community so that users have to log in before being able to see your content, and for some communities this might be necessary. However, a search engine can only see content accessible to guests, and so by locking your community down a search engine won't be able to see very much at all, and your pages won't show in search results.
Wherever possible, we suggest allowing guests to read your content, though you can require registration to reply.
Even ignoring SEO this is a good idea, because it's more secure for your users and browsers are increasingly alerting users about sites that don't use HTTPS, showing them as insecure.
In terms of SEO, research has shown a correlation between between sites using HTTPS and their ranking position, and in 2014 Google indicated that HTTPS would be a “ranking signal” going forward. Given the other benefits of HTTPS, it would therefore be wise to enable it across your community.
Ensure your site loads fast
A fast-loading site is very important for rankings, and so you should do what you can to keep your community running quickly. This includes:
Enable guest caching
Invision Community includes a built-in caching system for pages viewed by guests, ensuring they don't have to be re-generated for every page view. This can greatly speed up your site for guest users and therefore search engines. This is automatically configured on our Cloud services.
Don't go overboard with plugins
A few good plugins can set your community apart from others, but going overboard can significantly slow down your load times or clutter your interface.
Be wary of image-heavy themes
As with plugins, a great theme is a good thing to have, but try to avoid one with extensive use of very large images.
Choose a good host
Some website hosts are slower than others, so ensuring your host is up to scratch is important. Of course our Cloud services are a great solution here!
Use 301 Redirects if migrating
If you're migrating from another community platform, your page URLs will change to reflect Invision Community's architecture. You can greatly improve SEO retention by using special redirects (known as 301 Redirects) to send users from your old URLs to the new. Search engines understand this method and will update their records.
We include redirects in our free migration packages to help you retain your SEO standings after migrating to Invision Community.
Write relevant content
If your site targets a particular niche, you may see benefit in writing longer-form content as articles on a site blog. This kind of content ranks well and allows you to ensure keywords are used (versus content posted by members, which can be anything). You can also encourage further discussion of the article in the wider community, amplifying its benefit.
For a site news page/blog, our Pages app can be used to build an articles section for this purpose.
Use social media profiles to your benefit
You should register social media profiles for your site on the popular platforms and make them a part of your presence. These sites rank very highly of course, and so if your social profiles can also rank highly for your name, they can be a good way of directing traffic to your site.
Use the ‘About' section of the profile to write an interesting blurb about what your site offers. Create eye-catching header images and profile photos to use on the profiles too. Cross-link each social profile to the others (and back to your site, of course). Finally, link to your social profiles from your site too. Invision Community allows you to easily do this and insert icons in your header or footer.
Beyond that, you can also use social media to your advantage by cross-linking some of your best content to it. We'll go into more detail on how best to leverage social media in a future article, but the new Promote functionality in Invision Community is a great way of achieving this.
As always, content is king when it comes to ranking, and that should be your most important focus. Fostering a vibrant community that creates and shares interesting content is key. You can then use SEO methods boosted by Invision Community features to expand your community's reach in search engines.
If you have any SEO tips that have helped your site, we'd love to hear them. Share them in the comments below!