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IP.Board 3.0 Search Engine Optimization

We receive requests quite frequently to "add SEO to IPB". This is a very difficult request to quantify and to fulfill. What is SEO? What is wrong with IPB's positioning to search engines presently? What can be done better?

We've seen some suggestions over time that make sense, and some we feel would be better left to modifications. While we are not jumping full force into the "SEO" arena with IPB 3, we have made changes throughout the software that we believe will help you position yourself better for search engine indexing. This blog post will touch on a few of these changes.

Semantically correct HTML
The word "semantic" means the study of meaning in communication. Basically, when used in the context of an HTML document, to state that the source code is semantic means that the HTML tags used are appropriate for their representations. It wasn't too long ago that tables were used to position elements in your browser window, and 1x1px gif images were used to pad areas so things looked nice. Those days are (almost) long gone, and today's modern web pages are focusing on producing HTML source code that makes sense, while separating styling to CSS documents and javascript to external javascript files.

When IPB 3 ships it will validate as xHTML valid, and the source code will be semantically correct. Deprecated HTML tags and excessive and unnecessary tags (such as 3-layer nested divs) are not used, and the javascript is not obtrusive (*see comments). Screen readers and search engine spiders should find it much easier to read a topic generated by IPB 3 than IPB 2. Furthermore, all functions should work (although in some cases to a lesser degree) when javascript is not available. Heading tags are used properly and feature keywords related to the content on the page. They also cascade in a defined format so that they represent the content in a meaningful way.

*Note: HTML will be semantic and javascript unobtrusive to the extent possible. There are thousands of configurations, literally, and with so many browsers, options and features it is hard to make a blanket guarantee of this sort. Rikki has explained more about our goals for the skin in another blog entry if you are interested in the new skin.

Microformat support
Microformats are common ways to represent similar data. For instance, it is not uncommon for a random website to have some sort of news or articles data and some sort of user profile page for each user. Microformats were developed so that these common things could be represented in a common way to help further the web. By utilizing microformats, other webpages and scripts can parse your page and extract valuable data that they can then share. Even Internet Explorer 8 will be making use of Microformats for some of it's cooler new features, while other browsers already do or are also planning to.

IP.Board 3 makes use of several microformats to help your document make sense to tools that can read and understand these formats. Specifically, we are making use of the hCard, hCalendar, rel-nofollow, rel-tag, and rel-home microformats. We also make use of some other common relationship attributes where appropriate (such as "rel='help'" for the link to the help documentation), even though they are not necessary full-fledged microformats at this time. Furthermore, we will continue exploring and watching microformats, and applying them as they develop and relate to IPB.

rel='nofollow' Support
This is another common request we receive: making all posted links in topics utilize the "rel='nofollow'" attribute appropriately. Many users, on the other hand, have asked that we do not implement this. The idea is that search engines should understand "rel='nofollow'" to mean that the webmaster is not endorsing the link, so when the search engine follows it, the search engine shouldn't penalize the website the link is hosted on should they determine it was a bad link, or irrelevant to the linking site.

We have added a setting to allow users to enable this without having to make source code modifications. The rel='nofollow' attribute will be automatically appended to all urls posted and parsed through the normal bbcode routines when the setting is enabled.

Removal of "(Powered by Invision Power Board)" from board index
For years, since the beginning of IPB, the page title of the board index page has had "(Powered by Invision Power Board)" added to it if you did not purchase copyright removal. We did not disallow users from removing this text, however, and many users did.

We've gone ahead and bit the bullet, and removed this text from the base release.

Removal of "lo-fi" version
The lofi version in IP.Board was meant to provide a toned-down basic representation of the current topic or forum. It was useful for both search engines and mobile browsers. It was so useful, in fact, that many times when you reach an IPB in a search engine listing you will actually end up at the lo-fi page instead of the full-version page.

In IP.Board 3 we have removed the lofi version entirely in favor of the new output engine capabilities. A mobile skin can be set directly through the admin control panel, negating the necessity for an entirely different script to serve the content. This is the great thing about the MVC pattern for all you developers - leave the model and controller alone, and just change the view itself.

The relationship to search engine optimization comes into play when you consider that the lo-fi version and the full version are essentially duplicating the content from one another, and a commonly held belief exists that search engines penalize you for duplicate content. While we can't speak for what any given search engine actually does, we did feel this feature was deprecated and no longer needed given advances in the skin system in IPB, and have removed it entirely.

Changing of modes moved to user control panel
It's not uncommon for a search engine to index a link to a topic on a site running IP.Board, and for some unknown reason decide the topic is best represented when "&mode=outline" is added to the URL. While this doesn't stop you from visiting the page, it DOES change the layout of the page, and for newcomers some of the alternate layouts may not be as easy to follow when they first visit your site.

Many users do utilize the different layout options (which are handled on a per user-account basis) so we did not feel it wise to remove these options. Instead, we have moved the ability to change the layout of topics to the user control panel. This should stop search engines from indexing topics with "mode" parameters in them, reducing confusion for visitors actually clicking the link to visit your site.

Additional features
Additionally, we've already gone over a few other changes that are related to better search engine positioning which we need not repeat here. Just as a brief recap, you may also be interested in reading these blog entries

There are many more minor but important improvements buried deep within IP.Board 3 that should help you keep your site listed in search engines appropriately. While we won't jump on the SEO bandwagon and advocate certain styles of running your site or formatting your urls, we are doing our part to bring basic functionality our users have requested with regards to their site's optimization into reality with IPB 3.

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