Introduction to SEO for Philatelic Website Owners

By Don Denman

Your website has been published and users should be flowing to it; but day after day traffic just is not what it should be. You try adding some images, some promotions, but still no big increase in traffic. Establishing online traffic is not really much different than establishing traffic for a brick and mortar store. And if you opened a new brick and mortar store you would not simply expect ‘build it and they will come’. You need to do steps to get the people in the door and an website is no different. One of things that can help you generate that traffic is SEO (Search Engine Optimization). SEO is the process of making improvements to your philatelic website in order to gain more exposure by ultimately pushing your site higher in the search results.

Search engines are the gateway to most of online activity, Google alone accounts for 1.8 billion searches per day. ‘Let me Google it’ is now part of our vernacular. And how important is it that your website ranks highly? According to a recent study on web ranking, only 5% of users make it past the first page when searching for something in a search engine. That means that 95% of people searching for something will either find what they are searching for on the first page or will just move on.

SEO has evolved into a multifaceted topic but anyone can understand the basics. There is value in philatelic website owners understanding how search engines work but this task is made more complex by the fact that each search engine uses proprietary algorithms that they hold in secret; it is the ‘key to the kingdom‘ and they do not want people knowing how they rank sites. They also switch gears fairly often and all of this makes SEO a challenge to understand. While you can hire a person or company (for big bucks) there are a number of things that a stamp web site owner can do themselves to increase their rankings in search engines.

 Conceptually there is one point to keep in mind; the objective of all search engines. Search engines consider the ‘searcher’ as their primary customer, they want every query to return the best quality and most relevant search results. So everything described below helps them meet that objective.

 The most important thing that a philatelic website owner can do is add website content. A dealers and organizations should consider adding content beyond just touting the product(s) or service(s) they offer. In other words, do not simply have pages that describe items for sale or membership benefits. Instead make sure your site has instructional pages or articles which help hobbyists. For example, tips on soaking stamps, dispositioning collections, or preservation of covers. Sites with this kind of content will get a higher ranking than site which only lists standard business information.  Another part of the website content is it ‘freshness’; search engine favor website which have not sat unchanged year after year. So plan website content revisions and roll them out over a year, the periodical changes will help the rankings.

 Search engines now also consider the ‘age’ of the domain name; those which have been in existence and have not changed ownership get ranked higher. Domain name stability counts very highly with most search engines so avoid losing this value. They are also starting to rank ‘secure’ (https) website higher than those which are not. Another key component of the current search ranking algorithms is that the site is ‘responsive’ and ‘mobile friendly’. In late 2015 an important ‘tipping point’ was reached when the number of mobile users accessing the internet surpassed the number of desktop users. Since the majority of online users no longer use desktop computers search engines are not interested in sending their users to sites which do not display well on their devices. This trend has not slowed and the number of desktop user will continue to decline and search engines are lowering the rankings of sites which do not support mobile users.

 ‘Responsive’ or ‘mobile friendly’ mean different things, both are important. A ‘responsive’ site is one that responds or dynamically changes based on the device that they are viewing it on. For example, content like text and images change from a three-column layout to a single column display. Unnecessary images are hidden as to not interfere with more important information on the a smaller display. If you are on a desktop computer, you can quickly test if a site is responsive by simply reducing your browser’s window size from full screen; if the appearance of the text, images and menu change as you get smaller, the site is responsive. A ‘mobile-friendly’ philatelic website is one that is coded to work the same way across all devices. And since so many devices and browsers are now needed to be supported, old web technologies like PDF files and Flash animation are problematic. Simplified navigation and high resolution images which scale downward in size are also required.

 One thing a philatelic website owner can do that can help search engines is to develop and implement a sitemap. A sitemap can be thought of as a list of files that helps search engines crawl the website. Sitemaps help the search engines classify the content which they may have not found on their own. A sitemap file sits in the root directory of the website and is typical in XML format. The simplest way to generate one is to use one of the free online tools made to do this; the free versions may be limited to XX number of pages but this is fine for most simple websites. A new sitemap should be generated every few months and/or when significant changes are made to the website.

 Philatelic website owners also have to be aware of ‘on-page SEO’; these are comprised of things like html meta tags located in the header of each page. These header tags are not displayed by browsers. In years past they were critical to SEO but in recent years they have become secondary in search engine ranking algorithms. But while they may not greatly increase a website ranking, used incorrectly they most definitely will lower the ranking.

 There are two primary tags, ‘keywords’ and ‘description’. Like typical html code these are defined as follows (The html code is in black and the customized page info is in red);

 <meta name="description" content="approval service for stamp collectors" />

<meta name="keywords" content="approvals, stamps, covers" />

 The meta description tag is typically limited to 160 characters and should summarize the page’s content. Search engines show the meta description in search results mostly when the searched for phrase is contained in the description. So it is important to understand the function of the meta description tag: its primary purpose is to get the visitor to leave the search engine and to click your link. The meta description tag may not be used directly by a search engine ranking algorithm but there is a clear indirect benefit. Many search engines ranking algorithms do use a click-through-rate (CTR) as a method for determining whether the website is a good result. So if more users click on the search results then they expect they will then move the ranking upwards. This makes having well composed meta descriptions important.

 To compose a well written meta description the following attributes should be considered. Avoid very short descriptions; ideally they should be between 135 to 160 characters. It should be written in the form of a call to action; for example “Learn more about our exciting new stamp tongs” It is critical that the meta description matches the actual page content. Search engines are very wise to anything that ‘tricks’ the visitor into clicking. If a search engine detects this this kind of mismatch, chances are very good they will actual lower your ranking. Always avoid using duplicated meta descriptions across multiple pages. It is better to leave a page meta description blank than to duplicate them.

 The same reasoning goes for the meta keywords tag. In fact, in recent years some search engines have stopped using meta keyword tags while others have not. In my informal testing Google and Bing seem to ignore the keywords but it appears that Yahoo is still using them. Separate keywords with commas and do not duplicate keywords. Again, it is better to have no keywords than to try to ‘trick’ a search engine.

 Title tags are html header tags which are displayed in the ‘tab’ and are implemented like this

 <title>Joe’s Stamp Approval Service Contact Us</title>

 They should be unique, descriptive, and relatively short. You typically want to include significant and relevant keywords in the title.  Again, no tricks.

 As outlined above, SEO has moved away from the older, simple methods of achieving a higher rankings. This is by design, companies like Google have become incredibly advanced and now rely much more on variables which cannot be easily influenced.  Stamp website owners need to be aware of these changes and do what they can to ensure that their customers and users can easily find them.