Off page factors in SEO

Search engine optimization in life science and biotech marketing.

Where is the very first place you turn when you want to learn something new or if you are searching for a solution to a business challenge? Like most people, you probably turn to your trusty search engine. And when you look at the results that show up in your search engine, how often do you look farther into the search results than what is on the first page? Like most people, you probably hardly ever do so.

If someone is looking for a solution just like the product/service your life science or biotech company offers, where will they turn? To search engines. And how likely are they to look deep into the search results? Not likely at all. These two points highlight the importance of helping your prospects find your company through Search Engine Optimisation (SEO).

This highlights the importance of search engine optimization for life science companies. In short, if you can’t be found, you might as well not exist.

This highlights the importance of search engine optimization for life science companies. In short, if you can’t be found, you might as well not exist.

Last month I discussed a few of the fundamental principles of getting found – that is, improving your life science and biotech marketing results through Search Engine Optimization; I reviewed “on-page” factors related to the content that appears on the web page itself, such as headlines and body copy. “Off-page” factors, which I’ll cover this month, tend to control the way that content is displayed on the web page. These are called “off-page” factors, because they typically don’t show up on the web page itself. But understanding these “off-page” factors is crucial to a successful search engine optimization strategy for your life science, biotech or med-device company.

Your url will be displayed in search results, so it is important to use plain English URLs, rather than confusing strings of numbers and letters.

URLs for life science and biotech marketing.

Your web site has a unique URL (universal resource locator) for each page on the site. The URL is what is typically called the web site address; an example of a URL is: https://www.formalifesciencemarketing.com.

Your URL will be displayed in search results, so it is important to use URLs written in plain English rather than a confusing string of numbers and/or letters. Plain-English urls will also help search engine spiders better understand the content on the page.

Life science and biotech marketing SEO tips for URLs. Remember that your URL should:

  • Use English words as much as possible and
  • Be easily readable. The words can be separated by dashes (hypens), if you wish. It is easier to read www.FormaLifeScienceMarketing.com/this-is-an-example than it is to read www.FormalLifeScienceMarketing.com/thisisanexample.

A quick look under the hood; page source coding for life science and biotech marketing.

Open a page on your company’s web site, any page. Then find the way to display the page source. Depending upon the version of your software, this command to accomplish this is typically located under the View menu as View Source (in Safari), Page Source (in Firefox) or Source (in Explorer). Other software packages (or other versions) may use different commands, but all will have a way to display the source code of the page itself.

This code is what the search engine spiders will read as they crawl through your site and “index” it. In addition to using the “on-page” factors to determine your page rank, the search engines will interpret many “off page” factors to determine how relevant your site is to any particular search query.

Typically you’ll be shown an open window with HTML (hypertext markup language) code in it. The HTML code will look similar to typical computer code, with indents and lots of strange punctuation. What you are looking at are the instructions that tell your browser how to display the web page. This is, in part, the code that is transmitted over the Internet from the server to your computer. Your browser will interpret these commands and “create” a page for you to view. This HTML code is the DNA – the blueprint, if you will – for the page you see in your browser window.

This code is what the search engine spiders read as they crawl through your site and “index” it. In addition to using the on-page factors that we discussed last month (such as content and keywords) to determine your page rank, the search engines will interpret many off-page factors to determine how relevant your site is to any particular search query.

 

Figure 1: The source code for a particular page is the set of instructions that tell your browser how to “build” a particular web page. The “tags” in the code are indicated by those labels that appear inside greater than/less than brackets, like this indication of a title tag: <title> or header tag: <head>.

I want to bring to your attention a few of the key “off-page” factors that affect search engine optimization for biotech and life science companies. I’ll use our site, FormaLifeScienceMarketing.com as an example. As I do so, I’ll be talking about “tags” quite a bit. A tag is a label or instruction that appears inside greater than/less than brackets, like this tite tag: <title> or this header tag: <head>.

Title tags for life science and biotech marketing.

Towards the top of your page will be a title tag. You can find a title tag example in the fourth line of code in Figure 1.

The title tag command tells the web browser what to put at the very top of the browser window; Figure 2 shows how the code from Figure 1 is translated into what is actually displayed at the top of this web page. Search engines and users use the resulting title to determine what general content the page could include. The title tag will typically appear in the first line of any search results that reference your page.

 
 Figure 2: At the very, very top of this window is the title: Forma Life Science Marketing. The browser uses information from the title tag in the source code to create this page title.

Because page titles are so prominent, search engines give extra weight to title tags when deciding how to rank a web page. This means that proper title tags are an important part of any comprehensive search engine optimization strategy.

Because page titles are so prominent, search engines give extra weight to title tags when deciding how to rank a web page.

Life science and biotech marketing SEO tips for title tags. Remember that the title tag should:

  • Be unique and appear on each page of your site;
  • Accurately describe the page’s content; and
  • Be descriptive, but not too long, otherwise search engines won’t display the entire title in search results.

Description meta tag for life science and biotech marketing.

A description meta tag is information that is provided by the web page to the search engine to help the search engine categorize the page correctly. The meta description tag is an important tag that provides a summary of what each page is about. A description meta tag is typically longer than the title tag, so there is room for more explanation.

Search engines frequently display snippets of text from the description meta tag in search results.

 

Figure 3: Shown here are the way FormaLifeScienceMarketing.com shows up in search results. In Figure 1, the description tag for this page is: <meta name=”description” content=”Forma is the leading marketing firm for biotech, life-science and pharma companies.” />    You can see that the search engine has pulled this meta description and displayed it in the search results shown here.

Life science and biotech marketing SEO tips for description meta tags. Remember that these descriptions should:

  • Be unique for each page;
  • Be written to inform viewers about the content on the page;
  • Put the most important information first, since not all of the description meta tag may show up in search results; and
  • Be written to intrigue viewers if they see some snippet of the description in a search engine result.

The importance of clear navigation in search engine optimization for life science and biotech marketing.

Good navigation is crucial in helping both both human readers and search engine spiders clearly understand the content of your site and the relationship among the various groups of content on your site. So it’s essential that your navigation structure be clear and consistent across your entire site.

It is important that your navigation structure be clear, and consistent across the entire site.

The hierarchy of navigation should flow naturally from general to more specific content. The number of clicks needed to reach any piece of content should be as few as possible – without creating possible content overload (too much content on every page in order to flatten the navigation structure).

Site maps are important for life science and biotech marketing.

A “site map” is a page that provides an outline of the content on your site. While this page can be visited by search engine spiders, it is typically more important for human readers. A separate site map can be submitted to search engines to make it easier for the spiders to locate all the content on your site. You can find out more about submitting a site map to search engines by looking here.

Life science and biotech marketing SEO tips for site maps. Remember to:

  • Include an HTML site map page in your site and
  • Keep your site map up- to- date. Broken links reduce the ability of search engine spiders as they search your site.

Use text for navigation for life science and biotech marketing.

It is important to make your navigation links easy to follow. Many sites use pictures, drop down menus, animations or rollovers for navigation. In some instances, these can be difficult for spiders to follow. Though spiders will typically discover the links behind such navigation systems, it is important to provide text navigation backup where possible, to enhance your SEO. This is why many sites have a small set of text buttons at the bottom of each page.  These choices are there to simplify the search engine’s job of identifying all the links on the page.

 

Figure 4: Text buttons at the bottom of web pages simplify the search engine’s job of identifying all the links on that page.

Creating appropriate anchor text links for SEO in life science and biotech marketing.

In addition to the standard navigation on your site (typically at the top or left hand sides of each web page), there is another important set of navigation links that can contribute to your SEO – so called anchor text. Anchor text is text that occurs within body copy that is itself a clickable link. For example, the web site for Forma Life Science Marketing can be reached by clicking on the clickable text in this sentence.

Anchor text should be as descriptive as possible. This provides both human readers and search engine spiders information about the page that the link points to. Clickable text that reads “information on our genome analysis services” is descriptive – and will help your search engine rankings more than clickable text that simply reads “click here.”

Life science and biotech marketing SEO, tips for anchor text. Remember anchor text should be:

  • Descriptive – avoid text such as “click here”;
  • Concise –  avoid using a page’s complete URL as the link and
  • Formatted so these links are easy to recognize as distinct from non-clickable text. The classic method is to make the text blue and to underline it. This is a common convention, but certainly not the only option.

The use of images in life science and biotech marketing search engine optimization.

Images are a powerful communication tool when used on web pages. While amazing advances are being made in helping computers “understand” the content of images, much work remains to be done. This means that when you help search engines better understand the content and the meaning of the images on your web site, your position in search results can improve.

To help the search engine spiders understand your image content, you can tag images with an “alt” attribute – “alt” is a specialized tag. Alt tags were originally intended to address situations in which a browser could not display an image.

To help the search engine spiders understand your image content, you can tag images with an “alt” attribute, which tells the search engine spiders about the content of the image. In this case, the “alt” tag was displayed instead. Another way to think of this tag is as an off-page caption for the image. It tells the search engine spiders about the content of the image.

Life science and biotech marketing SEO, tips for images. Remember:

  • Use brief but descriptive file names for images;
  • Use brief but descriptive alt tag content; and
  • When using an image as a link, an alt tag is especially important – the search engine will treat this as it would anchor text (see above).

The effect of external links on SEO in life science and biotech marketing.

In addition to the off-page factors mentioned above, there are other aspects of effective search engine optimization for life science and biotech marketing, including the number and type of external links into your website. Search engines use the number of external links coming into a site as part of the algorithm to determine a site’s relevance to a particular search query.  In general, the more links coming into a site, the better. If the links are from sites with similar or related content, this can improve your search engine rankings. However, “link stuffing” – a process whereby a large number of links from sites with content not necessarily related to the content of the target site – can actually hurt the search engine ranking, as search engines will penalize those sites that try to “trick” their way to the top of the ranking.

Search engines use the number of external links coming into a site as part of the algorithm to determine the site’s relevance to a particular search query. In general, the more links that come into a site, the better

Because these external links come from other sites, you do not have any control over the creation of these links. You can either ask directly for such links to be created, or you can post content that others will want to reference on their site. Using blogs, social media services, and email are all effective ways to attract the attention of other users in the community who then may post a link to your site. Posting in groups on member sites like LinkedIn is another way to add links to your site.

Increasing the number of external links that point to your site is one of the primary services offered by many search engine optimization firms. These services can add value, but remember, creating a steady stream of compelling content (and repurposing this content as needed) is typically the most effective method for improving your search engine rankings.

Analytics for life science and biotech marketing.

Besides looking at your total page rank, there are many other tools available to determine the performance of your web site including the tools made available by Google Analytics. There are also tools, such as Google’s website optimizer that allow you to make changes to your site and determine which changes will produce the optimum conversion rates.

Tracking your web analytics is the single most important activity you can undertake to improve your web site’s performance. Why?  Because those who pay attention to their analytics will typically become motivated to improve, so they will investigate how to improve their web site’s performance. There is an old aphorism: “With attention comes intention,” and this is certainly true of improving your off-page SEO factors.

Putting SEO into perspective for life science and biotech marketing.

It is important to think about search engine optimization strategically. While it is easy to set a lofty goal, such as “We want to be ranked first in all search engines for a large array of search terms,” achieving this goal will require a large, coordinated effort that could possibly be quite costly and that, frankly, may not be worth the resources and effort involved.

In the life sciences, search engine ranking is only one part of a truly effective marketing strategy.

Unlike companies selling low-cost products online, life science companies selling services (such as labs, CROs and CMOs) and higher-priced products (such as complex lab equipment) typically interact with potential buyers in many ways. In other words, the sales cycle is not limited to the web alone. Thus, search engine ranking should be viewed as only one part of a truly integrated marketing strategy.

There are many factors responsible for your ultimate search engine ranking. In addition to the sampling of off-page elements I’ve discussed here, there are many others – including the on-page elements I discussed in our last newsletter: Search Engine Optimization in Life Science and Biotech Marketing, Part 1. Some of these factors are under your control, but some may be more difficult to influence. And there are many factors that I have not covered, such as the fact that the search engines may take into consideration the quality of the underlying site HTML code itself; code that is clean, error free, and has important content higher up than information about the page layout, will be ranked more highly than sites with code that is sloppy and full of errors.

An effective search engine optimization strategy must be comprehensive and address as many of these important components as possible. Avoid putting too much faith in – and therefore limiting your efforts to – any one technique, such as inbound links. But do take the time to understand the basics of search engine optimization, as part of an effective strategy of being found by the relevant audiences.

Resources for SEO for life science and biotech marketing.

There are many resources to help you with off-page Search Engine Optimization. Here are a few:

A good Content Management System (CMS) can be quite helpful. A CMS is the tool that allows non-programmers to make changes to the content on their site. In addition, a good CMS will prompt the user/developer to add the appropriate off-page factors, such as title, head and alt tags. There are many CMS offerings available. Some are free (the only expense is the programming) and some are not (there is a charge to license the CMS in addition to the programming costs). The type of CMS you choose for your life science and biotech marketing needs will depend upon many factors including the complexity of your site and whether or not you need such specific capabilities as e-commerce.

Additional resources include:

A search engine optimization primer

General information. http://www.google.com/webmasters/

Summary of off-page factors for SEO in life science and biotech marketing.

  • If your life science or biotech marketing web site can’t be found, it might as well not exist.
  • Search engines consider both “on-page” and “off-page” factors in determining how to rank your web site in search results.
  • Title tags are important. They should be accurate, unique, descriptive and brief.
  • Description meta tags should be accurate, unique and intriguing.
  • URLs should be written in plain English, with words separated by hypens if you wish.
  • A clear navigation structure is key.
  • Site maps are vital for communicating with both your human audience and the search engine spiders that will visit your site.  Include an HTML site map as part of your web site.
  • There should be a text-based navigation structure on your site to enable search engines to easily find every page.
  • Anchor text (that is, links within body copy) should be concise, descriptive and formatted for easy recognition.
  • When using images, use brief and descriptive alt tags to assist search engine spiders in understanding the content of the images.
  • Inbound links are extremely useful for life science and biotech marketing SEO, but the use of these will not automatically generate higher search engine rankings/ratings.
  • * Pay attention to your site’s analytics in particular and to your search engine optimization efforts in general   As you begin to study this feedback you should become more engaged with the goal of improving your life science and biotech marketing search engine optimization.