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Drupal SEO: The Ultimate Guide [2023]

Search Engine Optimization or SEO is what we do to ensure our website is as visible as possible to our target markets. We do this by optimizing our website for users while following search engine guidelines.

As any SEO professional knows, SEO advice is always changing due to search engine algorithm updates and discoveries by other SEO professionals. However, there are a couple of best practices that we have found to be consistent.

This guide is your ultimate guide to Drupal SEO. In here you will find answers to common questions on SEO specifically for Drupal, consistent best practices, where to look for information when performing an audit, and more.

 

Is Drupal good for SEO?

Although WordPress remains to be the most popular content management system, Drupal is used by 10.54% of the top 10,000 websites out there. Since Drupal is considered to be a heavy lifter—taking in large amounts of data and traffic easily—it’s no surprise that it’s used by some of the most famous companies and organizations in the world such as General Electric, United Nations, British Columbia's Knowledge Network, and even the United States District Court: The Southern District of New York.

 

Does Drupal enable search engine friendly URLs?

It does. Taking a look at one of our recent blog posts, How to Optimize Digital Experiences in Drupal, you will see that there is an option to automatically generate a URL alias:

URL Alias

This is dependent on the H1 you give your blog, which means changing your H1 automatically changes the URL and puts a 301 redirect on it.

You can also choose to not generate the URL alias. For example, we wanted to focus on auditing for this blog post, so we opted to manually put the URL slug.

How to Fix Common Web Accessibility Barriers in Drupal

If we decide that we want to change the URL to reflect the H1, I can just click Generate automatic URL alias and it will do the redirect for me.

Read: 8 Reasons: Drupal Proves Top Pick for Government Sites

 

Drupal modules for SEO

I am an avid believer that SEO cannot be done simply through the use of plugins or modules, but I do have to say that they are great for helping out with some technical and on-page SEO tasks.

 

Metatag module

For example, Drupal has a Metatag module that automatically puts in the metatag for you (you can also edit these as you deem fit):

You can add basic tags, referrer policies, open graphs, and Twitter cards.

 

Schema.org Metatag

The Schema.org Metatag module extends the Metatag module above to give you the ability to implement structured data to your site.

 

Simple XML Sitemap

This sitemap module generates an XML sitemap for your website. When you go to your website[com]/sitemap.xml, you will see something like this that you then can submit to Google Search Console for crawling:

Sitemap

 

Redirect

Redirects—especially 301 redirects—are essential to ensuring that people are getting to the most relevant pages they need. For example, this blog is the destination URL for a couple of earlier blogs that had thinner content.

With the URL Redirects module, it’s so much easier to apply and keep track of the redirects we have on our website.

 

Pathauto

As mentioned earlier, Pathauto is a powerful module that allows you to have search engine-friendly URLs and redirects depending on your H1.

But again, SEO is so much more than installing modules and calling it a day. So, let’s move on to our checklist.

 

Drupal SEO checklist

Here’s a quick primer on SEO. SEO is divided primarily into three categories, whether you’re using Drupal or another CMS:

 

1 Technical factors

Optimizing a website to make it easier for search engines to crawl and index (speed, redirects).

 

2 On-page factors

Optimizing factors on the web page for search engines and users to easily make sense of their content (titles, meta descriptions, search intent).

 

3 Off-page factors

Optimizing for how search engines and users perceive your site’s expertise, trustworthiness, and authority (E-A-T, incoming links).

Google has over 200 ranking factors, divided into these three groups. Feel free to dive into the 200 here (some of these are speculative, so use your own judgment).

Yes, it can get tedious and confusing. All in all, what I can say is that if you have these three principles as your guiding light, everything will fall into place:

  1. Relevant, informative content that fulfills search intent;
  2. Smooth and fast user experiences; and
  3. High site authority and reputation.

Let’s begin.

Drupal SEO checklist

 

Drupal SEO best practices

In this portion, I will walk you through the process of how I do SEO. Some people like to start with tackling on-page factors, but I prefer starting with the technical aspects of things.

Get these tools ready for the entire process:

  • Google Analytics
  • Google Search Console
  • PageSpeed Insights
  • Screaming Frog
  • Semrush or your preferred tool for keyword research
  • A spreadsheet to record your changes

 

Technical SEO

For this first part, we will be using the most important audit tool there is—Screaming Frog.

Tip: Make sure to add your Google Analytics, Google Search Console, PageSpeed Insights, and other tools you’d like to pull data from. Don’t forget to add your sitemap as well!

Screaming Frog API Access

With Screaming Frog, we can review the technical and on-page factors easily.

 

1 Migrate to GA4.

If you haven’t already, make sure to begin your migration to GA4. Universal Analytics (UA) is getting sunsetted in July 2023. It may look far away, but you have to remember that the two are using different measurement models. That’s why you can’t import historical data to GA4.

Here’s an article on how to set up your Google tag on your Drupal site.

And here’s an article on using GA4 on Drupal.

I suggest doing this ASAP so you can start comparing the differences between the data you’re getting from UA and GA4 and adding your conversions.

 

2 Review your site structure.

A poorly designed site structure can confuse your site builders, leaving behind orphan pages. It takes extra time and effort to find these orphan pages and link to them when this happens.

Another issue is click depth. Without a properly planned site structure, important pages can be buried 3 clicks or more, making them difficult to reach for your target audience.

You can run your website audit using Screaming Frog and see your site structure at the right-hand side of the interface.

 

 

Site Structure

 

 

If you see issues with your sitemap, you can solve this by doing some reorganization. Here’s a helpful article by Yoast on the topic.

You can also begin looking for orphan pages so you can check if they need to be linked to, deleted, or left alone.

 

3 Secure your website.

We will prioritize three things here:

  • HTTPS
  • Referrer policy
  • Mixed content

If you haven’t yet, switch to HTTPS by using a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL). You usually can get this for free depending on your hosting provider. If not, you can speak to your web developers to purchase and activate it.

When you go Overview > Security of Screaming Frog, you should not be seeing any HTTP URLs.

Another important way to secure your website is to use a referrer policy. For WordPress, this is automatically applied, but for Drupal you will have to set it.

We will be using strict-origin-when-cross-origin as it offers more privacy.

You can activate this in global in your site by going to Configuration > Search and metadata > Metatag. From there, you can click Global and scroll down until you see the Referrer policy option, then select Strict Origin When Cross-Origin.

referrer policy

Lastly, check for Mixed Content. These are resources that are being loaded over HTTP even when the actual page itself is HTTPS. You can easily fix these by looking for the bad resources and replacing them with resources loaded over HTTPS.

 

4 Submit an XML sitemap.

If you haven’t yet, make sure to go to Google Search Console and submit your sitemap there.

GSC sitemap

 

5 Upload a robots.txt file to the root directory of your website.

According to Google, “A robots.txt file tells search engine crawlers which URLs the crawler can access on your site.” However, it does not prevent Google from indexing your pages. Use a noindex tag for that case.

You can read more about what robots.txt directives can do here.

To verify your robots.txt, simply go to website[com]/robots.txt. If you don’t have one yet, you can follow the instructions here on how to create and upload the file to your website.

 

6 Check your robots meta tags.

Robots meta tags are the directives that give specific instructions to robots on crawling and indexing your web pages. For example, if I don’t want Google or other search engines to index an archived blog post, I can add a noindex directive on the page.

You can find the pages that have this directive by going to Overview > Directives. Make sure to review the URLs so you know the pages you want indexed do not have the noindex directive.

noindex

7 Optimize URL slugs.

As we discussed earlier, you can automatically generate URL slugs based on your title. If your title is too long, make sure your URL slug is short, clear, yet descriptive.

For example, instead of:

/how-to-perform-seo-to-your-drupal-website-for-2023

You can choose:

/how-optimize-drupal-2023

It’s much cleaner while giving the same information to your users and the search engines.

 

8 Optimize site speed.

Some tips to improve site speed for Drupal include reducing the size of images, using a caching module, and optimizing code. PageSpeed Insights can help identify specific ways to improve performance.

PageSpeed Insights

Images are often the largest files on a web page, and can significantly slow down loading times. Try to reduce the size of images without compromising quality using Photoshop or an image resizer tool such as this one.

You can also check your caching configuration at Configuration > Development > Performance to help speed up loading times by storing frequently accessed files, so they don’t need to be retrieved from the server every single time a user visits your site.

Finally, take a look at the code on your site and see if there are any ways to optimize it for faster loading. This may involve minifying CSS and JavaScript files. Go again to Performance and you’ll see an option to aggregate CSS and JavaScript files under Bandwidth Optimization.

By following these tips, you can help improve the speed of your Drupal site and provide a better experience for your users.

 

9 Fix broken pages and content issues.

First, let’s talk about broken pages. Check for your URLs that have an HTTP response code of 404 then consider if these should be redirected to a page that is more relevant to your users (if you have them) or if they should be left alone.

If you don’t have a more relevant page on a similar topic, do not redirect to the homepage. You won’t be getting any value from it and your users will only be confused.

John Mueller also said that if the link has been 404 for years, you can just leave it alone instead of redirecting it. I suggest just replacing the 404 link with another one if that’s the case.

For content issues, you can have thin and duplicate content.

If the content of the page does not give value to the users, it needs to be fixed. You don’t necessarily have to pump out 5,000 words—but you do need to make sure that the content is relevant, valuable, and informative.

For duplicate content, make sure to have your canonical links set up. One culprit we find (if we aren’t using the same titles/meta descriptions for different pieces of content) is pagination. Here is an incredibly helpful guide on the topic.

 

10 Implement structured data.

According to Google, “Structured data is a standardized format for providing information about a page and classifying the page content.” For example, you can check this blog which uses the Article schema.

And this is what the structured data looks like:

structured data

To check what information is required for the schema to work, I suggest downloading the Schema Builder for Structured Data extension. When you click on the extension on your toolbar, you’ll see what schema is detected and view their markup, or you can choose a schema type and see its requirements.

 

schema builder extension

 

To apply the schema, install the Schema.org Metatag module and fill in the necessary details you’ve checked out using the Schema Builder extension. To check the validity of your schema, you can click the extension again and it will show you if you missed any of the required items. 

Alternatively, you can insert your code or URL on this validator.

Read: Structured Data: Raising the Bar for SEO

 

11 Prioritize mobile-friendliness.

Having a mobile-friendly website matters to SEO since a) websites behave differently on mobile, and b) users engage websites differently than when they’re on desktop.

And since 59% of searches happen on mobile, it’s essential to ensure your website is mobile-friendly so you can rank both on desktop and mobile.

Read: How to Set Responsive Images in Drupal 9

Head over to the Mobile Friendly Test tool and input your link. To get additional details and suggestions on what to work on (and how to do so), go to Google Search Console and click Mobile Usability on the sidebar. 

 

On-page SEO

Since we already ran the test on Screaming Frog, it would be easier to see now what changes to apply on your web pages.

 

1 Place keywords in your titles.

This is not a hard and fast rule—but I prefer putting keywords at the beginning of the title since it makes it easier for users to understand and remember what your article is about. But if that makes the title awkward, then just make sure the keyword is in your title.

Remember, your title is the first thing your users see when you come up in the search results. If you have a title that tells your reader absolutely nothing about the page, why would they click? And ultimately, why should Google rank you in the SERPs?

Lastly, make sure your titles are different from each other. You can check your Screaming Frog audit results for duplicate titles and meta descriptions.

 

2 Ensure headers are correct (H1, H2, H3).

The heading tags on your pages (H1, H2, H3, etc.) play an important role in helping search engines understand the structure and content of your page.

Well-structured and descriptive headers are helpful context clues for search engines and users. Imagine picking up a book for your research paper—wouldn’t you skim the table of contents to see if its contents are useful to you?

And not just that, proper headers are great for accessibility.

See, screen readers tell the users what headers they’re reading. For example, they would indicate if a header is H2 or H3. So, your disabled users will have a difficult time if your headers are all over the place or improperly formatted.

Check: Accessibility Testing

 

3 Make keywords sound natural.

When optimizing your on-page factors for SEO, it's important to make sure that you're using keywords in the right places. This means using them in your title tags, meta descriptions, headings, and throughout the body of your content

Placing keywords strategically will help search engines understand what your page is about and rank it accordingly.

The problem comes when people treat keywords like they should be peppered on content to the point that it’s just incredibly obvious that the writer is trying to rank the page instead of being useful to the reader. Google (and your reader) hates that.

Keyword stuffing definition

If you have done proper keyword research (more on this later), your content will flow.

 

4 Add short, descriptive alt texts to images.

Images can be a great way to break up your content and make your content look more alive. 

They can also help improve your SEO. Images are great for showing examples and extra information to your users without making them go through extra blocks of texts. Plus images can also rank on search engines—which means your content can rank on search engines.

When adding images to your pages, make sure to include descriptive alt text that includes relevant keywords—but don’t overdo it. Just put in the keywords when they feel natural. This will help people find your images easier on Image Search.

Another reason to put descriptive alt text to your images is that it will help screen readers “read” the image to the users. So if you have an image with an alt text that’s clearly used to add more keywords to the page instead of helping users, it will ruin their user experience.

You can check your Screaming Frog results for images missing their alt texts so you can see if they are decorative images or not.

missing alt text

5 Ensure links are live and have descriptive anchor texts.

Links are an important part of both technical and on-page SEO. They help search engines understand the structure of your site and can be used to pass along authority and link juice.

They also help users navigate your site better and find information you want them to find.

When adding links to your pages, make sure that they're live and have descriptive anchor text. This will help search engines understand better what they're pointing to.

And yes, this is also good for user experience and accessibility. Imagine clicking on a link and finding out that it’s a 404. Isn’t that annoying?

Or you’re using a screen reader and you completely miss a link because the anchor text doesn’t let you know that there is an actual link. It just doesn’t help anyone.

 

6 Write clear and succinct meta descriptions.

When writing your meta descriptions, it's important to be clear and concise. You want to make sure that your meta description accurately reflects the content on your page and includes relevant keywords.

But you also don't want to stuff your meta description with too many keywords. The point is to make it easier for users to understand what your page is about while they’re still browsing the SERPs.

Lastly, a good rule of thumb is to keep your meta descriptions around 155 characters just to be sure it’s descriptive enough but not too long that it gets truncated by Google.

truncated meta description

To find which pages on your website to pay attention to for meta descriptions, check out the Meta Description tab on Screaming Frog and filter by results.

Screaming Frog meta description

 

7 Ensure colors pass the contrast test.

Lastly, you need to make sure your page passes the color contrast test. What that means is your foreground color and background color shouldn’t be too similar or shouldn’t hurt the eyes of your readers.

By having a good color contrast (e.g., black text on white background), you help your users—especially colorblind or low vision readers—access your content without giving them a hard time.

And yes, this includes links. Make sure your links are of a different color from the rest of your text, or else your users could pass on potentially important information (or pass on going to another page on your website) just because the link wasn’t obvious.

Read: WCAG Basics to Begin Your Accessibility Journey

 

Off-page SEO

Building links is perhaps the most important activity for off-page SEO. The more high-quality links you have pointing to your website, the higher your site will rank in search results.

There are a number of ways to build links (this comprehensive guide from Semrush is great) but it’s important to note that off-page SEO is highly dependent on the quality of your onsite content.

You can have the most populated social media calendar and all the journalist contacts in the world, but if your content is poorly done, it will not matter.

Why? Because other people would not share or give precious links to your content if they don’t think it’s valuable or relevant enough to share or link to.

 

1 Optimize your posts for easier sharing.

You can optimize your content for sharing in three ways:

  1. Writing relevant, informative content (as mentioned earlier).
  2. Writing descriptions that persuade users to click and share.
  3. Adding an eye-catching image.

You can use the Twitter Cards meta tag to choose what your blog would look like when you post it on Twitter, for example. 

Twitter meta tag

 

I suggest selecting the Summary Card with large image so it looks like this:

Blog post on Twitter with summary card

 

2 Create infographics and other easily shareable visuals.

Another thing people love sharing are infographics and other easily shareable visuals. Visuals are such a powerful tool to give just the right amount of information in a pleasing way.

An image search of “Drupal history infographic” shows us a bunch of beautifully done visuals that are bound to catch our attention. You would want yours to be the same way—not just informative, but eye-catching.

 

3 Plan your content distribution ahead of time.

Content distribution tends to be an afterthought, and is usually not included in SEO plans. I say it should be—since you need to understand how and why you will be distributing your content the way you want to before even conceptualizing the kind of content you will be creating.

For example, would you create YouTube videos of a massive statistics post? Probably not, but you can send that to a journalist who does articles that would need one.

I suggest reaching out to whoever is handling your socials and other members of your team so you can plan out your distribution.

As Melanie Deziel, author of The Content Fuel Framework said, “The best performing content is often the best distributed content.”

 

4 Don’t be a cold-caller.

Lastly, make friends. This, I think, is the most difficult one for off-page SEO.

I firmly believe that no SEO specialist is an island. Aside from ensuring our content is ridiculously relevant and useful, we also need to build relationships with other folks in our community.

As the example goes, would you help the unknown number who called you and gave you a sales talk? Probably not. But you would help your friend who asked you a favor.

Off-page SEO can be a long game. So, ensure your content is awesome and make some friends.

 

Bonus: Content SEO

Like I said earlier, modules are great for helping out with some technical and on-page SEO tasks, but actual content is a whole ‘nother beast.

I also have to say that not all SEO professionals are content writers or subject matter experts. It may be obvious to some but it wasn’t to me when I started.

Feel free to show this portion to your team, so they know what you should be working on together and what you would need their expertise with.

 

1 Do your keyword research thoroughly.

Content SEO starts with a lot of research—including keyword research. Some people prefer to just use keyword research tools and others believe just Google is good enough. I prefer to use both.

See, keyword research tools aren’t foolproof—here’s a great interview with Mark Williams-Cook, the founder of AlsoAsked—on why zero-volume keywords should not be overlooked.

Simply put, use Google for long-tail keywords.

Keyword research tools are great for short to medium-tail keywords. It’s also easier to see variations of the keyword you have in mind.

 

2 Research and write content well.

Not all your posts need to be an ultimate guide, but it’s still important that your content is well-thought-out. That’s also why keyword research is important—it doesn’t just tell you what you want to rank for, but what questions people have that you can answer.

Then make sure you answer those questions as clearly and effectively as you can.

 

3 Explain jargon and use clear language.

One of your goals when you write content is to be as informative as possible. You can’t do that when your content is full of jargon or words your target audience don’t use.

Try to be as clear as possible when you write. Remember, you’re writing for your audience and not just for yourself.

 

4 Fulfill your users' search intent.

You can check search intent by Googling your keywords.

For example, if you Google “drag and drop CMS” the first page shows you content that fulfills commercial search intent. Posts are either companies giving information on their own drag and drop CMS or are roundup blogs of the best drag and drop CMSs.

You can also check search intent by using Semrush:

Semrush search intent

5 Give examples and proof.

Be sure to give examples and proof. Add statistics. Link to your sources. You’re giving information away, so you want to be as trustworthy as possible.

Here's an amazing guide on Expertise-Authority-Trustworthiness (E-A-T) from Dr. Marie Haynes.

 

6 Serve the needs of your target users.

Creating content isn’t just about ranking—it’s about serving the needs of your target audience. Without keeping your target audience in mind, you will be bringing traffic to your website, but you won’t be bringing traffic that brings business along with it to your website.

Especially if you’re part of an organization or a company, you would want to make sure that your content serves your audience—and not just anyone—and drives them to your website.

 

7 Proofread your work religiously.

Last but not least, proofread your work. Are all your sources correct? Did you accidentally leave an editor’s note? What about typos and grammatical errors?

Remember that when your audience reads your content, they also make subconscious judgments on your company’s (or your) credibility.

A typo will be forgivable, but doing that over and over again will just show that your company doesn’t care enough about its brand and its audience to make their work as clean as possible.

And yes, that hurts your SEO.

Your content represents the knowledge of your company. So, make sure you put the best out there.

Good luck!

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