Addition by Subtraction with School Website URL Enhancement

January 23, 2019 Daren Worcester

Over the years, we’ve made several enhancements to Blackbaud School Website SystemTM (formerly onMessage) URLs with an eye toward search engine optimization (SEO). Some of these have been invisible changes in the code noticeable only by search engines, while others, such as making all websites https secure, were recognized by our SEO-conscious schools. None of these enhancements, however, have been requested more than the upcoming February 6 release to enable removing /page from our website URLs.

The release will occur in two phases. During phase one starting on February 6, all school URLs will be available with and without the /page. This approach will enable us to monitor and test the new URLs in the live environment before eliminating the /page URLs to ensure users can access our websites without interruption. We will also utilize canonical tags during phase one to avoid duplicate content penalties with the search engines.

Phase two will remove the /page URLs entirely and redirect all traffic to the school URLs without it. The redirects put in place will be 301 redirects to indicate that this is a permanent change. Google honors 301 redirects by passing SEO value earned from inbound links from the old URL to the new version.

What are the SEO benefits?

The potential here is two-fold. First, the SEO best practices for URL structure inform us that:

  • URLs should be as concise as possible
  • The terminology (keywords) used in a URL should be topical to the page
  • The search engines view keywords closest to the root domain in the URL as being slightly more important

Removing /page is an improvement with each of the criteria above; however, let’s keep in perspective that we are only removing five characters (counting the extra slash) from the URL, so while this change is good for SEO, it’s best to set expectations appropriately.

The second benefit of this change will be the reduction of redirects. For example, someone trying to access www.schoolname.org currently gets redirected to www.schoolname.org/page. Eliminating that redirect will improve the page load speed, which Google values. It will take some time to realize this benefit because Google must first index the new URLs without the /page.

What can I do to help the transition?

Once the /page URLs have been removed and redirected to the new URLs, school website managers can help Google index the new URLs by submitting a new site map and a crawl request. To do so, you will first need access to Google Search Console. The following video shows how to gain access for a Blackbaud School Website System site:

Once, you’ve gained access to Google Search Console, go to the Sitemaps tab and enter a new sitemap by simply typing “sitemap” into the submission field shown below. Don’t forget to click “submit.”

Google Search Console Sitemap

The next step is to request that Google index the new URLs on the URL inspection tab. Enter the full home page URL without /page into the gray search bar and then select the “Request Indexing” option as shown below. While it’s most important to do this step for the home page, you may also want to submit requests for other top search landing pages.

How will this change impact Google Analytics?

Google will track the two URLs for each page as separate pages, so anyone compiling a pageviews report will need to be aware that all URLs prior to February 6 will have the /page, there will be a period of time where both versions will collect traffic, and then all traffic will go to the URL without the /page.

You can reduce the time period that Google Analytics displays both versions of the URLs by entering "page" within Admin > View Settings > Default page as shown below. This change will only alter how URLs display after the date that it is implemented.

 

You may also find that sorting the All Pages report by Page Title as shown below before exporting data from Google Analytics can help identify the duplicates and consolidate data.

Please contact our Support team if your school has any questions during this transition.

About the Author

Daren Worcester

Daren Worcester has been a member of the Blackbaud K-12 team for 17 years, assisting hundreds of independent schools through a variety of website development roles. A former copywriter and a published author with an appetite for SEO, Daren currently serves as the senior content marketing manager for K-12.

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