We work with a lot of filmmakers and we know that they are very attuned to the creative decisions that need to be made when building a film’s website. This is great, it means that our designers can dive straight in a speak the same language as the filmmaker. However, it’s easy to get carried away with creative considerations and the forget basics of what the website is trying to achieve. In essence your film’s website is the key discovery asset you have for the release of your film and you want to ensure it reaches as many eyeballs as possible.
What this means in practice is that you have to focus on quite dull, tech and marketing concepts in the planning and implementation of your site. The first step in that process is to ensure that each page of your site is optimised to give search engines the best of surfacing your site when a user searches for your film. The more optimised the content and the metadata on your pages the more Google and the other major search engines will reward you with traffic.
The obvious example of poor discoverability is when you search for a film, scroll through pages of results with IMDB, Rotten Tomatoes, LetterBoxd links and find finally link to the film’s official website on page 5. Usually this link is accompanied by no contextual information and is nothing more than the name of the film as a blue link on a Google search list. In truth, statistically speaking, you’d have given up looking a long time before you reached page 5. In cases like this the website is buried by Google because the page isn’t well optimised but what does this mean? And why do some websites have more contextual information around their Google search result than others?
Search Engine Optimisation Basics
There’s no magic bullet for Search Engine Optimisation (SEO); there isn’t a formula you can follow to ensure your website ranks at the top of a search engine's results. However, there are a series of best practices you can employ to give you the best possible chance:
Choose your domain carefully
Google still favours domains which include the search term. For example, if I search for “Drive movie” the top ranking site on Google is a fan-site with the domain drive-movie.com. Despite the fact it is not the official ‘Drive’ website it still ranks as #1 because of the keywords in its domain.
Take time to think about content
Search engines read the content on a page programmatically and make decisions about ranking based on what they find. A key piece ensuring your site is well understood is writing strong, meaningful content but it’s also about making sure your developers consider semantics carefully. As with language semantics in HTML denote meaning and the way in which your developer constructs your page (also known as marking up the page) has a dramatic effect on how well the search engine understands what it’s reading. In particular consider your key text for a page, this should appear in what’s called an h1 element. The h1 is your most important heading on the page and search engines pay close attention to it. Likewise, the title of the page is what Google will display in its search results listing so ensure that the title is A) meaningful and B) will be immediately understandable to a user.
Metadata rules the world of SEO. This is the data that as users we don’t see but is contained on a page and is read by the search engines to learn more about a website. Common metadata information includes a website description and search keywords. This is used by Google (and others) to better understand the content of your site but also to provide more contextual information to the user. The meta description for example is included as a small piece of text under the blue link in Google search results, this extra information makes it easier for users to make a decision about whether to click through to your website.
Likewise, metadata is an opportunity to give social networks more information about your website. This information is called Open Graph data and it is read by social networks when a user shares a page on your website. This is where the default image and text appears from when you share a link on Facebook. Discuss with your web developer what information they need to flesh out your metadata as much as possible. Similarly, if you’re using a CMS or website builder make sure you fill out all those optional form fields that appear to surplus to requirements because they are usually really important and make your website far more readable to a search engine.
Don’t try and cheat the search engines.
Google hates a cheat. In the past people have tried to fill their pages with keywords to game the system or buy links or clicks from dubious “SEO experts” but there’s no quick fix and these techniques should be avoided at all costs. If someone says they can get you to the top of the Google rankings quickly and cheaply, just say no! The major search engines punish sites that employ these techniques sending them plummeting down the rankings and making them all counter productive. Don’t do it, it’s as simple as that.
Performance and mobile optimisation.
In a recent update Google announced they are giving priority to sites that best serve mobiles and are the most performant. This is because with the rise of mobile browsing Google, and other search engines, are trying to encourage website developers to produce website that are mobile friendly. This means making websites that are smaller (in terms of file size) and are therefore more performant and also designing sites that are readable and usable on all devices. The better your site is for mobile users the higher your site will rank on Google. You can test how your site performs using Google’s free testing tools for page speed and mobile-friendliness.