PHP SEO: Page-Level Titles, Meta Descriptions & More

February 19, 2013
By Travis Loncar

When it comes to updating title tags, meta descriptions, canonical link elements, etc. on a page-by-page basis, we often rely on the power of the client’s CMS. Whether we’re using WordPress plugins or Drupal modules to get the job done, we generally have a process that is efficient and feasible. No tinkering with template files. No scouring the web for alternative solutions. Simple implementation – just the way we like it.

Content Management Systems with built in SEO utilities are great. What happens, though, when you’re tasked with implementing all of the pertinent HTML elements page-by-page on a PHP based website with a static <head>? Let’s dive right in.

1. Make that <head> dynamic!

In most cases, each static PHP file, be it index.php, contact.php, what have you, will reference the same header.php file via an include statement:


The include statement tells the server that any code within header.php should also be included in the file being requested. This way, we don’t have to write a lot of the same HTML on every content page. Instead, we have this one static file from which we can pull the necessary code. Note that the header.php file doesn’t necessarily contain only the HTML <head>. Generally, it will include any code that is reusable at the top of the HTML document throughout the website (including the logo, navigation, banner, etc.). Let’s look at an example of code we might find in header.php:


 


. . .

This is a bit stripped-down, of course, but it’s serviceable. Notice, though, that our title tag and meta description have static text values. Even if we edit these to be a bit more descriptive of a particular page, we’ll be effectively applying the same title and meta description to every page on the website. Not good. Fortunately, we can make these dynamic values (unique to each page) by using PHP variables. We’ll use the echo construct to place the necessary page-level variables (which we haven’t yet created) in the right spots in header.php.


 


. . .

It’s safe to say that we’ll be implementing titles and meta descriptions on each page of the website. What about something like a canonical link element or meta robots markup, though? We might not want these on every page, but rather just select pages. To handle these elements, we’ll use a couple of conditional statements. If the canonical URL and/or robots content is defined for a given page, then we’ll include the element(s) in the <head>. If the condition within the parentheses is met, then the code within the brackets ({ ... }) is executed.


 


%3Clink%20rel%3D%22canonical%22%20href%3D%22'%20.%20%24pageCanonical%20.%20'%22%3E'; } // If meta robots content is specified, include robots meta tag if($pageRobots) { echo ''; } ?>

. . .

Now that we have ourselves a <head> with elements that rely on page-defined variables, we’ve done most of the “hard” work. Let’s move on to defining these page-specific variables.

2. Define page-specific PHP variables

So, for each page on our site – all individual PHP files – we’ll need to define, at a minimum, two variables ($pageTitle and $pageDescription) before our include(header.php) statement. Ideally, we would write in some conditionals to catch cases where these variables aren’t defined; but for now, we’ll just be extra careful to define them on each page. We have the option of defining two additional variables ($pageCanonical and $pageRobots), as well. To define a variable, we use the syntax: $variable = "This is a string";. Let’s go ahead and assign values to all four of our variables for the home page. We’ll be working with the index.php file. (The topic of our site is Orange Widgets).


Simple enough, right? We’ve defined our title, meta description, canonical URL, and meta robots content with four PHP variables. Let’s see what the top of the source code looks like for index.php.


 



. . .

Not too shabby, eh? While it might seem like a pain to declare these variables on a page-by-page basis, it’s really not much different than using All in One SEO for WordPress or something comparable for another CMS. Once you’ve familiarized yourself with the concepts outlined above, you’ll find that editing the files directly isn’t as taxing a process as you might have thought. For those of you working on small PHP-based websites, I highly recommend implementing the dynamic <head> elements we’ve discussed. What takes minutes to implement could yield years’ of worth.

Any cool tips or tricks when it comes to doing SEO for PHP-based websites/applications? Share ’em in the comments below!