Welcome to the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Starter Guide, designed for those who own, manage, monetize, or promote online content through Google Search. Whether you’re a business owner, website manager, SEO specialist, or DIY SEO enthusiast, this guide covers the basics of SEO best practices. While there are no secrets that can guarantee a top ranking on Google, following these best practices can help search engines crawl, index, and understand your content more easily, potentially improving your site’s performance in organic search results.
SEO involves making small modifications to different parts of your website, which may seem like incremental improvements when viewed individually. However, when combined with other optimizations, these changes can significantly impact your site’s user experience and performance in search results. The concepts covered in this guide may be familiar to you, but it’s essential to apply them effectively to make the most out of them.
To provide a better user experience, you should focus on building a website that benefits your users. One of those users is a search engine, which helps others discover your content. SEO aims to make your content understandable and relevant to search engines, so it can be presented to the right audience. This guide applies to sites of all sizes and types, regardless of the content they offer. We hope it provides you with fresh ideas on how to improve your website, and we’re eager to hear your questions, feedback, and success stories in the Google Search Central Help Community.
Getting started: Glossary Here’s a brief glossary of some important terms used in this guide:
- Index – Google stores all web pages it knows about in its index. Each index entry describes the content and URL of the page. Indexing occurs when Google fetches a page, reads it, and adds it to the index. For example: Google indexed several pages on my site today.
- Crawl – The process of discovering new or updated web pages. Google finds URLs by following links, reading sitemaps, and various other methods. After discovering the pages, Google crawls them, indexes them when appropriate, and updates its index.
- Crawler – Automated software that crawls (fetches) web pages and indexes them.
- Googlebot – The general name of Google’s crawler. Googlebot crawls the web constantly.
- SEO – The process of optimizing your website to make it more visible to search engines. It’s also a job title for someone who does this for a living. For instance: We just hired a new SEO to improve our web presence.
Is Your Site Indexed by Google Already?
When it comes to having a website, one of the most important things to consider is whether it’s appearing on search engines, particularly Google. After all, Google is the most popular search engine and generates the majority of web traffic. But how do you determine if your site is appearing on Google? One way is to do a site: search for your site’s home URL.
To do a site: search, go to Google and type “site:” followed by your site’s home URL, without any spaces. For example, if your site is splinternetmarketing.com, you would type “site:splinternetmarketing.com” into Google’s search bar. This will bring up all pages on your site that Google has indexed.
If you see results, congratulations! Your site is in Google’s index. This means that Google has crawled and added your site to its database of web pages. However, just because your site is in the index doesn’t mean it’s ranking well or getting a lot of traffic. There are many factors that can affect your site’s ranking, such as the quality and relevance of your content, your site’s structure and user experience, and the number and quality of other sites linking to yours.
If you don’t see any results, it’s possible that your site hasn’t been indexed yet. This could be because your site is new, has few or no incoming links, or has issues that are preventing Google from crawling and indexing it. If your site has been around for a while and you’re still not seeing any results, there may be more serious issues that need to be addressed. In either case, it’s important to take steps to get your site indexed, such as submitting a sitemap to Google or building more high-quality links to your site.
It’s also important to note that just because you see results doesn’t mean all of your pages have been indexed. To check if specific pages are indexed, do a site: search for the specific URL. You can also use Google Search Console, a free tool that provides information about your site’s indexing and performance on Google, to get more detailed information and insights about your site’s presence on the search engine. By monitoring your site’s presence on Google and taking steps to improve it, you can increase your chances of attracting more traffic and reaching your online goals.
If you’re unable to find your site in Google’s index, there are several potential reasons why this may be the case. The first reason is that your site may not be well connected from other sites on the web. This means that other sites may not be linking to your site, making it less visible to Google’s crawlers. To address this issue, consider building relationships with other relevant websites in your industry and creating high-quality, shareable content to encourage others to link to your site.
Another reason your site may not be in Google’s index is that you’ve recently launched a new site and Google hasn’t had sufficient time to crawl it yet. In this case, it’s important to ensure that your site is easily accessible and crawlable by Google. You can do this by submitting your sitemap to Google Search Console and making sure your website’s structure and internal linking are optimized for search engine crawlers.
The design of your site can also impact Google’s ability to crawl its content effectively. If your site is designed in a way that makes it difficult for Google’s crawlers to navigate, such as through the use of Flash, images without alt text, or dynamically generated content, then your site may not be effectively indexed. Consider redesigning your site to ensure that it’s optimized for search engine crawlers, or work with an SEO professional to improve your site’s crawlability.
If Google receives an error when attempting to crawl your site, such as a 404 error or other server errors, this can also prevent your site from being indexed. Make sure that your site is accessible and free of errors by using tools like Google Search Console to monitor your site’s health and address any issues that arise.
Finally, your site’s robots.txt file or other policies may be blocking Google from crawling your site. Ensure that your site’s robots.txt file is correctly configured and that it’s not blocking Google from accessing your site’s content.
Overall, it’s important to understand why your site may not be appearing in Google’s index and take the necessary steps to address any issues that may be preventing it from being effectively crawled and indexed. By optimizing your site for search engine crawlers and building a strong network of relevant links, you can increase your site’s visibility in Google’s search results and reach a wider audience.
How To Get Your Site Crawled and Indexed by Google
Getting your site on Google can be done simply by posting it on the web, as Google crawls billions of pages constantly to explore and add to its index. However, some sites may be missed due to various reasons.
To ensure that your site gets discovered by Google’s web crawlers, it is recommended to follow the Search Essentials. These guidelines outline the most important elements of building a website that is friendly to Google’s crawlers, which can increase the likelihood of your site appearing in Google’s search results.
Google Search Console is another helpful tool that provides resources to help you submit your site’s content to Google and monitor how it is performing in Google Search. Search Console can even send you alerts on any critical issues that Google encounters with your site. Signing up for Search Console is recommended to optimize your website’s performance on Google.
If you’re just starting out, there are a few basic questions to ask yourself about your website. First, determine if your website is showing up on Google by performing a site: search for your site’s home URL. Additionally, serving high-quality content that is relevant and useful to users can help increase the likelihood of your site appearing in search results. For local businesses, it is important to ensure that your business is appearing on Google’s local search results. Having content that is fast and easy to access on all devices, as well as a secure website, are also important factors to consider for optimal website performance on Google.
Hire a Professional Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Expert
In today’s digital age, having a strong online presence is vital for the success of any business. One way to improve your visibility on search engines and drive traffic to your website is through search engine optimization (SEO). While you can learn the basics of SEO and optimize your site yourself, you may be wondering whether you need to hire an SEO expert.
An SEO expert is a trained professional who can help you audit your website and optimize it for search engines. They can provide a range of services, such as reviewing your site’s content and structure, offering technical advice on website development, developing content, managing online business development campaigns, conducting keyword research, and providing SEO training.
Hiring an SEO expert can be a big decision, and it’s important to consider the potential advantages as well as the risks involved. A responsible and knowledgeable SEO can make a significant positive impact on your website, but an inexperienced or unethical SEO can potentially do more harm than good.
Before you begin your search for an SEO expert, it’s essential to become an educated consumer and familiarize yourself with how search engines work. You can start by reading through the Google Search documentation, including the Search Essentials and How Google Crawls, Indexes, and Serves the Web. These resources will help you understand the basics of SEO and provide insight into how search engines evaluate and rank websites.
If you’re considering hiring an SEO expert, it’s best to do so as early as possible in your website development process. Ideally, you’ll work with your SEO expert from the beginning to ensure that your site is designed to be search engine-friendly from the ground up. However, a good SEO can also improve an existing site and help drive traffic to it.
Ultimately, the decision of whether to hire an SEO expert will depend on your specific needs and resources. If you have the time, resources, and willingness to learn, you can likely optimize your website yourself. However, if you want to ensure that your site is fully optimized for search engines and get the best possible results, working with an SEO expert may be the best choice.
Help Google (and users) understand your content
To ensure that your website is fully understood by Google, it is important to make sure that Googlebot can crawl and index it effectively. Here are some tips to help you achieve this:
- Create unique, accurate page titles: A page title tells both users and search engines what the topic of a particular page is. Place the <title> element within the <head> element of the HTML document, and create unique title text for each page on your site. This helps Google to understand the main focus of the page and helps users to identify the relevance of the page to their search query.
- Use clear, descriptive URLs: URLs that are clear and descriptive help both users and search engines understand the content of a page. A URL like “example.com/products/category1/item2” is much more informative than “example.com/index.php?id=12345”. Descriptive URLs not only help with understanding the content, but also make it easier for users to share the link and for search engines to display it in the search results.
- Use header tags to organize content: Header tags (H1, H2, H3, etc.) are used to organize content on a page and provide structure for both users and search engines. The H1 tag should be used for the main heading of the page, while H2 tags can be used for subheadings. This not only helps with understanding the content, but also improves the readability and user experience of the page.
- Use descriptive, concise meta descriptions: A meta description is a brief summary of the content of a page that appears in the search results. It should be descriptive and concise, and accurately reflect the content of the page. This not only helps users to understand what the page is about, but also helps to improve the click-through rate to the page.
By following these tips, you can help Google (and users) understand your content and improve your search engine rankings. Remember to always create content for users first and optimize for search engines second.
Website Titles & Descriptions
The way your website’s title and description appear in search results can play a significant role in how users perceive and interact with your content. The following tips can help you optimize your title and description to make them more effective and compelling.
Website Title Tag
Make sure your page title accurately reflects the content The title of your page should be a concise and accurate description of what the page is about. This is not only important for search engines but also for users who are scanning the search results. A good page title helps users determine whether your page has the information they are looking for.
Use unique page titles Each page on your website should have a unique title that accurately reflects the content of the page. This helps search engines and users understand what the page is about and differentiate it from other pages on your site.
Keep titles brief but informative It’s essential to keep your title brief but informative. Search engines generally display the first 50-60 characters of a title tag, so make sure that your title accurately summarizes the content of the page in that space. It’s important to remember that users often scan search results, so having a clear and concise title can make your page stand out.
Avoid generic titles Avoid using generic or vague titles like “home” or “about us.” These titles do not give users any idea of what the page is about and do not help with search engine optimization.
Use descriptive language Your title should include descriptive language that accurately reflects the content of the page. It’s important to use keywords in your title but do not stuff them in. Ensure that the title reads naturally and effectively communicates the topic of the page’s content.
Create compelling descriptions The description of your page that appears in the search results is also crucial to the user experience. It should be informative and concise while accurately reflecting the content of the page. A compelling description can increase the click-through rate of your website, so it’s essential to make it as interesting as possible.
Regularly review your titles and descriptions to ensure they are still relevant and accurate. Search engines and user preferences can change, so keeping up to date can help ensure that your website remains relevant and effective.
Meta Description Tag
The meta description tag provides a concise and informative summary of a webpage’s content. This tag is important because it can influence whether or not a user clicks on your page in search results. While Google may sometimes use a relevant section of visible text as a snippet, using a meta description tag ensures that you have control over the text that appears in the search results.
In addition to the potential benefit of increasing click-through rates, using meta description tags can also improve the overall quality of your website. Writing a clear and concise summary of your page’s content requires you to have a good understanding of what the page is about, which can help you ensure that your content is focused and on-topic.
When writing meta descriptions, it’s important to keep them brief and relevant. A good meta description should be no more than 155-160 characters long and should accurately summarize the page’s content in a way that entices users to click through to your site. It’s also a good idea to include relevant keywords in your meta description, as this can help improve the relevance and visibility of your page in search results.
While meta description tags are not a direct ranking factor, they can indirectly impact your search rankings by improving click-through rates and user engagement on your site. In addition, having well-written and relevant meta descriptions can also help you stand out in search results and establish your brand’s authority and credibility in your industry.
Using heading tags is an important part of creating a well-structured document. Headings not only help to emphasize important topics but also help users navigate through your content and make it easier for them to find the information they are looking for. When using heading tags, it is important to put some thought into the main points and sub-points of the content on the page, and decide where to use heading tags appropriately.
Think of headings as an outline for your content. The main points should be denoted by a <h1> tag, and the sub-points should use <h2>, <h3>, and so on, depending on the hierarchy of the information. It’s important to use meaningful headings to indicate important topics, and to create a clear hierarchical structure.
Avoid placing text in heading tags that wouldn’t be helpful in defining the structure of the page. Additionally, avoid using heading tags where other tags like <em> and <strong> may be more appropriate. Using heading tags erratically, or moving from one heading tag size to another, can be confusing for users.
It’s also important to use heading tags sparingly. Too many heading tags on a page can make it hard for users to scan the content and determine where one topic ends and another begins. Avoid using very long headings, and use heading tags only for presenting structure and not for styling text. By using heading tags appropriately, you can create a well-structured document that is easy for users to navigate and understand.
Optimize Your Content
Optimizing your website’s content is crucial to ensuring that it is interesting, useful, and easily navigable for users. Compelling and high-quality content can influence your website more than any other factor, and it often results in word-of-mouth buzz that builds your site’s reputation with both users and search engines. Here are some ways to optimize your content:
- Create Meaningful Headings: Use headings that are meaningful and help create a hierarchical structure for your content. This will make it easier for users to navigate through your document. Think about the main points and sub-points of your content and decide where to use heading tags appropriately. Avoid using headings where other tags may be more appropriate or writing text that has no relation to the structure of the page.
- Use Descriptive and Concise Title Tags: Title tags should be unique, accurate, and read naturally. They communicate the topic of the page’s content and should be brief but informative. Avoid using extremely lengthy text or unneeded keywords in your title tags.
- Write Clear Meta Descriptions: The meta description tag gives search engines a summary of what your page is about. It’s important to write a clear and concise summary that is meaningful and accurately represents the page’s content. Adding meta descriptions to each of your pages is always a good practice, in case search engines cannot find a good selection of text to use in the snippet.
- Create Fresh and Unique Content: High-quality content takes time, effort, expertise, and talent/skill. It should be factually accurate, clearly written, and comprehensive. New content will not only keep your existing visitors coming back, but also bring in new visitors.
- Write Easy-to-Read Text: Users enjoy content that is well written and easy to follow. Avoid writing sloppy text with many spelling and grammatical mistakes, or embedding text in images and videos for textual content. Instead, organize your topics clearly and break your content up into logical chunks or divisions.
- Optimize Content for Your Users: Design your site around your visitors’ needs while making sure it’s easily accessible to search engines. This usually produces positive results, as users feel comfortable visiting your site if they feel that it’s trustworthy. Make sure to cultivate a reputation for expertise and trustworthiness in a specific area.
- Use Links Wisely: Links should be written with good anchor text that provides a basic idea of what the page linked to is about. Your links should be easy to spot and distinguish from regular text. Don’t write long anchor text or excessively keyword-filled text, and don’t include unnecessary links that don’t help with the user’s navigation of the site.
- Be Careful Who You Link To: You can confer some of your site’s reputation to another site when your site links to it. Be careful not to give your site’s reputation to spammy sites. Use the nofollow attribute to tell search engines not to follow or pass your page’s reputation to the pages linked.
By following these optimization tips, you can improve the visibility and ranking of your website in search results, as well as provide a better experience for your users.
Optimize Your Images
Optimizing images is an essential part of optimizing your website for search engines. By following some best practices, you can ensure that your images are easily discoverable, accessible, and visually appealing to your users.
Using HTML Image Elements HTML image elements are the best way to embed images in your content. The <img> or <picture> elements allow crawlers to find and process images easily. Using the <picture> element allows you to specify multiple options for different screen sizes, making your images responsive. You may also use the loading=”lazy” attribute on images to make your page load faster for your users.
Avoid using CSS to display images that you want indexed. Crawlers can’t process images embedded in CSS.
Using Alt Attributes Providing descriptive filenames and alt attributes is crucial for images. The alt attribute allows you to specify alternative text for the image if it cannot be displayed for some reason. Providing descriptive alt text is also essential for users with visual impairments. The contents of the alt attribute provide information about the picture to users who use assistive technologies, such as screen readers. Additionally, using alt text for images that are used as links is essential, as Google uses it to understand more about the page you’re linking to.
Use brief but descriptive filenames and alt text for your images. Short, descriptive filenames and alt text are best. Avoid using generic filenames like image1.jpg, pic.gif, or 1.jpg. If your site has thousands of images, you might want to consider automating the naming of the images. Long filenames are also not recommended.
Avoid stuffing keywords into alt text or copying and pasting entire sentences. This can be considered spammy and is not helpful to users.
Supply Alt Text When Using Images as Links If you use an image as a link, filling out its alt text helps Google understand more about the page you’re linking to. Writing excessively long alt text that would be considered spammy or using only image links for your site’s navigation should be avoided.
Help Search Engines Find Your Images An Image sitemap is an effective way to provide Google with more information about the images on your site. This increases the likelihood that your images can be found in Google Images results. The structure of this file is similar to the XML sitemap file for your web pages.
Use Standard Image Formats Using commonly supported file types, such as JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP, and WebP, is recommended. Most browsers support these formats. It’s also a good idea to have the extension of your filename match with the file type.
Optimize Your Site for Mobile Devices
In today’s world, most people use mobile devices to browse the internet, and having a mobile-friendly website is crucial for any business or organization that wants to succeed online. Google, the world’s largest search engine, has also recognized the importance of mobile devices and started using the mobile version of a website’s content for ranking, structured data parsing, and generating snippets since 2016.
Once you understand the different types of mobile devices, you can choose a mobile strategy that works for your website. Google supports different implementation methods, including responsive web design, dynamic serving, and separate URLs. Responsive web design is the recommended method, as it allows your website to adjust its layout and content based on the screen size and orientation of the device. Dynamic serving and separate URLs are other options that allow you to create a mobile version of your website.
Regardless of which configuration you choose, it’s important to ensure that your mobile site can be indexed accurately by search engines. This means using the meta name=”viewport” tag to tell the browser how to adjust the content if you’re using responsive web design, or using the Vary HTTP header if you’re using dynamic serving. If you have a separate mobile site, you should signal to Google when a page is formatted for mobile, and if you’re using separate URLs, you should signal the relationship between the desktop and mobile pages.
In addition to configuration, it’s also important to avoid common mistakes that can frustrate mobile visitors, such as featuring unplayable videos or full-page interstitials that hinder user experience. Providing full functionality on all devices, including commenting and check-out, is also crucial to meet the expectations of mobile users.
To ensure that your website is mobile-friendly, it’s important to test your mobile pages using the Mobile-Friendly Test provided by Google. This test will help you determine whether your website is well-suited for mobile devices and highlight any issues that need to be addressed. Finally, if you use separate URLs for your mobile pages, make sure to test both the mobile and desktop URLs to confirm that the redirect is recognized and crawlable.
Promote Your Website, Pages and Posts
In order to get more visibility for your website and its content, it is important to promote it effectively. While most of the links to your site will be added gradually as people discover your content through search or other ways and link to it, there are a number of things you can do to speed up the process and get the word out to those who might be interested.
One of the most effective ways to promote new content is through a blog post on your own site. Let your visitors know that you’ve added something new, and encourage them to share it with others who might be interested. Other website owners who follow your site or RSS feed might also pick up the story and share it with their own followers.
Offline promotion can also be helpful. If you have a business site, make sure its URL is listed on your business cards, letterhead, posters, and other promotional materials. You could also send out newsletters to clients through the mail, letting them know about new content on your site.
Social media is another powerful tool for promoting your website. Sites like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn make it easy to match interested groups of people up with relevant content. Share your content on these platforms and encourage others to do the same.
It’s also important to reach out to other sites in your niche or community. Communication with these sites can be beneficial, as hot topics in your community could spark additional ideas for content or building a good community resource. Just be sure to avoid spamming link requests out to all sites related to your topic area, as this can be harmful to your reputation.
Finally, it’s important to avoid involving your site in schemes where your content is artificially promoted to the top of search engines or social media services. This includes purchasing links from another site with the aim of getting PageRank, as this can result in penalties from search engines and harm your reputation.
Effectively promoting your website involves a mix of online and offline strategies, such as creating blog posts, using social media, reaching out to your community, and incorporating your website’s URL into your promotional materials. By following these best practices, you can increase the visibility of your website and its content and attract more interested visitors.
Analyze Your Search Performance and User Behavior
Analyzing your search performance and user behavior is an essential part of optimizing your website. By understanding how your site is performing in search results and how users are interacting with it, you can identify areas for improvement and make informed decisions about how to improve your site’s performance.
To analyze your search performance, you can use tools like Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools. These tools provide information about how search engines are crawling and indexing your site, as well as how your site is performing in search results. By identifying issues with your site’s crawlability, sitemap, robots.txt file, meta tags, and other elements, you can make changes that will help your site perform better in search results.
In addition to analyzing search performance, it’s important to understand how users are interacting with your site. Web analytics tools like Google Analytics can provide insight into how users are finding your site, what pages they are visiting, and how long they are staying on your site. By analyzing this data, you can identify trends and patterns that can help you optimize your site for better user engagement and conversions.
Some of the ways in which you can use web analytics tools to analyze user behavior on your site include:
- Understanding user behavior flow: By analyzing user behavior flow, you can see how users are moving through your site and where they are dropping off. This can help you identify areas where your site may need improvement, such as navigation or page design.
- Identifying the most popular pages: By identifying the most popular pages on your site, you can get a better sense of what content is resonating with your audience. This can help you create more content that is relevant and engaging to your users.
- Measuring the impact of optimizations: By tracking changes to your site over time, you can see if changes you’ve made are having a positive impact on user engagement, conversions, and other key metrics.
Overall, analyzing your search performance and user behavior is an ongoing process that requires regular monitoring and adjustment. By staying up-to-date with the latest tools and techniques, you can ensure that your site is performing at its best and delivering a great user experience.