Google Webmaster team has recently released a Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide to help you with improving SEO for your website. They call it a starter guide but it’s over 24 pages long – so it’s definitely not a light reading.
This guide is more of an update to their previously released guide and offers more best practices and recommendations on SEO. The new one is much easier to follow and has more helpful information.
If you really want to learn SEO, I would highly recommend that you take some time to read the guide. But for busy folks out there, I’ll summarize some key points here. If you follow all 15 key points summarized here, then at least from Google’s perspective, you are good to go. Keep in mind that these are fairly basic guidelines that all sites should follow.
- Make sure your site is on Google
A quick way to test is to type “site:www.yourwebsite.com” in Google and see if it returns your pages. If not, use Google Search Console to submit your site to Google.
- Use sitemap and submit it to Google
Use sitemap to tell Google what content you have on your site and where they are. Sitemap is an xml file that lists all your pages including URL.
- Use robots.txt for sensitive information
If you have anything on your site that should not be shown on Google search pages, use robots.txt to list all the pages that should be excluded from search. Even if you do not exclude anything, it’s a good practice to have robots.txt file on your server.
- Ensure your site is crawlable
- Use unique and descriptive title and description meta tags
This is important not only for Google to know about your pages but many people click from search result pages based on what they see in title and description. Having good title and description will keep your click-through ratio (number of people who clicked on your page from search results)
- Use heading tags for emphasis
Utilize heading tags such as h1, h2, or h3 to emphasize an important point about your content.
- Add structured data markup
This allows Google with categorizing your content – the more Google knows about what type of content you have, the higher they will be visible throughout Google properties. For example, if you have a physical store with open and close hours, you can mark up the hours using structured data markup and Google can
- Use secure protocol (https)
It’s a good idea to completely migrate off from http and start using https for all the pages and sites.
- Use unique, descriptive URLs
Also known as URL rewrite, this helps Google crawl content better. Do not use strings like “mypage?id=1&cat=12” – this is a bad practice!
- Simple, easy-to-follow navigation
Good navigation not only helps visitors but also helps search engines. Make sure your content, navigation, and menus are hierarchical and try not to use too many hierarchies.
- Use good link texts
Utilize links, both internally and externally, and use descriptive wording for the links.
- Optimize content for your audience
Understand your audience and write good, quality content.
- Optimize images
Use alt tags to describe images and short, unique filenames. Caveat: The guide doesn’t mention this but it’s always better to optimize images so that they do not place load when page is loading
- Make sure the site is mobile-friendly
Google recommends making your site responsive
- Responsive design is recommended
Some sites have a dedicated mobile site or have separate URL/page for desktop and mobile. Responsive design – which most WordPress themes are now these days – is what Google recommends.
- Analyze search performance and user behaviors
Use Google Webmasters tool to analyze search performance and Google Analytics to analyze user behavior on your site.