Optimize your website for search engines in 6 steps

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This post is a cliff notes version of the Google Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide pdf. This document that Google put out is incredibly helpful, but also a bit daunting. So, my goal was to distill their 30 page document of recommendations down into 6 actionable tips:

  1. Optimize your meta data
  2. Improve your site structure
  3. Optimize your content
  4. Plan your content for Search Engines and users
  5. Think about SEO for mobile users
  6. Promote and Analyze your website in the right ways

Optimize your site's meta data

Create unique and accurate page title tags

  • Title tags are the title of your result in search engines. This tells the user and search engine what the particular page is about. Each page should have a custom, and thoughtful title tag that accurately describes what will be found on that page. This will help search engines know how this page is different from others on your website.
  • Make them short and informational. If they’re too long Google will only display a portion in the search result. Avoid stuffing your titles with unneeded keywords.
  • Keywords that a user searches that are also contained in your page title description will appear bold in the search engine results.
  • If you have a Drupal website we built a custom module that will allow you edit your meta data in bulk for D7.

Use the description meta tag

  • Just like title tags each page should have a custom summary explaining what that page is about. The description should be a sentence or two or even a short paragraph.
  • Description tags might be used by Google. Although if there is other content on your page that may be more helpful to a user’s search Google might use that as your page description.
  • Write descriptions that would both inform and intrigue users if they saw your description in the search results.
  • If your site has tens of thousands of pages this may not be feasible and you should consider automatically generating descriptions for each page.

Use heading tags (h1, h2, h3’s...etc.) appropriately

  • These are "h" tags/titles are headings that give your site's content structure and let's both a user and search engine know what a section of content is going to present.
  • There are 6 different header sizes - h1, which is the most important or overview and ending with h6 the least important or more specific subtopic of the content.

Improve your site's structure

Improve the structure of your URL’s

  • Making your URL’s easy to read will also help relay content information easily - This will help users understand the content and also may lead to better crawling and indexing of your web pages and documents by search engines.
  • Customize you URL's to be readable - Visitors are often intimidated by long and complicated URL’s that contain unrecognizable words and characters.
  • Also much like page title and descriptions when a users searches for a specific keyword or phrase if those keywords are in your URL they will also appear bold in your search engine listing.

Make your site easier to navigate

  • Create a natural flowing hierarchy - By creating a simple directory style structure you make it easier for visitors to know where they are on your site.
  • Most website have a home or root page where visitors first arrive and will progress deeper into your content looking for information regarding more and more specific topics.
  • Leave breadcrumbs to help them find their way around.
  • Have a useful 404 error page in the event that visitors come to a page that does not exist.

Optimize your content and services

Offer quality content

  • When you create good content users will recognize and make sure to tell others about it.
  • Continuous organic traffic, word of mouth or referral traffic is always a result of quality content. This will influence your site above everything else mentioned in this post.
  • Considering this you should also anticipate the different levels of understanding users will have regarding your product or service and create your content around keywords that each type of user may be searching.
  • Quick tips
    • Keep it casual - Users like content that is well written and easy to follow.
    • Stay organized around one topic and make it clear where one topic ends and a sub topic or new topic begins.
    • Keep it fresh - By generating fresh content it will keep users coming back for more and also bring in new users.
    • Focus your content on the users and trying to genuinely solve problems that they are having.

Write good anchor text

  • Anchor text is the clickable link that users see within the body copy of a paragraph.
  • This text tells both users and Google about the page you are linking to.
  • Avoid using generic “click here” or “check out this link” language.
  • While often we think of links going to external websites you should consider using links to internal pages of your website to help users navigate your site.

Optimize your use of images

  • With the use of alternative text or “alt text” this is helpful for users that may have images disabled or users of alternative technology like screen readers. It also gives context to the picture.
  • By using alt text you make it easier for Google Images to better index your images.

Plan content with Search Engine crawlers in mind

Restrict crawling where it’s not needed

  • Make effective use of robots.txt, this is the file that tells search engines whether or not they can access and crawl certain parts of your site. There might be pages that would not be helpful if someone stumbled on in their search results and these would be pages you would want to keep search engines blocked from accessing.

Use rel=”nofollow” for to prevent spammy links for hurting your site's rank

  • If your site has a blog with public commenting turned on this can be an open invitation to comments from spammers.
  • This is important because linking to sites that Google views as spam sites can negatively affect your ranking. So you want to make sure that you use “nofollow” on these user-added links to ensure that you’re not giving out your site’s hard earned reputation to a spammy site.
  • You also might want to use the “nofollow” if you want to warn others about a site that posted a spammy link on your comments and you want to link to that site without it negatively affecting you.

Think about SEO for mobile

Verify that your mobile site is indexed by Google

  • To make sure the Googlebot can find your site you can make Googlebots job easier by creating a mobile sitemap and submit it to Google so they can be aware of its existence.
  • Some mobile sites refuse access to anything, but mobile phones which would also make it invisible to the Googlebot-Mobile.

Verify that Google can recognize your mobile URL’s

Guide mobile users accurately

  • A common issue for companies running both desktop and mobile versions of a site is that the mobile version of the site appears for users on a desktop computer or vice versa. Make sure your site directs mobile users to the mobile version and desktop users to the desktop version of the site.

Promote and analyze your website in the right ways

Promote Online

  • Master making announcements via blogs and being recognized online and start opening up communication with other sites and blogs in your industry.
  • If you have a Google local listing make sure you are the admin owner and that your profile is up to date.
  • Creating social media profiles for your company will allow you to add links to your site and help you dominate the search results when someone searches for your company name.

Offiline Promotion

  • Make sure your URL is on all company collateral.
  • Business cards, letterhead, posters, email signature...etc.
  • Make use of free webmaster tools.

Make use of Google Analysis Resources like

Google Webmaster Tools​

  • Make the Googlebot's job of crawling your site a smooth experience with the use of Google Webmaster Tools. This will help you control how Google interacts with your site and also get helpful technical info about your site and ways to improve it.

Google Analytics

  • Will help you get high-level analysis about how you are acquiring visitors, what they are doing once on your site and what are the ultimate outcomes of their visit.

Google Website Optimizer

  • Allows you to run experiments to find out what page changes will produce the best conversion rates with visitors.

If you would like to explore any of these topics in greater detail all of the insight in this post is available in pdf form from the Google Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide

If you have a Drupal site be sure to check out our D7 SEO Checklist for more best practices and tips.

About the Author

Marty Vernon

Marty is Co-founder/Strategic Director at EDUCO. Connect with Marty on , , or Google+