The Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Starter Guide 2018

seo starter guide 2018

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Starter Guide

Who is this guide for?

If you own, manage, monetize, or promote online content via Google Search, this guide is meant for you. You might be the owner of a growing and thriving business, the webmaster of a dozen sites, the SEO specialist in a Web agency or a DIY SEO ninja passionate about the mechanics of Search : this guide is meant for you. If you’re interested in having a complete overview of the basics of SEO according to our best practices, you are indeed in the right place. This guide won’t provide any secrets that’ll automatically rank your site first in Google (sorry!), but following the best practices outlined below will hopefully make it easier for search engines to crawl, index and understand your content.

Search engine optimization (SEO) is often about making small modifications to parts of your website. When viewed individually, these changes might seem like incremental improvements, but when combined with other optimizations, they could have a noticeable impact on your site’s user experience and performance in organic search results. You’re likely already familiar with many of the topics in this guide, because they’re essential ingredients for any web page, but you may not be making the most out of them.

You should optimize your site to serve your users’ needs. One of those users is a search engine, which helps other users discover your content. Search Engine Optimization is about helping search engines understand and present content. Your site may be smaller or larger than our example site and offer vastly different content, but the optimization topics we discuss below should apply to sites of all sizes and types. We hope our guide gives you some fresh ideas on how to improve your website, and we’d love to hear your questions, feedback, and success stories in the Google Webmaster Help Forum1.

We hope you will enjoy the content and we hope to hear and integrate your feedback via our Google support Forums

Feel free to save, print off the guide responsibly and re-share it: let’s improve the quality of the web.

Happy reading!

Signed,
The Google Search Quality team

Contents

Getting started

Glossary

Here’s a short glossary of important terms used in this guide:

  • Index – Google stores all web pages that it knows about in its index. The index entry for each page describes the content and location (URL) of that page. To index is when Google fetches a page, reads it, and adds it to the index: Google indexed several pages on my site today.
  • Crawl – The process of looking for new or updated web pages. Google discovers URLs by following links, by reading sitemaps, and by many other means. Google crawls the web, looking for new pages, then indexes them (when appropriate).
  • Crawler – Automated software that crawls (fetches) pages from the web and indexes them.
  • Googlebot – The generic name of Google’s crawler. Googlebot crawls the web constantly.
  • SEO – Search engine optimization: the process of making your site better for search engines. Also the job title of a person who does this for a living: We just hired a new SEO to improve our presence on the web.

Are you on Google?

Determine whether your site is in Google’s index – Do a site: search for your site’s home URL. If you see results, you’re in the index. For example, a search for “site:wikipedia.org” returns these results2.

If your site isn’t in Google – Although Google crawls billions of pages, it’s inevitable that some sites will be missed. When our crawlers miss a site, it’s frequently for one of the following reasons:

  • The site isn’t well connected from other sites on the web
  • You’ve just launched a new site and Google hasn’t had time to crawl it yet
  • The design of the site makes it difficult for Google to crawl its content effectively
  • Google received an error when trying to crawl your site
  • Your policy blocks Google from crawling the site

How do I get my site on Google?

Inclusion in Google’s search results is free and easy; you don’t even need to submit your site to Google. Google is a fully automated search engine that uses web crawlers to explore the web constantly, looking for sites to add to our index. In fact, the vast majority of sites listed in our results aren’t manually submitted for inclusion, but found and added automatically when we crawl the web. Learn how Google discovers, crawls, and serves web pages.3

We offer webmaster guidelines4 for building a Google-friendly website. While there’s no guarantee that our crawlers will find a particular site, following these guidelines should help make your site appear in our search results.

Google Search Console provides tools to help you submit your content to Google and monitor how you’re doing in Google Search. If you want, Search Console can even send you alerts on critical issues that Google encounters with your site. Sign up for Search Console5.

Here are a few basic questions to ask yourself about your website when you get started.

  • Is my website showing up on Google?
  • Do I serve high-quality content to users?
  • Is my local business showing up on Google?
  • Is my content fast and easy to access on all devices?
  • Is my website secure?

You can find additional getting started information on http://g.co/webmasters6

The rest of this document provides guidance on how to improve your site for search engines, organized by topic. You can download a short, printable checklist of tips from http://g.co/WebmasterChecklist7.

Do you need an SEO expert?

An SEO (“search engine optimization”) expert is someone trained to improve your visibility on search engines. By following this guide, you should learn enough to be well on your way to an optimized site. In addition to that, you may want to consider hiring an SEO professional that can help you audit your pages.

Deciding to hire an SEO is a big decision that can potentially improve your site and save time. Make sure to research the potential advantages of hiring an SEO, as well as the damage that an irresponsible SEO can do to your site. Many SEOs and other agencies and consultants provide useful services for website owners, including:

  • Review of your site content or structure
  • Technical advice on website development: for example, hosting, redirects, error pages, use of JavaScript
  • Content development
  • Management of online business development campaigns
  • Keyword research
  • SEO training
  • Expertise in specific markets and geographies

Before beginning your search for an SEO, it’s a great idea to become an educated consumer and get familiar with how search engines work. We recommend going through the entirety of this guide and specifically these resources:

If you’re thinking about hiring an SEO, the earlier the better. A great time to hire is when you’re considering a site redesign, or planning to launch a new site. That way, you and your SEO can ensure that your site is designed to be search engine-friendly from the bottom up. However, a good SEO can also help improve an existing site.

For a detailed rundown on the need for hiring an SEO and what things to look out for, you can read our Help Center article “Do you need an SEO”11

Help Google find your content

The first step to getting your site on Google is to be sure that Google can find it. The best way to do that is to submit a sitemap. A sitemap is a file on your site that tells search engines about new or changed pages on your site. Learn more about how to build and submit a sitemap12.

Google also finds pages through links from other pages. See Promote your site later in this document to learn how to encourage people to discover your site.

Tell Google which pages shouldn’t be crawled

Best Practices

For non-sensitive information, block unwanted crawling by using robots.txt

A “robots.txt” file tells search engines whether they can access and therefore crawl parts of your site. This file, which must be named “robots.txt”, is placed in the root directory of your site. It is possible that pages blocked by robots.txt can still be crawled, so for sensitive pages you should use a more secure method.

Image showing the proper location of a robots.txt file.

You may not want certain pages of your site crawled because they might not be useful to users if found in a search engine’s search results. If you do want to prevent search engines from crawling your pages, Google Search Console has a friendly robots.txt generator to help you create this file. Note that if your site uses subdomains and you wish to have certain pages not crawled on a particular subdomain, you’ll have to create a separate robots.txt file for that subdomain. For more information on robots.txt, we suggest this Webmaster Help Center guide on using robots.txt files13.

Read about several other ways to prevent content from appearing in search results.14

Avoid:

  • Don’t let your internal search result pages be crawled by Google. Users dislike clicking a search engine result only to land on another search result page on your site.
  • Allowing URLs created as a result of proxy services to be crawled.

For sensitive information, use more secure methods

Robots.txt is not an appropriate or effective way of blocking sensitive or confidential material. It only instructs well-behaved crawlers that the pages are not for them, but it does not prevent your server from delivering those pages to a browser that requests them. One reason is that search engines could still reference the URLs you block (showing just the URL, no title or snippet) if there happen to be links to those URLs somewhere on the Internet (like referrer logs). Also, non-compliant or rogue search engines that don’t acknowledge the Robots Exclusion Standard could disobey the instructions of your robots.txt. Finally, a curious user could examine the directories or subdirectories in your robots.txt file and guess the URL of the content that you don’t want seen.

In these cases, use the noindex tag if you just want the page not to appear in Google, but don’t mind if any user with a link can reach the page. For real security, though, you should use proper authorization methods, like requiring a user password, or taking the page off your site entirely.

Help Google (and users) understand your content

Let Google see your page the same way a user does

When Googlebot crawls a page, it should see the page the same way an average user does15. For optimal rendering and indexing, always allow Googlebot access to the JavaScript, CSS, and image files used by your website. If your site’s robots.txt file disallows crawling of these assets, it directly harms how well our algorithms render and index your content. This can result in suboptimal rankings.

Recommended actions:

Create unique, accurate page titles

<title> tag tells both users and search engines what the topic of a particular page is. The <title> tag should be placed within the <head> element of the HTML document. You should create a unique title for each page on your site.

HTML snippet showing the title tag

Create good titles and snippets in search results

If your document appears in a search results page, the contents of the title tag may appear in the first line of the results (if you’re unfamiliar with the different parts of a Google search result, you might want to check out the anatomy of a search result video18, and this helpful diagram of a Google search results page).

The title for your homepage can list the name of your website/business and could include other bits of important information like the physical location of the business or maybe a few of its main focuses or offerings.

Best Practices

Accurately describe the page’s content

Choose a title that reads naturally and effectively communicates the topic of the page’s content.

Avoid:

  • Choosing a title that has no relation to the content on the page.
  • Using default or vague titles like “Untitled” or “New Page 1”.

Create unique titles for each page

Each page on your site should ideally have a unique title, which helps Google know how the page is distinct from the others on your site. If your site uses separate mobile pages, remember to use good titles on the mobile versions too.

Avoid:

  • Using a single title across all of your site’s pages or a large group of pages.

Use brief, but descriptive titles

Titles can be both short and informative. If the title is too long or otherwise deemed less relevant, Google may show only a portion of it or one that’s automatically generated in the search result. Google may also show different titles depending on the user’s query or device used for searching.

Avoid:

  • Using extremely lengthy titles that are unhelpful to users.
  • Stuffing unneeded keywords in your title tags.

Use the “description” meta tag

A page’s description meta tag gives Google and other search engines a summary of what the page is about. A page’s title may be a few words or a phrase, whereas a page’s description meta tag might be a sentence or two or even a short paragraph. Google Search Console provides a handy HTML Improvements report that’ll tell you about any description meta tags that are either too short, long, or duplicated too many times (the same information is also available for <title> tags). Like the <title> tag, the description meta tag is placed within the <head> element of your HTML document.

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