Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide

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Search Engine OptimizationStarter Guide

Welcome to Google'sSearch Engine OptimizationStarter GuideThis document first began as an effort to help teams within Google,but we thought it'd be just as useful to webmasters that are new tothe topic of search engine optimization and wish to improve theirsites' interaction with both users and search engines. Although thisguide won't tell you any secrets that'll automatically rank your sitefirst for queries in Google (sorry!), following the best practicesoutlined below will make it easier for search engines to crawl, indexand understand your content.Search engine optimization is often about making small modificationsto parts of your website. When viewed individually, these changesmight seem like incremental improvements, but when combined withother optimizations, they could have a noticeable impact on yoursite'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 maynot be making the most out of them.Even though this guide's title contains the words "search engine",we'd like to say that you should base your optimization decisions firstand foremost on what's best for the visitors of your site. They're themain consumers of your content and are using search engines to findyour work. Focusing too hard on specific tweaks to gain ranking in theorganic results of search engines may not deliver the desired results.Search engine optimization is about putting your site's best footforward when it comes to visibility in search engines, but yourultimate consumers are your users, not search engines.Your site may be smaller or larger than our example site and offervastly different content, but the optimization topics we discuss belowshould apply to sites of all sizes and types. We hope our guide givesyou some fresh ideas on how to improve your website, and we'd loveto hear your questions, feedback, and success stories in the GoogleWebmaster Help Forum.

Table of ContentsSEO Basics4 Create unique, accurate page titles6 Make use of the "description" meta tagFrom here on, I'll beexplaining various pointson search engineoptimization (SEO)!Improving Site Structure8 Improve the structure of your URLs10 Make your site easier to navigateOptimizing Content14161820Offer quality content and servicesWrite better anchor textOptimize your use of imagesUse heading tags appropriatelyDealing with Crawlers21 Make effective use of robots.txt22 Be aware of rel "nofollow" for linksSEO for Mobile PhonesGooglebotCrawling contenton the Internet forGoogle's indexevery day, everynight, non stop.24 Notify Google of mobile sites26 Guide mobile users accuratelyPromotions and Analysis28 Promote your website in the right ways30 Make use of free webmaster toolsAn example may help our explanations, so we've created a fictitiouswebsite to follow throughout the guide. For each topic, we've fleshedout enough information about the site to illustrate the point beingcovered. Here's some background information about the site we'lluse:Website/business name: "Brandon's Baseball Cards"Domain name: brandonsbaseballcards.comFocus: Online-only baseball card sales, price guides, articles,and news contentSize: Small, 250 pagesSearch engine optimization affects only organic search results, notpaid or "sponsored" results such as Google AdWords.“Paid” Search, AdWordsOrganic Search

SEO BasicsCreate unique, accurate page titlesIndicate page titles by using title tagsA title tag tells both users and search engines what the topic ofa particular page is. The title tag should be placed within the head tag of the HTML document (1). Ideally, you should create aunique title for each page on your site. html head title Brandon's Baseball Cards - Buy Cards, Baseball News, Card Prices /title meta name "description " content "Brandon's Baseball Cards provides alarge selection of vintage and modern baseball cards for sale. We also offerdaily baseball news and events in" /head body Page title contents are displayed in searchresults(1) The title of the homepage for our baseball card site, which lists the businessname and three main focus areas.If your document appears in a search results page, the contents ofthe title tag will usually appear in the first line of the results (ifyou're unfamiliar with the different parts of a Google search result,you might want to check out the anatomy of a search result video byGoogle engineer Matt Cutts, and this helpful diagram of a Googlesearch results page). Words in the title are bolded if they appear in theuser's search query. This can help users recognize if the page islikely to be relevant to their search (2).The title for your homepage can list the name of your website/business and could include other bits of important information likethe physical location of the business or maybe a few of its mainfocuses or offerings (3).(2) A user performs the query [baseball cards]. Our homepage shows up as a result,with the title listed on the first line (notice that the query terms the user searchedfor appear in bold).If the user clicks the result and visits the page, the page's title will appear at the topof the browser.(3) A user performs the query [rarest baseball cards]. A relevant, deeper page (itstitle is unique to the content of the page) on our site appears as a result.GlossarySearch engineComputer function that searches data available on the Internet using keywords orother specified terms, or a program containing this function. head tagAn element that indicates the header in an HTML document. The content of thiselement will not be displayed in a browser. HTMLAbbreviation for HyperText Markup Language, a language used when describing webpage documents. It denotes the basic elements of web pages, including the documenttext and any hyperlinks and images embedded within.Search querySingle or multiple terms which are input by the user when performing a search onsearch engines.

SEO BasicsBest PracticesImproving Site StructureAccurately describe the page's contentChoose a title that effectively communicates the topic of the page's content.Avoid:choosing a title that has no relation to the content on the pageusing default or vague titles like "Untitled" or "New Page 1"Optimizing ContentCreate unique title tags for each pageEach of your pages should ideally have a unique title tag, which helps Google know how the page isdistinct from the others on your site.Avoid:using a single title tag across all of your site's pages or a large group of pagesUse brief, but descriptive titlesTitles can be both short and informative. If the title is too long, Google will show only a portion of it inthe search result.Dealing with CrawlersAvoid:using extremely lengthy titles that are unhelpful to usersstuffing unneeded keywords in your title tagsSEO for Mobile PhonesPage titles are animportant aspect ofsearch engineoptimization.Promotions and AnalysisLinksThe anatomy of a search 007/11/anatomy-of-search-result.htmlDiagram of a Google search results swer.py?answer 35891

SEO BasicsMake use of the "description" meta tagSummaries can be defined for each pageA page's description meta tag gives Google and other searchengines a summary of what the page is about (1). Whereas apage's title may be a few words or a phrase, a page's description metatag might be a sentence or two or a short paragraph. GoogleWebmaster Tools provides a handy content analysis section that'll tellyou about any description meta tags that are either too short, long, orduplicated too many times (the same information is also shown for title tags). Like the title tag, the description meta tag is placedwithin the head tag of your HTML document. html head title Brandon's Baseball Cards - Buy Cards, Baseball News, Card Prices /title meta name "description " content "Brandon's Baseball Cards provides alarge selection of vintage and modern baseball cards for sale. We also offerdaily baseball news and events in" /head body (1) The beginning of the description meta tag for our homepage, which gives a briefoverview of the site's offerings.What are the merits of description metatags?Description meta tags are important because Google might usethem as snippets for your pages. Note that we say "might" becauseGoogle may choose to use a relevant section of your page's visibletext if it does a good job of matching up with a user's query.Alternatively, Google might use your site's description in the OpenDirectory Project if your site is listed there (learn how to preventsearch engines from displaying ODP data). Adding description metatags to each of your pages is always a good practice in case Googlecannot find a good selection of text to use in the snippet. TheWebmaster Central Blog has an informative post on improvingsnippets with better description meta tags.(2) A user performs the query [baseball cards]. Our homepage appears as a result,with part of its description meta tag used as the snippet.Words in the snippet are bolded when they appear in the user's query(2). This gives the user clues about whether the content on the pagematches with what he or she is looking for. (3) is another example,this time showing a snippet from a description meta tag on a deeperpage (which ideally has its own unique description meta tag)containing an article.(3) A user performs the query [rarest baseball cards]. One of our deeper pages, withits unique description meta tag used as the snippet, appears as a result.GlossarySnippetText displayed beneath the title of a corresponding web page on the search resultspages of a search engine. A web page summary and/or parts of the page that matchthe search keywords will be displayed.Open Directory Project (ODP)The world's largest volunteer-run web directory (a list of Internet links collected on alarge scale and then organized by category). DomainAn address on the Internet that indicates the location of a computer or network. Theseare administrated to avoid duplication.

SEO BasicsBest PracticesImproving Site StructureAccurately summarize the page's contentWrite a description that would both inform and interest users if they saw your description meta tag asa snippet in a search result.Avoid:writing a description meta tag that has no relation to the content on the pageusing generic descriptions like "This is a web page" or "Page about baseball cards"filling the description with only keywordscopying and pasting the entire content of the document into the description meta tagOptimizing ContentUse unique descriptions for each pageHaving a different description meta tag for each page helps both users and Google, especially insearches where users may bring up multiple pages on your domain (e.g. searches using the site:operator). If your site has thousands or even millions of pages, hand-crafting description meta tagsprobably isn't feasible. In this case, you could automatically generate description meta tags based oneach page's content.Avoid:using a single description meta tag across all of your site's pages or a large group of pagesDealing with CrawlersUse description meta tags toprovide both search enginesand users with a summary ofwhat your page is about!SEO for Mobile PhonesPromotions and AnalysisLinksContent analysis sectionh new-content-analysis-andsitemap.htmlPrevent search engines from displaying ODP nswer.py?answer 35264Improving snippets with better description meta tagsh improve-snippets-withmeta-description.htmlsite: e-site-operator-an-ode-to-thee/

Improving Site StructureImprove the structure of your URLsSimple-to-understand URLs will conveycontent information easilyCreating descriptive categories and filenames for the documents onyour website can not only help you keep your site better organized,but it could also lead to better crawling of your documents bysearch engines. Also, it can create easier, "friendlier" URLs for thosethat want to link to your content. Visitors may be intimidated byextremely long and cryptic URLs that contain few recognizable words.(1) A URL to a page on our baseball card site that a user might have a hard timewith.(2) The highlighted words above could inform a user or search engine what thetarget page is about before following the link.URLs like (1) can be confusing and unfriendly. Users would have ahard time reciting the URL from memory or creating a link to it. Also,users may believe that a portion of the URL is unnecessary, especiallyif the URL shows many unrecognizable parameters. They might leaveoff a part, breaking the link.Some users might link to your page using the URL of that page as theanchor text. If your URL contains relevant words, this providesusers and search engines with more information about the pagethan an ID or oddly named parameter would (2).URLs are displayed in search resultsLastly, remember that the URL to a document is displayed aspart of a search result in Google, below the document's title andsnippet. Like the title and snippet, words in the URL on the searchresult appear in bold if they appear in the user's query (3). To the rightis another example showing a URL on our domain for a pagecontaining an article about the rarest baseball cards. The words in theURL might appeal to a search user more than an ID number like "www.brandonsbaseballcards.com/article/102125/" would.(3) A user performs the query [baseball cards]. Our homepage appears as a result,with the URL listed under the title and snippet.Google is good at crawling all types of URL structures, even if they'requite complex, but spending the time to make your URLs as simple aspossible for both users and search engines can help. Somewebmasters try to achieve this by rewriting their dynamic URLs tostatic ones; while Google is fine with this, we'd like to note that this isan advanced procedure and if done incorrectly, could cause crawlingissues with your site. To learn even more about good URL structure,we recommend this Webmaster Help Center page on creatingGoogle-friendly URLs.GlossaryCrawlExploration of websites by search engine software (bots) in order to index theircontent.ParameterData provided in the URL to specify a site's behavior.ID (session ID)Data provided for the identification and/or behavior management of a user who iscurrently accessing a system or network communications. 301 redirectAn HTTP status code (see page 12). Forces a site visitor to automatically jump to aspecified URL.SubdomainA type of domain used to identify a category that is smaller than a regular domain (seepage 6).Root directoryDirectory at the top of the tree structure of a site. It is sometimes called "root".

SEO BasicsChoose a URL that will beeasy for users and searchengines to understand!Best PracticesImproving Site StructureUse words in URLsURLs with words that are relevant to your site's content and structure are friendlier for visitorsnavigating your site. Visitors remember them better and might be more willing to link to them.Avoid:using lengthy URLs with unnecessary parameters and session IDschoosing generic page names like "page1.html"using excessive keywords tm"Optimizing ContentCreate a simple directory structureUse a directory structure that organizes your content well and makes it easy for visitors to know wherethey're at on your site. Try using your directory structure to indicate the type of content found at thatURL.Avoid:having deep nesting of subdirectories like "./dir1/dir2/dir3/dir4/dir5/dir6/page.html"using directory names that have no relation to the content in themDealing with CrawlersProvide one version of a URL toreach a documentTo prevent users from linking to one version of a URL and others linking to a different version (thiscould split the reputation of that content between the URLs), focus on using and referring to one URLin the structure and internal linking of your pages. If you do find that people are accessing the samecontent through multiple URLs, setting up a 301 redirect from non-preferred URLs to the dominantURL is a good solution for this. You may also use canonical URL or use the rel "canonical" link elementif you cannot redirect.SEO for Mobile PhonesAvoid:having pages from subdomains and the root directory access the same content- e.g. "domain.com/page.htm" and "sub.domain.com/page.htm"using odd capitalization of URLs- many users expect lower-case URLs and remember them betterPromotions and AnalysisLinksDynamic nswer.py?answer 40349Creating Google-friendly nswer.py?answer 76329301 in/answer.py?answer 93633rel s/bin/answer.py?answer 139394

Improving Site StructureMake your site easier to navigateNavigation is very important for searchengines(root)aboutThe navigation of a website is important in helping visitorsquickly find the content they want. It can also help search enginesunderstand what content the webmaster thinks is important.Although Google's search results are provided at a page level, Googlealso likes to have a sense of what role a page plays in the biggerpicture of the site.articlesnews2008Plan out your navigation based on yourhomepage20092010All sites have a home or "root" page, which is usually the mostfrequented page on the site and the starting place of navigation formany visitors. Unless your site has only a handful of pages, youshould think about how visitors will go from a general page(your root page) to a page containing more specific content. Doyou have enough pages around a specific topic area that it wouldmake sense to create a page describing these related pages (e.g. rootpage - related topic listing - specific topic)? Do you have hundredsof different products that need to be classified under multiplecategory and subcategory opThe directory structurefor our small website onbaseball cards.Ensure more convenience for users byusing ‘breadcrumb lists’(1) Breadcrumb links appearing on a deeper article page on our site.A breadcrumb is a row of internal links at the top or bottom of thepage that allows visitors to quickly navigate back to a previoussection or the root page (1). Many breadcrumbs have the mostgeneral page (usually the root page) as the first, left-most link and listthe more specific sections out to the right.Glossary404 ("page not found" error)An HTTP status code (see page 12). It means that the server could not find the webpage requested by the browser.10XML SitemapA list of the pages on a particular website. By creating and sending this list, you areable to notify Google of all pages on a website, including any URLs that may have beenundetected by Google's regular crawling process.

SEO Basics(2) Users may go to an upper directory by removing the last part of the URL.Optimizing ContentConsider what happens when a user removes part of your URL Some users might navigate your site in odd ways, and you shouldanticipate this. For example, instead of using the breadcrumb linkson the page, a user might drop off a part of the URL in the hopesof finding more general content. He or she might be visiting oming-baseballcard-shows.htm, butthen enter http://www.brandonsbaseballcards.com/news/2010/ intothe browser's address bar, believing that this will show all news from2010 (2). Is your site prepared to show content in this situation or willit give the user a 404 ("page not found" error)? What about moving upa directory level to http://www.brandonsbaseballcards.com/news/?Prepare two sitemaps: one for users, onefor search engines urlset xmlns "http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9" url loc http://www.brandonsbaseballcards.com/ /loc changefreq daily /changefreq priority 0.8 /priority /url url loc http://www.brandonsbaseballcards.com/news/ /loc /url url loc http://www.brandonsbaseballcards.com/news/2008/ /loc /url url loc http://www.brandonsbaseballcards.com/news/2009/ /loc /url url loc http://www.brandonsbaseballcards.com/news/2010/ /loc /url SEO for Mobile PhonesAn XML Sitemap (upper-case) file, which you can submit throughGoogle's Webmaster Tools, makes it easier for Google to discoverthe pages on your site. Using a Sitemap file is also one way (thoughnot guaranteed) to tell Google which version of a URL you'd prefer asthe canonical one (e.g. http://brandonsbaseballcards.com/ or http://www.brandonsbaseballcards.com/; more on what's a preferreddomain). Google helped create the open source Sitemap GeneratorScript to help you create a Sitemap file for your site. To learn moreabout Sitemaps, the Webmaster Help Center provides a useful guideto Sitemap files. ?xml version "1.0" encoding "UTF-8"? Dealing with CrawlersA site map (lower-case) is a simple page on your site that displays thestructure of your website, and usually consists of a hierarchical listingof the pages on your site. Visitors may visit this page if they arehaving problems finding pages on your site. While search engineswill also visit this page, getting good crawl coverage of the pages onyour site, it's mainly aimed at human visitors.Improving Site StructureAllow for the possibility of a part of theURL being removed /urlset Examples of an HTML site map and an XML Sitemap. An HTML site map can helpusers easily find content that they are looking for, and an XML Sitemap can helpsearch engines find pages on your site.Webmaster s a preferred /answer.py?answer 44231Sitemap Generator tor/Guide to Sitemap answer.py?answer 156184Promotions and AnalysisLinks11

Improving Site StructureMake your site easier to navigateBest PracticesCreate a naturally flowing hierarchyMake it as easy as possible for users to go from general content to the more specific content theywant on your site. Add navigation pages when it makes sense and effectively work these into yourinternal link structure.Avoid:creating complex webs of navigation links, e.g. linking every page on your site to every other pagegoing overboard with slicing and dicing your content (so that it takes twenty clicks)Use mostly text for navigationControlling most of the navigation from page to page on your site through text links makes it easier forsearch engines to crawl and understand your site. Many users also prefer this over other approaches,especially on some devices that might not handle Flash or JavaScript.Avoid:having a navigation based entirely on drop-down menus, images, or animations- many, but not all, search engines can discover such links on a site, but if a user can reach allpages on a site via normal text links, this will improve the accessibility of your site; more on howGoogle deals with non-text filesFor navigation, the focusshould be on simplicityand ease of use!Glossary12FlashWeb technology or software developed by Adobe Systems Incorporated. It is able tocreate web content that combines sound, video and animation.JavaScript A type of programming language. It can add dynamic features to webpages and is used by many web services.Drop-down menu A system in which one chooses content from a menu. When oneclicks on the menu, the list of choices are displayed in a list in a drawn out manner.Accessibility The ability for users and search engines to access and comprehendcontent.User experienceThe experience gained by a user through using products, services, etc. Emphasis isplaced on providing an experience truly sought after by the user, such as "enjoyment,""convenience" and "comfort."HTTP status codeA code that expresses the meanings of responses from the server when computersare conveying information to each other. The code is allotted as three numerical digits,with a different meaning depending on the number used.

SEO BasicsBest PracticesA simple site map page with links to all of the pages or the most important pages (if you havehundreds or thousands) on your site can be useful. Creating an XML Sitemap file for your site helpsensure that search engines discover the pages on your site.Improving Site StructurePut an HTML site map page on your site, anduse an XML Sitemap fileAvoid:letting your HTML site map page become out of date with broken linkscreating an HTML site map that simply lists pages without organizing them, for example by subjectAvoid: allowing your 404 pages to be indexed in search engines (make sure that your webserver isconfigured to give a 404 HTTP status code when non-existent pages are requested)providing only a vague message like "Not found", "404", or no 404 page at allusing a design for your 404 pages that isn't consistent with the rest of your siteDealing with CrawlersUsers will occasionally come to a page that doesn't exist on your site, either by following a broken linkor typing in the wrong URL. Having a custom 404 page that kindly guides users back to a workingpage on your site can greatly improve a user's experience. Your 404 page should probably have a linkback to your root page and could also provide links to popular or related content on your site. Googleprovides a 404 widget that you can embed in your 404 page to automatically populate it with manyuseful features. You can also use Google Webmaster Tools to find the sources of URLs causing "notfound" errors.Optimizing ContentHave a useful 404 pageSEO for Mobile PhonesHow Google deals with non-text answer.py?answer 72746Custom 404 nswer.py?answer 93641404 widgeth make-your-404-pages-moreuseful.htmlSources of URLs causing "not found" errors /webmaster-tools-showscrawl-error.html404 HTTP status c10.htmlPromotions and AnalysisLinks13

Optimizing ContentOffer quality content and servicesInteresting sites will increase theirrecognition on their ownCreating compelling and useful content will likely influenceyour website more than any of the other factors discussed here(1). Users know good content when they see it and will likely want todirect other users to it. This could be through blog posts, social mediaservices, email, forums, or other means.Organic or word-of-mouth buzz is what helps build your site'sreputation with both users and Google, and it rarely comes withoutquality content.(1) A blogger finds a piece of your content, likes it, and then references it in a blogpost.Anticipate differences in users'understanding of your topic and offerunique, exclusive contentThink about the words that a user might search for to find a piece ofyour content. Users who know a lot about the topic might usedifferent keywords in their search queries than someone who is newto the topic. For example, a long-time baseball fan might search for[nlcs], an acronym for the National League Championship Series,while a new fan might use a more general query like [baseballplayoffs]. Anticipating these differences in search behavior andaccounting for them while writing your content (using a goodmix of keyword phrases) could produce positive results. GoogleAdWords provides a handy Keyword Tool that helps you discover newkeyword variations and see the approximate search volume for eachkeyword (2). Also, Google Webmaster Tools provides you with the topsearch queries your site appears for and the ones that led the mostusers to your site.Consider creating a new, useful service that no other site offers. Youcould also write an original piece of research, break an excitingnews story, or leverage your unique user base. Other sites maylack the resources or expertise to do these things.(2) The Google AdWords Keyword Tool can help you find relevant keywords on yoursite and the volume of those keywords.GlossarySocial media serviceA community-type web service that promotes and supports forging connectionsamong fellow users.14Google AdWordsAn advertising service which places relevant advertisements on search results pagesand other content. When a user searches for keywords using Google, AdWordsadvertisements related to those keywords are displayed on the right, top and/orbottom of the search results pages alongside the organic search results.

SEO BasicsImproving content andservices should be apriority, regardless of thetype of website!Best PracticesUsers enjoy content that is well written and easy to follow.Avoid:writing sloppy text with many spelling and grammatical mistakesembedding text in images for textual content- users may want to copy and paste the text and search engines can't read itIt's always beneficial to organize your content so that visitors have a good sense of where one contenttopic begins and another ends. Breaking your content up into logical chunks or divisions helps usersfind the content they want faster.Optimizing ContentStay organized around the topicImproving Site StructureWrite easy-to-read textAvoid: dumping large amounts of text on varying topics onto a page without paragraph, subheading, orlayout separationNew content will not only keep your existing visitor base coming back, but also bring in new visitors.Avoid:rehashing (or even copying) existing content that will bring little extra value to usershaving dupl

Focus: Online-only baseball card sales, price guides, articles, and news content Size: Small, 50 pages “Paid” Search, AdWords Organic Search Search engine optimization affects only organic search results