Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Starter Guide

What are the merits of description meta tags?Description meta tags are important because Google might use them as snippets for your pages. Note that we say “might” because Google may choose to use a relevant section of your page’s visible text if it does a good job of matching up with a user’s query. Adding description meta tags to each of your pages is always a good practice in case Google cannot find a good selection of text to use in the snippet. The Webmaster Central Blog has informative posts on improving snippets with better description meta tags19 and better snippets for your users20. We also have a handy Help Center article on how to create good titles and snippets21.Best PracticesAccurately summarize the page contentWrite a description that would both inform and interest users if they saw your description meta tag as a snippet in a search result. While there’s no minimal or maximal length for the text in a description meta tag, we recommend making sure that it’s long enough to be fully shown in Search (note that users may see different sized snippets depending on how and where they search), and contains all the relevant information users would need to determine whether the page will be useful and relevant to them.Avoid:Writing a description meta tag that has no relation to the content on the page.Using generic descriptions like “This is a web page” or “Page about baseball cards”.Filling the description with only keywords.Copying and pasting the entire content of the document into the description meta tag.Use unique descriptions for each pageHaving a different description meta tag for each page helps both users and Google, especially in searches where users may bring up multiple pages on your domain (for example, searches using the site: operator). If your site has thousands or even millions of pages, hand-crafting description meta tags probably isn’t feasible. In this case, you could automatically generate description meta tags based on each page’s content.Avoid:Using a single description meta tag across all of your site’s pages or a large group of pages.Use heading tags to emphasize important textSince heading tags typically make text contained in them larger than normal text on the page, this is a visual cue to users that this text is important and could help them understand something about the type of content underneath the heading text. Multiple heading sizes used in order create a hierarchical structure for your content, making it easier for users to navigate through your document.Best PracticesImagine you’re writing an outlineSimilar to writing an outline for a large paper, put some thought into what the main points and sub-points of the content on the page will be and decide where to use heading tags appropriately.Avoid:Placing text in heading tags that wouldn’t be helpful in defining the structure of the page.Using heading tags where other tags like  and  may be more appropriate.Erratically moving from one heading tag size to another.Use headings sparingly across the pageUse heading tags where it makes sense. 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:Excessive use of heading tags on a page.Very long headings.Using heading tags only for styling text and not presenting structure.Add structured data markupStructured data22 is code that you can add to your sites’ pages to describe your content to search engines, so they can better understand what’s on your pages. Search engines can use this understanding to display your content in useful (and eye-catching!) ways in search results. That, in turn, can help you attract just the right kind of customers for your business.For example, if you’ve got an online store and mark up an individual product page, this helps us understand that the page features a bike, its price, and customer reviews. We may display that information in the snippet for search results for relevant queries. We call these “rich results.”In addition to using structured data markup for rich results, we may use it to serve relevant results in other formats. For instance, if you’ve got a brick-and-mortar store, marking up the opening hours allows your potential customers to find you exactly when they need you, and inform them if your store is open/closed at the time of searching.You can mark up many business-relevant entities:Products you’re sellingBusiness locationVideos about your products or businessOpening hoursEvents listingsRecipesYour company logo, and many more!See a full list of supported content types in our developer site23.We recommend that you use structured data with any of the supported notations markup to describe your content. You can add the markup to the HTML code to your pages, or use tools like Data Highlighter24 and Markup Helper25 (see the Best Practices section for more information about them).Best PracticesCheck your markup using the Structured Data Testing ToolOnce you’ve marked up your content, you can use the Google Structured Data Testing Tool26 to make sure that there are no mistakes in the implementation. You can either enter the URL where the content is, or copy the actual HTML which includes the markup.Avoid:Using invalid markup.Use Data HighlighterIf you want to give structured markup a try without changing the source code of your site, you can use Data Highlighter which is a free tool integrated in Search Console that supports a subset of content types.If you’d like to get the markup code ready to copy and paste to your page, try the Markup Helper tool.Avoid:Changing the source code of your site when you are unsure about implementing markup.Keep track of how your marked up pages are doingThe Structured Data report27 in Search Console shows you how many pages on your site we’ve detected with a specific type of markup, how many times they appeared in search results, and how many times people clicked on them over the past 90 days. It also shows any errors we’ve detected.Avoid:Adding markup data which is not visible to users.Creating fake reviews or adding irrelevant markups.Manage your appearance in Google Search resultsCorrect structured data on your pages also makes your page eligible for many special features in Search results, including review stars, fancy decorated results, and more. See the gallery of search result types that your page can be eligible for.28Organize your site hierarchyUnderstand how search engines use URLsSearch engines need a unique URL per piece of content to be able to crawl and index that content, and to refer users to it. Different content – for example, different products in a shop – as well as modified content – for example, translations or regional variations – need to use separate URLs in order to be shown in search appropriately.URLs are generally split into multiple distinct sections:protocol://hostname/path/filename?querystring#fragmentFor example:https://www.example.com/RunningShoes/Womens.htm?size=8#infoGoogle recommends that all websites use https:// when possible. The hostname is where your website is hosted, commonly using the same domain name that you’d use for email. Google differentiates between the “www” and “non-www” version (for example, “www.example.com” or just “example.com”). When adding your website to Search Console, we recommend adding both http:// and https:// versions, as well as the “www” and “non-www” versions.Path, filename, and query string determine which content from your server is accessed. These three parts are case-sensitive, so “FILE” would result in a different URL than “file”. The hostname and protocol are case-insensitive; upper or lower case wouldn’t play a role there.A fragment (in this case, “#info”) generally identifies which part of the page the browser scrolls to. Because the content itself is usually the same regardless of the fragment, search engines commonly ignore any fragment used.When referring to the homepage, a trailing slash after the hostname is optional since it leads to the same content (“https://example.com/” is the same as “https://example.com”). For the path and filename, a trailing slash would be seen as a different URL (signaling either a file or a directory), for example, “https://example.com/fish” is not the same as “https://example.com/fish/”.Navigation is important for search enginesThe navigation of a website is important in helping visitors quickly find the content they want. It can also help search engines understand what content the webmaster thinks is important. Although Google’s search results are provided at a page level, Google also likes to have a sense of what role a page plays in the bigger picture of the site.Plan your navigation based on your homepageAll sites have a home or “root” page, which is usually the most frequented page on the site and the starting place of navigation for many visitors. Unless your site has only a handful of pages, you should think about how visitors will go from a general page (your root page) to a page containing more specific content. Do you have enough pages around a specific topic area that it would make sense to create a page describing these related pages (for example, root page -> related topic listing -> specific topic)? Do you have hundreds of different products that need to be classified under multiple category and subcategory pages?Using ‘breadcrumb lists’A breadcrumb is a row of internal links at the top or bottom of the page that allows visitors to quickly navigate back to a previous section or the root page. Many breadcrumbs have the most general page (usually the root page) as the first, leftmost link and list the more specific sections out to the right. We recommend using breadcrumb structured data markup29 when showing breadcrumbs.Create a simple navigational page for usersA navigational page is a simple page on your site that displays the structure of your website, and usually consists of a hierarchical listing of the pages on your site. Visitors may visit this page if they are having problems finding pages on your site. While search engines will also visit this page, getting good crawl coverage of the pages on your site, it’s mainly aimed at human visitors.Best PracticesCreate a naturally flowing hierarchyMake it as easy as possible for users to go from general content to the more specific content they want on your site. Add navigation pages when it makes sense and effectively work these into your internal link structure. Make sure all of the pages on your site are reachable through links, and that they don’t require an internal “search” functionality to be found. Link to related pages, where appropriate, to allow users to discover similar content.Avoid:Creating complex webs of navigation links, for example, linking every page on your site to every other page.Going overboard with slicing and dicing your content (so that it takes twenty clicks to reach from the homepage).Use text for navigationControlling most of the navigation from page to page on your site through text links makes it easier for search engines to crawl and understand your site. When using JavaScript to create a page, use “a” elements with URLs as “href” attribute values, and generate all menu items on page-load, instead of waiting for a user interaction.Avoid:Having a navigation based entirely on images, or animations.Requiring script or plugin-based event-handling for navigation30.Create a navigational page for users, a sitemap for search enginesInclude a simple navigational page for your entire site (or the most important pages, if you have hundreds or thousands) for users. Create an XML sitemap file to ensure that search engines discover the new and updated pages on your site, listing all relevant URLs together with their primary content’s last modified dates.Avoid:Letting your navigational page become out of date with broken links.Creating a navigational page that simply lists pages without organizing them, for example by subject.Show useful 404 pagesUsers will occasionally come to a page that doesn’t exist on your site, either by following a broken link or typing in the wrong URL. Having a custom 404 page31 that kindly guides users back to a working page on your site can greatly improve a user’s experience. Your 404 page should probably have a link back to your root page and could also provide links to popular or related content on your site. You can use Google Search Console to find the sources of URLs causing “not found” errors32.Avoid:Allowing your 404 pages to be indexed in search engines (make sure that your web server is configured to give a 404 HTTP status code or – in the case of JavaScript-based sites – include a noindex robots meta-tag when non-existent pages are requested).Blocking 404 pages from being crawled through the robots.txt file.Providing only a vague message like “Not found”, “404”, or no 404 page at all.Using a design for your 404 pages that isn’t consistent with the rest of your site.Simple URLs convey content informationCreating descriptive categories and filenames for the documents on your website not only helps you keep your site better organized, it can create easier, “friendlier” URLs for those that want to link to your content. Visitors may be intimidated by extremely long and cryptic URLs that contain few recognizable words.URLs like the one shown in the image above can be confusing and unfriendly. Users would have a hard time creating a link to it.Some users might link to your page using the URL of that page as the anchor text. If your URL contains relevant words, this provides users with more information about the page than an ID or oddly named parameter would. URLs are displayed in search resultsLastly, remember that the URL to a document is usually displayed in a search result in Google below the document title.Google is good at crawling all types of URL structures, even if they’re quite complex, but spending the time to make your URLs as simple as possible is a good practice.Best PracticesUse words in URLsURLs with words that are relevant to your site’s content and structure are friendlier for visitors navigating your site.Avoid:Using lengthy URLs with unnecessary parameters and session IDs.Choosing generic page names like “page1.html”.Using excessive keywords like “baseball-cards-baseball-cards-baseballcards.htm”.Create a simple directory structureUse a directory structure that organizes your content well and makes it easy for visitors to know where they’re at on your site. Try using your directory structure to indicate the type of content found at that URL.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 them.Provide one version of a URL to reach a documentTo prevent users from linking to one version of a URL and others linking to a different version (this could split the reputation of that content between the URLs), focus on using and referring to one URL in the structure and internal linking of your pages. If you do find that people are accessing the same content through multiple URLs, setting up a 301 redirect33from non-preferred URLs to the dominant URL is a good solution for this. You may also use canonical URL or use the rel=”canonical”34 link element if you cannot redirect.Avoid:Having pages from subdomains and the root directory access the same content, for example, “domain.com/page.html” and “sub.domain.com/page.html”.Optimize your contentMake your site interesting and usefulCreating compelling and useful content will likely influence your website more than any of the other factors discussed here. Users know good content when they see it and will likely want to direct other users to it. This could be through blog posts, social media services, email, forums, or other means.Organic or word-of-mouth buzz is what helps build your site’s reputation with both users and Google, and it rarely comes without quality content.Know what your readers want (and give it to them)Think about the words that a user might search for to find a piece of your content. Users who know a lot about the topic might use different keywords in their search queries than someone who is new to the topic. For example, a long-time football fan might search for [fifa], an acronym for the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, while a new fan might use a more general query like [football playoffs]. Anticipating these differences in search behavior and accounting for them while writing your content (using a good mix of keyword phrases) could produce positive results. Google AdWords provides a handy Keyword Planner35 that helps you discover new keyword variations and see the approximate search volume for each keyword. Also, Google Search Console provides you with the top search queries your site appears for and the ones that led the most users to your site in the Search Analytics Report36.Consider creating a new, useful service that no other site offers. You could also write an original piece of research, break an exciting news story, or leverage your unique user base. Other sites may lack the resources or expertise to do these things.Best PracticesWrite easy-to-read textUsers enjoy content that is well written and easy to follow.Avoid:Writing sloppy text with many spelling and grammatical mistakes.Awkward or poorly written content.Embedding text in images and videos for textual content: users may want to copy and paste the text and search engines can’t read it.Organize your topics clearlyIt’s always beneficial to organize your content so that visitors have a good sense of where one content topic begins and another ends. Breaking your content up into logical chunks or divisions helps users find the content they want faster.Avoid:Dumping large amounts of text on varying topics onto a page without paragraph, subheading, or layout separation.Create fresh, unique contentNew 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 users.Having duplicate or near-duplicate versions of your content across your site.Learn more about duplicate content37Optimize content for your users, not search enginesDesigning your site around your visitors’ needs while making sure your site is easily accessible to search engines usually produces positive results.Avoid:Inserting numerous unnecessary keywords aimed at search engines but are annoying or nonsensical to users.Having blocks of text like “frequent misspellings used to reach this page” that add little value for users.Deceptively hiding text from users38, but displaying it to search engines.Use links wiselyWrite good link textLink text is the visible text inside a link. This text tells users and Google something about the page you’re linking to. Links on your page may be internal—pointing to other pages on your site—or external—leading to content on other sites. In either of these cases, the better your anchor text is, the easier it is for users to navigate and for Google to understand what the page you’re linking to is about.With appropriate anchor text, users and search engines can easily understand what the linked pages contain.Best PracticesChoose descriptive textThe anchor text you use for a link should provide at least a basic idea of what the page linked to is about.Avoid:Writing generic anchor text like “page”, “article”, or “click here”.Using text that is off-topic or has no relation to the content of the page linked to.Using the page’s URL as the anchor text in most cases, although there are certainly legitimate uses of this, such as promoting or referencing a new website’s address.Write concise textAim for short but descriptive text-usually a few words or a short phrase.Avoid:Writing long anchor text, such as a lengthy sentence or short paragraph of text.Format links so they’re easy to spotMake it easy for users to distinguish between regular text and the anchor text of your links. Your content becomes less useful if users miss the links or accidentally click them.Avoid:Using CSS or text styling that make links look just like regular text.Think about anchor text for internal links tooYou may usually think about linking in terms of pointing to outside websites, but paying more attention to the anchor text used for internal links can help users and Google navigate your site better.Avoid:Using excessively keyword-filled or lengthy anchor text just for search engines.Creating unnecessary links that don’t help with the user’s navigation of the site.Be careful who you link toYou can confer some of your site’s reputation to another site when your site links to it. Sometimes users can take advantage of this by adding links to their own site in your comment sections or message boards. Or sometimes you might mention a site in a negative way and don’t want to confer any of your reputation upon it. For example, imagine that you’re writing a blog post on the topic of comment spamming and you want to call out a site that recently comment spammed your blog. You want to warn others of the site, so you include the link to it in your content; however, you certainly don’t want to give the site some of your reputation from your link. This would be a good time to use nofollow.Another example when the “nofollow” attribute can come handy are widget links. If you are using a third party’s widget to enrich the experience of your site and engage users, check if it contains any links that you did not intend to place on your site along with the widget. Some widgets may add links to your site which are not your editorial choice and contain anchor text that you as a webmaster may not control. If removing such unwanted links from the widget is not possible, you can always disable them with “nofollow” attribute. If you create a widget for functionality or content that you provide, make sure to include the nofollow on links in the default code snippet.Lastly, if you’re interested in nofollowing all of the links on a page, you can add the tag  inside the  tag for the page. You can find more details about robots meta tag on the Webmaster Blog39.Combat comment spam with “nofollow”Setting the value of the “rel” attribute of a link to “nofollow” will tell Google that certain links on your site shouldn’t be followed or pass your page’s reputation to the pages linked to. Nofollowing a link means adding rel=”nofollow” inside of the link’s anchor tag, as shown here:Anchor text hereWhen would this be useful? If your site has a blog with public commenting turned on, links within those comments could pass your reputation to pages that you may not be comfortable vouching for. Blog comment areas on pages are highly susceptible to comment spam. Nofollowing these user-added links ensures that you’re not giving your page’s hard-earned reputation to a spammy site.Automatically add “nofollow” to comment columns and message boardsMany blogging software packages automatically nofollow user comments, but those that don’t can most likely be manually edited to do this. This advice also goes for other areas of your site that may involve user-generated content, such as guest books, forums, shout-boards, referrer listings, etc. If you’re willing to vouch for links added by third parties (for example, if a commenter is trusted on your site), then there’s no need to use nofollow on links; however, linking to sites that Google considers spammy can affect the reputation of your own site. The Webmaster Help Center has more tips on avoiding comment spam40, for example by using CAPTCHAs and turning on comment moderation.Optimize your imagesUse the “alt” attributeProvide a descriptive filename and alt attribute description for images. The “alt” attribute allows you to specify alternative text for the image if it cannot be displayed for some reason.Why use this attribute? If a user is viewing your site using assistive technologies, such as a screen reader, the contents of the alt attribute provide information about the picture.Another reason is that if you’re using an image as a link, the alt text for that image will be treated similarly to the anchor text of a text link. However, we don’t recommend using too many images for links in your site’s navigation when text links could serve the same purpose. Lastly, optimizing your image filenames and alt text makes it easier for image search projects like Google Image Search to better understand your images.Best PracticesUse brief but descriptive filenames and alt textLike many of the other parts of the page targeted for optimization, filenames and alt text are best when they’re short, but descriptive.Avoid:Using generic filenames like “image1.jpg”, “pic.gif”, “1.jpg” style=”max-width:100%;” />

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