SEO is intimidating to many business owners, as it includes a combination of both technical and creative components that must be implemented in order to improve rankings, drive traffic, and increase search engine awareness.
While some aspects of SEO can be complex and time-consuming, the basic components are fairly easy to integrate and ensure the fundamental health of your website. Here are some relatively easy steps that any business owner can implement.
Avoid these at your own peril, as they are important in helping your site rank higher on Google, as well as in ensuring that you don’t “offend” Google and end up with a penalty.
HTML Sitemaps—Helping Visitors Understand Your Site
An HTML sitemap is an outline of your site’s navigation that allows visitors to navigate your website more easily. Having a sitemap submitted to major search engines significantly increases the chances of your content showing up in relevant searches.
If you use WordPress, you can create a sitemap easily with one of WordPress’ sitemap plugins. You can also use a plain text editor to create a sitemap manually or use sitemap templates.
Once generated, it’s best to link your sitemap from the footer of your website—as well as on your 404 page, to help visitors who are lost.
For a sitemap to be maximally effective and user-friendly, it’s important to make sure that the sitemap’s links include keywords that accurately explain to visitors what each page is about.
XML Sitemaps—Guiding Search Spiders
An XML sitemap helps Google and other major search engines understand your site while crawling it. XML sitemaps allow search engines to find all of your webpages, including the pages they might otherwise miss when indexing.
With an XML sitemap, you can provide details about each URL, such as when it was last updated, how often the site changes, and how important you consider each page to be in relation to other pages on the site. The XML sitemap is only viewed by search engine spiders, not human beings, so the design of the page is not important.
You can create a sitemap using one of many XML sitemap generators. In WordPress, you can use Yoast’s WordPress SEO plugin to generate a sitemap.
Alternatively, Google recommends using the XML-Sitemaps.com Sitemap Generator. Once generated, upload your sitemap URL to your Google Webmaster account.
Robots Meta Tags—Preventing Pages from Being Listed
A robots Meta tag tells Google not to list a specific page. To add a robots Meta tag, use the following code:<meta name=”robots” content=”noindex, nofollow”/>
Canonical Tags—Avoiding Duplicate Content
If you have one or more pages on your website that have the same content, it can cause problems for search engine spiders—as they do not know which page to index. In the worst case scenario, duplicate content can lead to a Google penalty for your site.
You can avoid this problem using canonical tags. Apply a canonical tag to duplicate pages that you don’t want Google to read as the original source. This tells Google to crawl and index the source and ignore the duplicates.
If you use WordPress and have the SEO Yoast plugin, you can add a canonical tag using the Advanced SEO section of your SEO Yoast dashboard, and copy the URL of the specific page into the Canonical URL parameter. Then, click the Meta Robots Index drop-down menu, select “noindex,” and save your page.
Crawl Tests—Maintaining the Health of Your Site
Conduct a full crawl diagnostics report of your website regularly, to check for any significant SEO errors. A crawl test helps you identify the kinds of errors that could have an impact on your ranking, such as 404 page errors and missing Meta data, and ensures that your site doesn’t get penalized by Google. The best crawling tools are SEO Moz Crawl Test and Screaming Frog SEO Spider Tool.
Do I Really Have to Do This?
SEO isn’t just about building sites that are friendly to search engines. It’s also about making your site friendly for human beings.
Although social media and other types of traffic can generate visits to your website, the majority of web traffic is driven by commercial search engines. If you follow these SEO basics, you can improve the visibility of your website in organic (non-paid) search engine results—helping you market the unique value of your site and leading you to increased profits.