Confused about Search Engine Optimization (SEO)? Here is your basic block and tackle guide for people new to SEO who want to gain insights into their website’s searchability:
Site and Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs)
Before you concern yourself with any technical search engine optimization or tools, take care of the basics. Go to whatever website you are reviewing and poke around. Take note of things like the user experience (UX) and user interface (UI), content, navigation, business/contact info, keywords, site structure, etc. After that, go to Google (and other search engines) and search for the site or anything related to the business. Examine the SERPs, keeping an eye out for things like placement, titles, descriptions, “rich snippets” (things like reviews, recipes, products, events), etc.
Check for robots.txt and sitemap.xml files
The robots.txt file tells the search engine crawler how to crawl the site—which pages to crawl and what content to ignore. To check for the robots.txt file, go to the site you are auditing and add “/robots.txt” to the end of the URL. If you get a page displaying the txt file: Bingo! The sitemap tells the search engine what pages to index and the structure of your site, giving crawlers an up-to-date understanding of your site. To check for this, go to the website and add “/sitemap.xml” to the end of the URL. If you get a page displaying xml text: Viola!
PageSpeed Insights and Mobile Friendly tests
Two tools we like are Google PageSpeed Insights and Google Mobile-Friendly Test. For both of these tools simply enter your URL, click analyze, and watch the magic happen. Not only will you get a gamut of suggestions to improve your site’s SEO, but Google will give you directions on how to fix each issue if you need help figuring it out. Being mobile-friendly is no longer an option for search engine optimization, it is a requirement. Websites are now being dinged and pushed down the rankings for not having mobile-friendly pages.
Structured Data Testing Tool
The Google Structured Data Testing Tool will analyze your pages for structured data and microformat markups, notifying you of any errors or lack of structured data entirely. If you’re wondering what structured data is, think of it as putting labels on the content of your website which allows Google to characterize that content and return better search results. For instance, if you have a blog with a delicious recipe for the perfect burger, adding structured data markup to the code of the page will allow Google to characterize that recipe, and then return a more informative result in the SERPs. As an example, in the result below, you can see information right on the results page about how long it takes to cook, calories, ratings, etc.
Recipes are by no means the only thing you can markup with data so if you’ve got anything on your website that people would be searching for (I hope you do, or you might have a problem bigger than just SEO), it would be worth looking into adding structured data.