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Search Engine Optimization
Starter Guide
Welcome to Google's
Search Engine Optimization
Starter Guide
This 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 to
the topic of search engine optimization and wish to improve their
sites' interaction with both users and search engines. Although this
guide won't tell you any secrets that'll automatically rank your site
first for queries in Google (sorry!), following the best practices
outlined below will make it easier for search engines to crawl, index
and understand your content.
Search engine optimization 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.
Even though this guide's title contains the words "search engine",
we'd like to say that you should base your optimization decisions first
and foremost on what's best for the visitors of your site. They're the
main consumers of your content and are using search engines to find
your work. Focusing too hard on specific tweaks to gain ranking in the
organic results of search engines may not deliver the desired results.
Search engine optimization is about putting your site's best foot
forward when it comes to visibility in search engines, but your
ultimate consumers are your users, not search engines.
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 Forum.
Table of Contents
SEO Basics
Create unique, accurate page titles
Make use of the "description" meta tag
Improving Site Structure
From here on, I'll be
Improve the structure of your URLs
explaining various points
Make your site easier to navigate
on search engine
Optimizing Content
optimization (SEO)!
Offer quality content and services
Write better anchor text
Optimize your use of images
Use heading tags appropriately
Dealing with Crawlers
Make effective use of robots.txt
Be aware of rel="nofollow" for links
SEO for Mobile Phones
Notify Google of mobile sites
Guide mobile users accurately
Crawling content
on the Internet for
Promotions and Analysis
Google's index
Promote your website in the right ways
every day, every
night, non stop.
Make use of free webmaster tools
An example may help our explanations, so we've created a fictitious
website to follow throughout the guide. For each topic, we've fleshed
out enough information about the site to illustrate the point being
covered. Here's some background information about the site we'll
Website/business name: "Brandon's Baseball Cards"
Domain name: brandonsbaseballcards.com
Focus: Online-only baseball card sales, price guides, articles,
and news content
Size: Small, ~250 pages
Search engine optimization affects only organic search results, not
paid or "sponsored" results such as Google AdWords.
“Paid” Search, AdWords
Organic Search
SEO Basics
Create unique, accurate page titles
Indicate page titles by using title tags
<title>Brandon's Baseball Cards - Buy Cards, Baseball News, Card Prices</title>
A title tag tells both users and search engines what the topic of
<meta name="description=" content="Brandon's Baseball Cards provides a
a particular page is. The <title> tag should be placed within the
large selection of vintage and modern baseball cards for sale. We also offer
<head> tag of the HTML document (1). Ideally, you should create a
daily baseball news and events in">
unique title for each page on your site.
(1) The title of the homepage for our baseball card site, which lists the business
Page title contents are displayed in search
name and three main focus areas.
If your document appears in a search results page, the contents of
the title tag will usually 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 video by
Google engineer Matt Cutts, and this helpful diagram of a Google
search results page ). Words in the title are bolded if they appear in the
user's search query. This can help users recognize if the page is
likely to be relevant to their search (2).
(2) A user performs the query [baseball cards]. Our homepage shows up as a result,
The title for your homepage can list the name of your website/
with the title listed on the first line (notice that the query terms the user searched
business and could include other bits of important information like
for appear in bold).
the physical location of the business or maybe a few of its main
focuses or offerings (3).
If the user clicks the result and visits the page, the page's title will appear at the top
of the browser.
(3) A user performs the query [rarest baseball cards]. A relevant, deeper page (its
title is unique to the content of the page) on our site appears as a result.
Search engine
Computer function that searches data available on the Internet using keywords or
Abbreviation for HyperText Markup Language, a language used when describing web
other specified terms, or a program containing this function.
page documents. It denotes the basic elements of web pages, including the document
<head> tag
text and any hyperlinks and images embedded within.
An element that indicates the header in an HTML document. The content of this
Search query
element will not be displayed in a browser.
Single or multiple terms which are input by the user when performing a search on
search engines.
Best Practices
Accurately describe the page's content
Choose a title that effectively communicates the topic of the page's content.
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 title tags for each page
Each of your pages should ideally have a unique title tag, which helps Google know how the page is
distinct from the others on your site.
using a single title tag 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, Google will show only a portion of it in
the search result.
using extremely lengthy titles that are unhelpful to users
stuffing unneeded keywords in your title tags
Page titles are an
important aspect of
search engine
The anatomy of a search result
Diagram of a Google search results page
SEO Basics
Make use of the "description" meta tag
Summaries can be defined for each page
<title>Brandon's Baseball Cards - Buy Cards, Baseball News, Card Prices</title>
A page's description meta tag gives Google and other search
<meta name="description=" content="Brandon's Baseball Cards provides a
engines a summary of what the page is about (1). Whereas a
large selection of vintage and modern baseball cards for sale. We also offer
page's title may be a few words or a phrase, a page's description meta
daily baseball news and events in">
tag might be a sentence or two or a short paragraph. Google
Webmaster Tools provides a handy content analysis section that'll tell
you about any description meta tags that are either too short, long, or
(1) The beginning of the description meta tag for our homepage, which gives a brief
duplicated too many times (the same information is also shown for
overview of the site's offerings.
<title> tags). Like the <title> tag, the description meta tag is placed
within the <head> tag of your HTML document.
What are the merits of description meta
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.
Alternatively, Google might use your site's description in the Open
Directory Project if your site is listed there (learn how to prevent
(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.
search engines from displaying ODP data ). 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 an informative post on improving
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 page
matches with what he or she is looking for. (3) is another example,
this time showing a snippet from a description meta tag on a deeper
page (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, with
its unique description meta tag used as the snippet, appears as a result.
Text displayed beneath the title of a corresponding web page on the search results
An address on the Internet that indicates the location of a computer or network. These
pages of a search engine. A web page summary and/or parts of the page that match
are administrated to avoid duplication.
the search keywords will be displayed.
Open Directory Project (ODP)
The world's largest volunteer-run web directory (a list of Internet links collected on a
large scale and then organized by category).
Best Practices
Accurately summarize the page's content
Write a description that would both inform and interest users if they saw your description meta tag as
a snippet in a search result.
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 page
Having 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 (e.g. 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.
using a single description meta tag across all of your site's pages or a large group of pages
Use description meta tags to
provide both search engines
and users with a summary of
what your page is about!
Content analysis section
Improving snippets with better description meta tags
Prevent search engines from displaying ODP data
site: operator
Improving Site Structure
Improve the structure of your URLs
Simple-to-understand URLs will convey
content information easily
(1) A URL to a page on our baseball card site that a user might have a hard time
Creating descriptive categories and filenames for the documents on
your website can not only help you keep your site better organized,
but it could also lead to better crawling of your documents by
search engines. Also, it can create easier, "friendlier" URLs for those
that want to link to your content. Visitors may be intimidated by
(2) The highlighted words above could inform a user or search engine what the
extremely long and cryptic URLs that contain few recognizable words.
target page is about before following the link.
URLs like (1) can be confusing and unfriendly. Users would have a
hard time reciting the URL from memory or creating a link to it. Also,
users may believe that a portion of the URL is unnecessary, especially
if the URL shows many unrecognizable parameters. They might leave
off a part, breaking the link.
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 and search engines with more information about the page
than an ID or oddly named parameter would (2).
URLs are displayed in search results
Lastly, remember that the URL to a document is displayed as
part of a search result in Google, below the document's title and
snippet. Like the title and snippet, words in the URL on the search
result appear in bold if they appear in the user's query (3). To the right
is another example showing a URL on our domain for a page
containing an article about the rarest baseball cards. The words in the
URL might appeal to a search user more than an ID number like "www.
(3) A user performs the query [baseball cards]. Our homepage appears as a result,
brandonsbaseballcards.com/article/102125/" would.
with the URL listed under the title and snippet.
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 for both users and search engines can help. Some
webmasters try to achieve this by rewriting their dynamic URLs to
static ones; while Google is fine with this, we'd like to note that this is
an advanced procedure and if done incorrectly, could cause crawling
issues with your site. To learn even more about good URL structure,
we recommend this Webmaster Help Center page on creating
301 redirect
Exploration of websites by search engine software (bots) in order to index their
An HTTP status code (see page 12). Forces a site visitor to automatically jump to a
specified URL.
Data provided in the URL to specify a site's behavior.
A type of domain used to identify a category that is smaller than a regular domain (see
ID (session ID)
page 6).
Data provided for the identification and/or behavior management of a user who is
Root directory
currently accessing a system or network communications.
Directory at the top of the tree structure of a site. It is sometimes called "root".
Choose a URL that will be
easy for users and search
engines to understand!
Best Practices
Use words in URLs
URLs with words that are relevant to your site's content and structure are friendlier for visitors
navigating your site. Visitors remember them better and might be more willing to link to them.
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 structure
Use 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
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 document
To 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 redirect from non-preferred URLs to the dominant
URL is a good solution for this. You may also use canonical URL or use the rel="canonical" link element
if you cannot redirect.
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 better
Dynamic URLs
301 redirect
Creating Google-friendly URLs
Improving Site Structure
Make your site easier to navigate
Navigation is very important for search
The 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 out your navigation based on your
All 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 (e.g. root
page -> related topic listing -> specific topic)? Do you have hundreds
The directory structure
of different products that need to be classified under multiple
for our small website on
category and subcategory pages?
baseball cards.
Ensure more convenience for users by
using ‘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 the
page that allows visitors to quickly navigate back to a previous
section or the root page (1). Many breadcrumbs have the most
general page (usually the root page) as the first, left-most link and list
the more specific sections out to the right.
404 ("page not found" error)
XML Sitemap
An HTTP status code (see page 12). It means that the server could not find the web
A list of the pages on a particular website. By creating and sending this list, you are
page requested by the browser.
able to notify Google of all pages on a website, including any URLs that may have been
undetected by Google's regular crawling process.
Allow for the possibility of a part of the
URL being removed
(2) Users may go to an upper directory by removing the last part of the URL.
Consider what happens when a user removes part of your URL -
Some users might navigate your site in odd ways, and you should
anticipate this. For example, instead of using the breadcrumb links
on the page, a user might drop off a part of the URL in the hopes
of finding more general content. He or she might be visiting http://
card-shows.htm, but
the browser's address bar, believing that this will show all news from
2010 (2). Is your site prepared to show content in this situation or will
it give the user a 404 ("page not found" error)? What about moving up
Prepare two sitemaps: one for users, one
for search engines
A site map (lower-case) 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
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
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.
An XML Sitemap (upper-case) file, which you can submit through
Google's Webmaster Tools , makes it easier for Google to discover
the pages on your site. Using a Sitemap file is also one way (though
not guaranteed) to tell Google which version of a URL you'd prefer as
the canonical one (e.g. http://brandonsbaseballcards.com/ or http://
www.brandonsbaseballcards.com/; more on what's a preferred
domain). Google helped create the open source Sitemap Generator
Script to help you create a Sitemap file for your site. To learn more
about Sitemaps, the Webmaster Help Center provides a useful guide
Examples of an HTML site map and an XML Sitemap. An HTML site map can help
users easily find content that they are looking for, and an XML Sitemap can help
search engines find pages on your site.
Webmaster Tools
Sitemap Generator Script
What's a preferred domain
Guide to Sitemap files
Improving Site Structure
Make your site easier to navigate
Best Practices
Create a naturally flowing hierarchy
Make 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.
creating complex webs of navigation links, e.g. linking every page on your site to every other page
going overboard with slicing and dicing your content (so that it takes twenty clicks)
Use mostly text for navigation
Controlling 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. Many users also prefer this over other approaches,
especially on some devices that might not handle Flash or JavaScript.
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 all
pages on a site via normal text links, this will improve the accessibility of your site; more on how
For navigation, the focus
should be on simplicity
and ease of use!
User experience
Web technology or software developed by Adobe Systems Incorporated. It is able to
The experience gained by a user through using products, services, etc. Emphasis is
create web content that combines sound, video and animation.
placed on providing an experience truly sought after by the user, such as "enjoyment,"
JavaScript A type of programming language. It can add dynamic features to web
"convenience" and "comfort."
pages and is used by many web services.
HTTP status code
Drop-down menu A system in which one chooses content from a menu. When one
A code that expresses the meanings of responses from the server when computers
clicks on the menu, the list of choices are displayed in a list in a drawn out manner.
are conveying information to each other. The code is allotted as three numerical digits,
Accessibility The ability for users and search engines to access and comprehend
with a different meaning depending on the number used.
Best Practices
Put an HTML site map page on your site, and
use an XML Sitemap file
A simple site map page with links to all of the pages or the most important pages (if you have
hundreds or thousands) on your site can be useful. Creating an XML Sitemap file for your site helps
ensure that search engines discover the pages on your site.
letting your HTML site map page become out of date with broken links
creating an HTML site map that simply lists pages without organizing them, for example by subject
Have a useful 404 page
Users 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 page 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. Google
provides a 404 widget that you can embed in your 404 page to automatically populate it with many
useful features. You can also use Google Webmaster Tools to find the sources of URLs causing "not
allowing your 404 pages to be indexed in search engines (make sure that your webserver is
configured 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 all
using a design for your 404 pages that isn't consistent with the rest of your site
How Google deals with non-text files
Sources of URLs causing "not found" errors
Custom 404 page
404 HTTP status code
404 widget
Optimizing Content
Offer quality content and services
Interesting sites will increase their
recognition on their own
Creating compelling and useful content will likely influence
your website more than any of the other factors discussed here
(1) A blogger finds a piece of your content, likes it, and then references it in a blog
(1). 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.
Anticipate differences in users'
understanding of your topic and offer
unique, exclusive content
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 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 [baseball
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 Tool that helps you discover new
keyword variations and see the approximate search volume for each
keyword (2). Also, Google Webmaster Tools provides you with the top
search queries your site appears for and the ones that led the most
users to your site.
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
(2) The Google AdWords Keyword Tool can help you find relevant keywords on your
lack the resources or expertise to do these things.
site and the volume of those keywords.
Social media service
Google AdWords
A community-type web service that promotes and supports forging connections
An advertising service which places relevant advertisements on search results pages
among fellow users.
and other content. When a user searches for keywords using Google, AdWords
advertisements related to those keywords are displayed on the right, top and/or
bottom of the search results pages alongside the organic search results.
Improving content and
services should be a
priority, regardless of the
type of website!
Best Practices
Write easy-to-read text
Users enjoy content that is well written and easy to follow.
writing sloppy text with many spelling and grammatical mistakes
embedding text in images for textual content
- users may want to copy and paste the text and search engines can't read it
Stay organized around the topic
It'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.
dumping large amounts of text on varying topics onto a page without paragraph, subheading, or
layout separation
Create fresh, unique content
New content will not only keep your existing visitor base coming back, but also bring in new visitors.
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
Create content primarily for your users, not
search engines
Designing your site around your visitors' needs while making sure your site is easily accessible to
search engines usually produces positive results.
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
deceptively hiding text from users , but displaying it to search engines
Keyword Tool
Duplicate content
Top search queries
Hiding text from users
Optimizing Content
Write better anchor text
Suitable anchor text makes it easy to
cards.htm">Top Ten Rarest Baseball Cards</a>
convey the contents linked
This anchor text accurately describes the content on one of our article pages.
Anchor text is the clickable text that users will see as a result of a link,
and is placed within the anchor tag <a href="..."></a>.
This text tells users and Google something about the page
you're linking to. Links on your page maybe 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.
Baseball card's product page
Baseball card
Baseball card
Baseball card
Product list
The linked page
is about baseball
With appropriate anchor text, users and search engines can easily understand what
the linked pages contain.
Text style
Abbreviation for Cascading Style Sheets; a language for defining the design and layout
Formatting, such as the font, size and color of the text.
of a web page.
Both users and search
engines like anchor text
that is easy to
Best Practices
Choose descriptive text
The anchor text you use for a link should provide at least a basic idea of what the page linked to is
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 text
Aim for short but descriptive text-usually a few words or a short phrase.
writing long anchor text, such as a lengthy sentence or short paragraph of text
Format links so they're easy to spot
Make 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.
using CSS or text styling that make links look just like regular text
Think about anchor text for internal links too
You 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.
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
Optimizing Content
Optimize your use of images
Image-related information can be
provided for by using the "alt" attribute
Images may seem like a straightforward component of your site, but
you can optimize your use of them. All images can have a distinct
filename and "alt" attribute, both of which you should take
advantage of. The "alt" attribute allows you to specify alternative
text for the image if it cannot be displayed for some reason (1).
Why use this attribute? If a user is viewing your site on a browser that
doesn't support images, or is using alternative 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
(1) Our image wasn't displayed to the user for some reason, but at least 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.
Store files in specialized directories and
manage them using common file formats
Instead of having image files spread out in numerous directories and
subdirectories across your domain, consider consolidating your
images into a single directory (e.g. brandonsbaseballcards.com/
images/). This simplifies the path to your images.
(2) It is easier to find
Use commonly supported filetypes - Most browsers support JPEG ,
the paths to images if
GIF, PNG , and BMP image formats. It's also a good idea to have the
they are stored in one
extension of your filename match with the filetype.
Screen reader
ASCII language
Software for speaking on-screen information or outputting to a Braille display.
Abbreviation for American Standard Code for Information Exchange. A character
encoding centered on the English alphabet.
Best Practices
Use brief, but descriptive filenames and alt text
Like many of the other parts of the page targeted for optimization, filenames and alt text (for ASCII
languages) are best when they're short, but descriptive.
using generic filenames like "image1.jpg", "pic.gif", "1.jpg" when possible—some sites with thousands
of images might consider automating the naming of images
writing extremely lengthy filenames
stuffing keywords into alt text or copying and pasting entire sentences
Supply alt text when using images as links
If you do decide to use an image as a link, filling out its alt text helps Google understand more about
the page you're linking to. Imagine that you're writing anchor text for a text link.
writing excessively long alt text that would be considered spammy
using only image links for your site's navigation
Supply an Image Sitemap file
An Image Sitemap file can provide Googlebot with more information about the images found on your
site. Its structure is similar to the XML Sitemap file for your web pages.
Learn how to optimize
images on your site!
Google Image Search
Image Sitemap
Optimizing Content
Use heading tags appropriately
Use heading tags to emphasize important
<h1>Brandon's Baseball Cards</h1>
<h2>News - Treasure Trove of Baseball Cards Found in Old Barn</h2>
Heading tags (not to be confused with the <head> HTML tag or HTTP
<p>A man who recently purchased a farm house was pleasantly surprised ...
headers) are used to present structure on the page to users. There are
dollars worth of vintage baseball cards in the barn. The cards were ... in news
six sizes of heading tags, beginning with <h1>, the most important, and
papers and were thought to be in near-mint condition. After ... the cards to his
ending with <h6>, the least important (1).
grandson instead of selling them.</p>
(1) On a page containing a news story, we might put the name of our site into an <h1>
Since heading tags typically make text contained in them larger than
tag and the topic of the story into an <h2> tag.
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.
Heading tags are an important
website component for
catching the user's eye, so be
careful how you use them!
Best Practices
Imagine you're writing an outline
Similar 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.
placing text in heading tags that wouldn't be helpful in defining the structure of the page
using heading tags where other tags like <em> and <strong> may be more appropriate
erratically moving from one heading tag size to another
Use headings sparingly across the page
Use 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.
excessively using heading tags throughout the page
putting all of the page's text into a heading tag
using heading tags only for styling text and not presenting structure
HTTP headers
In HTTP (HyperText Transfer Protocol), different types of data that are sent off before
A character (*) that takes the place of any other character or string of characters.
the actual data itself.
Hypertext access file, a file that allows you to manage web server configuration.
An HTML tag denoting emphasis. According to standard, it will indicate emphasis
Referrer log
through use of italics.
Referrer information that is written into the access log. When it is traced, one can find
out from which sites visitors arrived.
An HTML tag denoting strong emphasis. According to standard, it will indicate
emphasis through use of bold print.
Dealing with Crawlers
Make effective use of robots.txt
Restrict crawling where it's not needed
User-agent: *
Disallow: /images/
with robots.txt
Disallow: /search
A "robots.txt" file tells search engines whether they can access
and therefore crawl parts of your site (1). This file, which must be
(1) All compliant search engine bots (denoted by the wildcard * symbol) shouldn't
access and crawl the content under /images/ or any URL whose path begins with /
named "robots.txt", is placed in the root directory of your site (2).
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
(2) The address of our robots.txt file.
results. If you do want to prevent search engines from crawling your
pages, Google Webmaster Tools 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 files .
There are a handful of other ways to prevent content appearing in
Keep a firm grasp on
search results, such as adding "NOINDEX" to your robots meta tag,
managing exactly what
using .htaccess to password protect directories, and using Google
information you do and don't
Webmaster Tools to remove content that has already been crawled.
want being crawled!
Google engineer Matt Cutts walks through the caveats of each URL
blocking method in a helpful video.
Best Practices
Use more secure methods for sensitive content
You shouldn't feel comfortable using robots.txt to block sensitive or confidential material. 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.
Encrypting the content or password-protecting it with .htaccess are more secure alternatives.
allowing search result-like pages to be crawled
- users dislike leaving one search result page and landing on another search result page that doesn't
add significant value for them
allowing URLs created as a result of proxy services to be crawled
Robots Exclusion Standard
robots.txt generator
A convention to prevent cooperating web spiders/crawlers, such as Googlebot, from
accessing all or part of a website which is otherwise publicly viewable.
Proxy service
Using robots.txt files
A computer that substitutes the connection in cases where an internal network and
external network are connecting, or software that possesses a function for this
Caveats of each URL blocking method
Dealing with Crawlers
Be aware of rel="nofollow" for links
Combat comment spam with "nofollow"
<a href="http://www.shadyseo.com" rel="nofollow">Comment spammer</a>
(1) If you or your site's users link to a site that you don't trust and/or you don't want
to pass your site's reputation, use 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 is adding rel="nofollow" inside of the link's anchor
tag (1).
When 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
(2) A comment spammer leaves a message on one of our blogs posts, hoping to
get some of our site's reputation.
spam (2). 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 boards
Many 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 guestbooks, forums, shout-
boards, referrer listings, etc. If you're willing to vouch for links added
by third parties (e.g. 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 spam , like using CAPTCHAs and turning on comment
moderation (3).
(3) An example of a CAPTCHA used on Google's blog service, Blogger. It can
present a challenge to try to ensure an actual person is leaving the comment.
Comment spamming
Refers to indiscriminate postings, on blog comment columns or message boards, of
Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart.
advertisements, etc. that bear no connection to the contents of said pages.
About using "nofollow" for individual
contents, whole pages, etc.
<title>Brandon's Baseball Cards - Buy Cards, Baseball News, Card Prices</title>
<meta name="description=" content="Brandon's Baseball Cards provides a
Another use of nofollow is when you're writing content and wish
large selection of vintage and modern baseball cards for sale. We also offer
to reference a website, but don't want to pass your reputation
daily baseball news and events in">
on to it. For example, imagine that you're writing a blog post on the
<meta name="robots" content="nofollow">
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
(4) This nofollows all of the links on a page.
certainly don't want to give the site some of your reputation from your
link. This would be a good time to use nofollow.
Lastly, if you're interested in nofollowing all of the links on a page, you
can use "nofollow" in your robots meta tag, which is placed inside the
<head> tag of that page's HTML (4). The Webmaster Central Blog
provides a helpful post on using the robots meta tag . This method is
written as <meta name="robots" content="nofollow">.
Make sure you have solid
measures in place to deal
with comment spam!
Avoiding comment spam
Using the robots meta tag
SEO for Mobile Phones
Notify Google of mobile sites
Configure mobile sites so that they can be
indexed accurately
It seems the world is going mobile, with many people using mobile
phones on a daily basis, and a large user base searching on Google’s
mobile search page . However, as a webmaster, running a mobile site
and tapping into the mobile search audience isn't easy. Mobile sites
not only use a different format from normal desktop sites, but
the management methods and expertise required are also quite
different. This results in a variety of new challenges. While many
mobile sites were designed with mobile viewing in mind, they weren’t
designed to be search friendly.
Here are troubleshooting tips to help ensure that your site is properly
(1) Example of a search for [baseball cards] on Google’s
crawled and indexed:
desktop search (above) and mobile search (left). Mobile
search results are built for mobile devices and are
different from "standard" desktop results.
Verify that your mobile site is indexed by
If your web site doesn't show up in the results of a Google mobile
search even using the site: operator , it may be that your site has one
or both of the following issues:
1. Googlebot may not be able to find your site
Googlebot must crawl your site before it can be included in our search
index. If you just created the site, we may not yet be aware of it. If
that's the case, create a Mobile Sitemap and submit it to Google to
inform us of the site’s existence. A Mobile Sitemap can be submitted
using Google Webmaster Tools , just like a standard Sitemap.
Make sure your mobile site is
properly recognized by Google
so that searchers can find it.
Mobile Sitemap
XHTML Mobile
An XML Sitemap that contains URLs of web pages designed for mobile phones.
XHTML, a markup language redefined via adaptation of HTML to XML, and then
Submitting the URLs of mobile phone web content to Google notifies us of the
expanded for use with mobile phones.
existence of those pages and allows us to crawl them.
Compact HTML
Markup language resembling HTML; it is used when creating web pages that can be
Software and hardware utilized by the user when said user is accessing a website.
displayed on mobile phones and with PHS and PDA.
2. Googlebot may not be able to access your site
SetEnvIf User-Agent "Googlebot-Mobile" allow_ua
Some mobile sites refuse access to anything but mobile phones,
SetEnvIf User-Agent "Android" allow_ua
making it impossible for Googlebot to access the site, and therefore
SetEnvIf User-Agent "BlackBerry" allow_ua
making the site unsearchable. Our crawler for mobile sites is
SetEnvIf User-Agent "iPhone" allow_ua
"Googlebot-Mobile". If you'd like your site crawled, please allow
SetEnvIf User-Agent "NetFront" allow_ua
any User-agent including "Googlebot-Mobile" to access your
SetEnvIf User-Agent "Symbian OS" allow_ua
site (2). You should also be aware that Google may change its User-
SetEnvIf User-Agent "Windows Phone" allow_ua
agent information at any time without notice, so we don't recommend
Order deny,allow
checking whether the User-agent exactly matches "Googlebot-
deny from all
Mobile" (the current User-agent). Instead, check whether the User-
allow from env=allow_ua
agent header contains the string "Googlebot-Mobile". You can also
(2) An example of a mobile site restricting any access from non-mobile devices.
Please remember to allow access from user agents including “Googlebot-Mobile”.
Verify that Google can recognize your
mobile URLs
Once Googlebot-Mobile crawls your URLs, we then check for whether
<meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="application/xhtml+xml;
each URL is viewable on a mobile device. Pages we determine
charset=Shift_JIS" />
aren't viewable on a mobile phone won't be included in our
(3) An example of DTD for mobile devices.
mobile site index (although they may be included in the regular web
index). This determination is based on a variety of factors, one of
which is the "DTD (Doc Type Definition)" declaration. Check that your
mobile-friendly URLs' DTD declaration is in an appropriate mobile
format such as XHTML Mobile or Compact HTML (3). If it's in a
compatible format, the page is eligible for the mobile search index.
For more information, see the Mobile Webmaster Guidelines .
Google’s mobile search page
Submitted using Google Webmaster Tools
site: operator
Use DNS Lookups to verify Googlebot
Mobile Sitemap
Mobile Webmaster Guidelines
SEO for Mobile Phones
Guide mobile users accurately
Running desktop and mobile versions of
your site
One of the most common problems for webmasters who run
both mobile and desktop versions of a site is that the mobile
version of the site appears for users on a desktop computer, or
that the desktop version of the site appears when someone
accesses it on a mobile device. In dealing with this scenario, here
are two viable options:
Redirect mobile users to the correct
Desktop version
Mobile version
When a mobile user or crawler (like Googlebot-Mobile) accesses the
desktop version of a URL, you can redirect them to the corresponding
mobile version of the same page. Google notices the relationship
between the two versions of the URL and displays the standard
version for searches from desktops and the mobile version for
mobile searches.
If you redirect users, please make sure that the content on the
corresponding mobile/desktop URL matches as closely as possible
(1). For example, if you run a shopping site and there's an access from
a mobile phone to a desktop-version URL, make sure that the user
is redirected to the mobile version of the page for the same
product, and not to the homepage of the mobile version of the
site. We occasionally find sites using this kind of redirect in an
Product page
Product page
attempt to boost their search rankings, but this practice only results
in a negative user experience, and so should be avoided at all costs.
On the other hand, when there's an access to a mobile-version URL
from a desktop browser or by our web crawler, Googlebot, it's not
necessary to redirect them to the desktop-version. For instance,
Google doesn't automatically redirect desktop users from their mobile
site to their desktop site; instead they include a link on the mobile-
version page to the desktop version. These links are especially helpful
when a mobile site doesn't provide the full functionality of the desktop
version—users can easily navigate to the desktop-version if they
(1) An example of redirecting a user to the
mobile version of the URL when it's accessed
from a mobile device. In this case, the content
Mobile user
on both URLs needs to be as similar as possible.
Being automatically transported from one specified web page to another specified
web page when browsing a website.
Switch content based on User-agent
Some sites have the same URL for both desktop and mobile content,
but change their format according to User-agent. In other words, both
mobile users and desktop users access the same URL (i.e. no
Desktop user
redirects), but the content/format changes slightly according to the
Desktop contents
Must be same
User-agent. In this case, the same URL will appear for both mobile
search and desktop search, and desktop users can see a
desktop version of the content while mobile users can see a
mobile version of the content (2).
However, note that if you fail to configure your site correctly, your site
Can be
Can be
could be considered to be cloaking , which can lead to your site
different different
disappearing from our search results. Cloaking refers to an attempt to
boost search result rankings by serving different content to
Googlebot than to regular users. This causes problems such as less
relevant results (pages appear in search results even though their
content is actually unrelated to what users see/want), so we take
cloaking very seriously.
Mobile contents
Must be same
So what does "the page that the user sees" mean if you provide both
versions with a URL? As I mentioned in the previous post, Google
uses "Googlebot" for web search and "Googlebot-Mobile" for
mobile search. To remain within our guidelines, you should
serve the same content to Googlebot as a typical desktop user
would see, and the same content to Googlebot-Mobile as you
Mobile user
would to the browser on a typical mobile device. It's fine if the
(2) Example of changing the format of a page based on the User-agent. In this case,
contents for Googlebot are different from those for Googlebot-Mobile.
the desktop user is supposed to see what Googlebot sees and the mobile user is
supposed to see what Googlebot-mobile sees.
One example of how you could be unintentionally detected as
cloaking is if your site returns a message like "Please access from
mobile phones" to desktop browsers, but then returns a full mobile
version to both crawlers (so Googlebot receives the mobile version).
In this case, the page which web search users see (e.g. "Please
Be sure to guide the user
access from mobile phones") is different from the page which
to the right site for their
Googlebot crawls (e.g. "Welcome to my site"). Again, we detect
cloaking because we want to serve users the same relevant content
that Googlebot or Googlebot-Mobile crawled.
Google mobile
Promotions and Analysis
Promote your website in the right ways
About increasing backlinks with an
intention to increase the value of the site
News: “I have a new card!”
While most of the links to your site will be gained gradually, as people
discover your content through search or other ways and link to it,
Google understands that you'd like to let others know about the hard
work you've put into your content. Effectively promoting your new
content will lead to faster discovery by those who are interested
in the same subject (1). As with most points covered in this
document, taking these recommendations to an extreme could
My blog
Product page
actually harm the reputation of your site.
Master making announcements via blogs
and being recognized online
A blog post on your own site letting your visitor base know that you
added something new is a great way to get the word out about new
content or services. Other webmasters who follow your site or
Newsletter, DM,
User’s blogs
Social media service
RSS feed could pick the story up as well.
Posters, etc.
Putting effort into the offline promotion of your company or site can
(1) Promoting your site and having quality links could lead to increasing your site’s
also be rewarding. For example, if you have a business site, make sure
its URL is listed on your business cards, letterhead, posters, etc. You
could also send out recurring newsletters to clients through the mail
letting them know about new content on the company's website.
If you run a local business, adding its information to Google Places
will help you reach customers on Google Maps and web search.
The Webmaster Help Center has more tips on promoting your local
(2) By having your business registered for Google Places, you can promote your
site through Google Maps and Web searches.
RSS feed
Data including full or summarized text describing an update to a site/blog. RSS is an
abbreviation for RDF Site Summary; a service using a similar data format is Atom.
Best Practices
Know about social media sites
Sites built around user interaction and sharing have made it easier to match interested groups of
people up with relevant content.
attempting to promote each new, small piece of content you create; go for big, interesting items
involving your site in schemes where your content is artificially promoted to the top of these services
Reach out to those in your site's related
Chances are, there are a number of sites that cover topic areas similar to yours. Opening up
communication with these sites is usually beneficial. Hot topics in your niche or community could
spark additional ideas for content or building a good community resource.
spamming link requests out to all sites related to your topic area
purchasing links from another site with the aim of getting PageRank instead of traffic
Is your site doing OK?
Google Places
Promoting your local business
Promotions and Analysis
Make use of free webmaster tools
Make Googlebot crawling smoother by using Webmaster Tools
Major search engines, including Google, provide free tools for
won't help your site get preferential treatment; however, it can help
webmasters. Google's Webmaster Tools help webmasters better
you identify issues that, if addressed, can help your site perform
control how Google interacts with their websites and get useful
better in search results. With the service, webmasters can:
information from Google about their site. Using Webmaster Tools
see which parts of a site Googlebot had problems crawling
understand the top searches used to reach a site
notify us of an XML Sitemap file
get a glimpse at how Googlebot sees pages
analyze and generate robots.txt files
remove unwanted sitelinks that Google may use in results
remove URLs already crawled by Googlebot
receive notification of quality guideline violations and request a site
specify your preferred domain
identify issues with title and description meta tags
Yahoo! (Yahoo! Site Explorer) and Microsoft (Bing Webmaster Tools)
also offer free tools for webmasters.
High-level analysis is possible via Google Analytics and Website Optimizer
If you've improved the crawling and indexing of your site using Google
Analytics are a valuable source of insight for this. You can use these
Webmasters Tools or other services, you're probably curious about
the traffic coming to your site. Web analytics programs like Google
get insight into how users reach and behave on your site
discover the most popular content on your site
measure the impact of optimizations you make to your site
- e.g. did changing those title and description meta tags improve traffic from search engines?
For advanced users, the information an analytics package provides,
Lastly, Google offers another tool called Google Website Optimizer
combined with data from your server log files, can provide even more
that allows you to run experiments to find what on-page changes will
comprehensive information about how visitors are interacting with
produce the best conversion rates with visitors. This, in combination
your documents (such as additional keywords that searchers might
with Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools (see our video on
use to find your site).
using the "Google Trifecta "), is a powerful way to begin improving your
Google Webmaster Help Forum
Google Analytics
Have questions or feedback on our guide? Let us know.
Find the source of your visitors, what they're viewing, and benchmark
Google Webmaster Central Blog
Google Website Optimizer
Frequent posts by Googlers on how to improve your website.
Run experiments on your pages to see what will work and what won't.
Google Webmaster Help Center
Tips on Hiring an SEO
Filled with in-depth documentation on webmaster-related issues.
Google Webmaster Tools
If you don't want to go at it alone, these tips should help you choose
an SEO company.
Optimize how Google interacts with your website.
Google Webmaster Guidelines
Design, content, technical, and quality guidelines from Google.
Make the most of useful tools
and information!
Google Trifecta
This booklet is also available in PDF format. You can download the PDF version at ...
Except as otherwise noted, the content of this document is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Check out Google's SEO
resources and tools.
Google Webmaster Central
©Copyright 2010 Google is a trademark of Google Inc.
All other company and product names may be trademarks of
the respective companies with which they are associated.
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