Friday, 22 May 2020

7-Step SEO Basics for Beginners - Step 1

While Lockdown creates the time and space for it, we're going back to basics on SEO. It shouldn't be difficult, it definitely isn't rocket science. It just takes a little effort.

Getting the basics right can make a big difference to all of our portfolio sites' rankings.

First, using a decent content management or web-publishing platform such as WordPress makes a huge difference in having well-structured, search engine friendly content. If the engines can't crawl the content, it doesn't get indexed; it won't be found.

Since the search engines use automated crawlers (spiders or bots) if the content isn't accessible to be indexed, the website will be invisible.

While the technical requirements for site identification and accessibility for search changes over time, a lot of the basics don't.

The reason I've invested heavily in WordPress isn't just the structure underlying the content; it's also a framework for useful plug-ins that can do a lot of the work for you. Most of what follows flows from finally deploying the Yoast SEO plug-in - just the free version, but which still has a lot of useful features.

1. Untick “Discourage Search Engines” option
In WordPress, this option is a simple checkbox that sits under Settings > Reading.

You may not want the site to be indexed while it is in development, but once it goes live, this absolutely needs to be cleared.

2. XML Sitemap
In the Yoast plug-in, under General, then Features, there's a section for Generate XML Sitemap. A sitemap makes it so much easier for the spiders to navigate and index the site. The plug-in generates the sitemap file in the correct format in the correct place and the automated version shouldn't need much editing unless you have a vast, sprawling site with complex navigation.

You do need to submit this sitemap to Google Search Console to get on the fast track, but once it has keyed into the sitemap file, it will continue to monitor for updates. You need to have the site verified by Google Search Console, but this is a well-supported process - because Google wants your content.

3. Robots.txt File
Robots.txt is a plain text file that tells search engines where they can and can’t go within your site.

The Yoast plug-in can generate this file as well; go to SEO > Tools > File editor and there's a big button for “Create a robots.txt file.”

The automatic version is fine for most purposes; only edit it manually if you have very specific needs and understand how to do it.

That's Step 1; three relatively simple things that go a long way to inviting the search engines to come crawl your content. Further steps to follow soon. RC

Image credit: The Plantation Garden, Norwich, Elliott Brown

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