In part one of the dozen simple and effective SEO essentials the following Search Engine Optimization tips were described; fresh Content, text styles and formatting, descriptive URLs and sites linking to your webpages. In this article the following four necessary SEO steps are explained; Sitemap.XML, robots.txt, Meta Tags and validating HTML.
The Sitemap.XML file is a list of all pages on your website which should be indexed (crawled) by the search bots. This file also includes when each page should be indexed, the relevance of each page in relation to the other sites pages and also when each page was last updated. Whenever you add or remove pages (or posts if you are blogging) then Sitemap.XML should be updated. Sitemap.XML is a single file is must be included in the ‘root’ of your website (i.e. the same folder as your index.html or index.php file). As per the robots.txt file there is no need to reference or link to the Sitemap.XML file from any pages.
There are various free online tools to assist with creating Sitemap.XML files.
robots.txt (note: the filename robots.txt must be in lowercase) is a file kept in the ‘root’ of your website (like Sitemap.XML). This file advises search bots which content it should and should not index. For example, if you are testing certain new pages of the web site and aren’t ready for the new pages to appear in organic search results then you would indicate which pages not to index in Robots.txt. Search Engines by default look for a file called robots.txt in the root so there is no need to reference it from any of your pages.
robots.txt is simple to create using free online resources such as the robots.txt generator available here.
(Note: instead of having a robots.txt file it is acceptable to insert a robots meta tag into the <head> section of each page. Having a single robots.txt file is far more simple to maintain as well as being more powerful than to ensure that every page has the same robots tag information).
The Title, Description and Keywords Tags should appear in the header of ever page of your Website. The information contained within these tags assists search engines to understand what your page is about:
Title Tag: The title is a very concise (maximum 60 characters) description of the page content. The content of the title is used by some search engines as the header for results in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) therefore needs to be an accurate description of the Webpage.
Description Tag: This tag should consist of a maximum of 160 characters and must be a quick summary of the page content in plain English (or whatever language you page is in). It’s worth including a few keywords however should not just be a list of keywords (search engines may penalise websites for Keyword ‘stuffing’!)
Keyword Tag: There is debate about whether this tag information is still used by search engines. It is beneficial, and can’t hurt, to include a few relevant keywords into this tag. Keywords must be comma separated.
There are numerous sites providing free Meta tag generators.
Make sure that the search engines can ‘read’ your content. In simplistic terms, the various search bots see what you see when you view the web page. If your web page is not displaying fully or correctly then the search bots may well battle to index your site. There has been a real issue until recently where the widely popular Microsoft Internet Explorer browsers were not standards compliant. This meant that significant rework was often required to HTML to be acceptable to both standards compliant browsers (e.g. Firefox, Safari, Opera and Chrome) and Internet Explorer. With Internet Explorer 8, this rework is no longer an issue. This was an issue for SEO as it wasn’t certain if many of the search bots could correctly ‘read’ the Internet explorer version of HTML.
Many websites have been created using Microsoft products such as Word 2003. Be aware that the HTML saved by some of these products is not standards compliant and may not be correctly indexed by the search engines.
Don’t miss part 3 of the twelve SEO essentials describes; Social Networking SEO, DMOZ, page load speeds and unreadable content.