Search Engine Optimisation is a detailed and ongoing process of building your site’s reputation in the Search Engine listings, and before your website has gone live you should have already been working on a lot of the aspects of your website that influence those listings. Things like linking structure, keyword-rich content, sitemap pages, image alt tags, etc. However, on the most basic level, when your website actually goes live none of this will matter if Google can’t see your site, and there are a few very important things to do, and some to avoid, in order to ensure this is the case.
Publicise Your URL
First off, you need to let Google (and all the other Search Engines) know that your website now exists. One of the best ways of doing this is getting a link from a website that already lists well – it will count as a good ‘vote’ for your new website, and plus a well-listed website will be checked quite often by Google so they will see the link quickly.
Alternatively (or as well) you can set up a Google account for your site and submit a sitemap in Google’s Webmaster Tools area. This allows you to give Google information on your new website and its content.
Bing also has a Webmaster Tools area, and AOL and some others allow you to actually ‘submit’ your site URL to them for indexing.
Check Your Robots.txt
The robots.txt is a file that can be placed on your site hosting space and that the Search Engines know to look for. It can hold instructions to Search Engine robots (hence the name) about what pages on the site to spider (look through) and which not, and also where the website’s XML sitemap is stored (a file listing all the pages, their importance and last update dates).
A robots.txt that states ‘Disallow’ and then has either a / or a folder or file after it, is asking the Search Engines (either a specific one mentioned in the line above, or all is an asterix is used) to not spider those areas. The / means the whole site. In order to allow the Search Engines to see and list the whole site your robots.txt needs to have either nothing after the ‘Disallow’ or to use ‘Allow’ and then a / after.
If you have an /admin/ area or /cgi-bin/ or other folders and files that you don’t want listed in Google, you can list them in here to be ignored.
Use Visible Coding
Once you’ve publicised your URL and made sure your robots.txt file isn’t impeding the Search Engines finding and spidering your site, you need to consider your site coding. A Flash site, for example, is next to invisible to Google – it can’t read the text and doesn’t see the content, so it has no idea what your website is about. At the very least a Flash site has to have an HTML version, but ideally you need to make your website without Flash (limit it to dynamic banners if you must).
If your website is built with HTML coding that the Search Engines can see, great, but you need to ensure it’s not bloated and over-complicated (they are only robots after all, and can get confused if you have piles and piles of code and links all over the place) and that it has an understandable page and link structure. This way you stand more chance of the Search Engines quickly seeing all your site content, it’s hierarchy, and therefore also when it is changed and expanded.
You also need to avoid building your site from frames, which is an out-dated method often used to build sites with framed navigation, but that disguises the true content of the page from the Search Engines and can harm your listings badly. No-one really uses this method anymore though, and with good reason.
Now Go Forth, And Optimise…!
Now you know the Search Engines see your site, don’t leave it there, work on getting excellent listings and bringing in the millions of searches made every minute on the internet! Do your keyword research, optimise your page content and text, show Google what your images are about with alt tags, keep your website fresh and updated, relevant and interesting, and get links in with networking and Social Media. With a visible site and clear, structured coding, you will be building on excellent Search Engine Optimisation foundations.
About The Author: Camilla Todd manages Search Engine Optimisation, social media campaigns and brand awareness for WNW Design SEO clients. You can follow her on Twitter @camilla_wnw, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone on 01395 542569. You can also follow WNW Design on Facebook here.