Kind-of an SEO guide: what we did wrong so you don’t have to

Intro image for SEO blog post showing 0 search results for “Influential Code LLC”

Getting started

This post is focused on some of the things that we learned about our website’s search rank and appearance in Google search. Some items like structured data may not apply to all search engines so if you’re targeting Bing for instance, be sure to review their documentation.

To start, search for your site and assess how you’re appearing now. It might feel like listening to your own voice but it’s important. It’s the baseline against which you’ll make any comparisons. So what do you think? You can see which sites have been indexed by searching for site: and replacing with your hostname and domain.

Now, take a screenshot of the results. You can use it to compare search results after your first attempted improvement. I would recommend doing this each time there’s a change so you can easily review your progress. We didn’t do this at first and it would have been nice to show it for this post because it was bad. Our search results are not anywhere near perfect today but they’re better than they were a few weeks ago.

Learn more about search itself

Whether you consider yourself technical or not, spend some time to learn about some basics of search. It will introduce you to the vocabulary used in search and will make your life easier later. The article about how Google search works also includes several links that provide information that you can use to increase the quality of your website, not just its page rank.

You can also review the SEO starter guide. It is long but is an excellent resource for more than just SEO. You may want to come back to that after you finish this post as it includes more detail than what I’ll discuss below.

Use Search Console

Google Search Console is Google’s incredibly useful set of webmaster tools. To use it, first create a Google account if you don’t already have one or would prefer a separate one associated with your site. Once you have created the account, claim your website/add a property; you can’t see any search-related metadata until you do so. You should claim the http and https versions as well as any other version such as www. Choose one of them to be the canonical version of the site.

If there isn’t much present in the dashboard, don’t be concerned. A small site will take time before anything is populated. We’re still seeing more information become available each week for our site.

Check structured data

Personally, I had no idea was structured data was until a few weeks ago so don’t be concerned if you’re unfamiliar with it. It’s not content to be consumed by humans but instead, it’s for the search engine to use to understand what a particular page contains. For instance, you can create structured data to indicate that this page contains information about an Organization or a BlogPosting.

I recommend reviewing your pages and deciding if you want to take the time to understand this syntax and apply it. Depending on your framework, this may be created for your by an SEO plugin. Jekyll does this for our pages and I’m confident there are WordPress plugins that do the same. You can check any of your pages using the structured data testing tool. This is helpful to see if you already have some structured data and whether it’s correct.

Originally, our pages did have structured data but it contained errors. This wasn’t the fault of a plugin or Jekyll but it was a user error. We weren’t populating all the required fields in the framework so some attributes were empty when output and then marked as errors by Google.

Create a sitemap

A sitemap is a file that describes the structure of your website. It lists all of the pages that you want indexed by the search engine. For a small site, creating a sitemap can be helpful because all pages aren’t likely to be crawled or indexed at first.

There are several ways to create a sitemap but yours doesn’t need to be complex. Our sitemap is a text listing of all the pages, each starting with https://www because that’s what we’ve chosen as our canonical version. Be sure that all for your pages are using the canonical version in the sitemap. We accidentally included non-canonical versions and they weren’t indexed like the rest according to the bar graph in the Search Console.

Create good, well-structured content

I debated whether to include this section because it sounds…preachy, but it’s important because it will affect your readership not just rank. Content alone won’t provide you with a #1 search rank but if you have readers that enjoy what you create and visit and link to your pages, you can improve your position in search results and more importantly really, improve the overall success of your site. You can only do that by providing them with value, not click bait or low-quality content.

To accomplish that, among many, many other things, you can do the following:

  • Use HTML tags as they’re intended
  • Create logical outlines for your pages
  • Add alt attributes to images for those who use screen readers
  • Name your images so they’re accurate and descriptive

I included the last two because they were things that we weren’t doing well but have attempted to correct in earlier posts.

Final thoughts

No one thing or person for that matter, can guarantee you achieve the top position in a search. Be wary of anyone or anything that attempts to do so. But there are several little things that you can do to improve the position and appearance of your website in search results.

A good process is to change one thing, wait for the page to be indexed, view the results, and repeat. Changing more than one thing will prevent you from understanding how each change individually affected the results. It’s not an infomercial-like-quick solution, I know, but it will take time to improve so don’t rush.

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