General Guide to Search Engine Optimization

Alternative Title: I want my site to show up in Google and it doesn’t!

We get asked this question occasionally in Reclaim Support and while providing search engine optimization strategies is a deep dark hole that we don’t pretend to have the expertise to support, there are some quick and handy tips that can help you unpack how sites are elevated in search results.

1. Write Good Content

While this may seem really obvious, it’s also easy to miss. You want your site to come up in search engine results, however you used an image for a logo without naming it with the name of your site. Or you are hoping to have your site listed for searches on “California Digital Historian” however you never use any of those words except for very briefly at the bottom of your bio.

Google and other search engines pay very close attention to the content of sites. What content is used in headings? What are the names of your menu items? What words do people use that link to your site? Good search engine optimization starts with making sure you are using all the right terms that you want people searching for you to find.

2. Use the Google Search Console

One of the most underrated tools in your arsenal that you probably didn’t know about, is the Google Search Console. This used to be called Webmaster Tools and provides a lot of insight into what Google sees.

You can request reindexing if you’ve made changes that are not showing up in search results. You can upload a sitemap (more on that further down). You can even see if Google has identified any malicious content in your site, and they email you regular tips and updates if they notice any issues. Verifying your ownership of a domain will require you to upload a single HTML file to your webspace and then you can regularly manage it from the search console. Many of the steps that you take here will benefit you with other search engines as well even though this tool is specific to Google.

We have a guide on How to Verify a Site in Google Search Console if you need additional assistance with this!

3. Check robots.txt

robots.txt file is a file of the same name placed in the root of domain that can tell search engines what to index and what not to. There is no default robots.txt file in Reclaim accounts, however we’ve seen where sites transferred elsewhere or that have had plugins enabled in the past may end up having one.

Without a file, search engines will index everything; however, if you have a file and it contains a line Disallow / then search engines that obey the file (which most major ones do) will not index any content. It’s important to check for the existence of this file especially if you’re having issues with indexing. If you run WordPress this is similar to the Search Engine Visibility setting under Settings > Reading.

4. Optimize Your Site

Search Engines are not as smart as the human eye. In many ways they are like screen readers for the blind with algorithms prioritizing information. With that in mind, it is especially important that you are providing alternative text for images that you upload. Make sure you are organizing your content with a structure that makes it easy to read (use of headings for main content, menus for various pages, etc). A good rule of thumb is that if your site is hard to follow and navigate it’s going to be equally as hard for a search engine to know what and where the content is to index it properly. If you run WordPress the Yoast SEO plugin is a great tool to assist with this work.

5. Create a Sitemap

In addition to general organization you can save the indexer the trouble and provide a Sitemap for your domain. This is especially useful for large sites that would take a long time to index, brand new domains, or image-heavy sites. There are a variety of sitemap generators out there as well as WordPress plugins like Google Sitemap Generator that will do the work for you.

6. It Takes Time

Don’t expect your brand new site you authored this week to hit #1 next week. Google is strategic in indexing the web and favors sites that have a history so keep at it and regularly make sure you’re doing all of the above.

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