Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Starter Guide

When you made your website, you probably focused on making it user-friendly so that visitors could easily find and explore your content. But besides humans, there’s another important audience: search engines. These tools help people discover your website. SEO, which stands for search engine optimization, is all about making your content understandable to search engines and helping users find your site when they search online.

The Search Essentials outline the key elements that determine whether your website can appear on Google Search. While there’s no guarantee that your site will be added to Google’s index, following these essentials increases the chances of showing up in search results. SEO takes this a step further by actively working to improve your site’s visibility in search results. This guide will walk you through some common and effective ways to enhance your site.

There’s no magic trick here that will instantly boost your site to the top of Google (sorry!). In fact, some suggestions may not even apply to your business. But following best practices should make it easier for search engines, including Google, to navigate, index, and understand your content.

How does Google Search function?

Google Search is an automated tool that employs crawlers, which are programs designed to browse the internet regularly, seeking out web pages to include in our database. Generally, you don’t have to take any action beyond making your website accessible online. Most websites appear in our search results automatically as we scan the web. For those interested in learning more, we offer documentation on how Google identifies, explores, and presents web pages.

You might consider hiring a professional
Your site is missing Google’s 1st page or Short on time or not feeling adventurous? Here’s what to consider.

How soon will I notice changes in search results?

Any adjustments you make will need time to show up on Google. Some changes might become visible within hours, while others could take several months. Typically, it’s best to wait a few weeks to evaluate if your efforts are improving your Google Search results. Remember, not every tweak to your website will have a noticeable impact on search rankings. If you’re not seeing the results you want and it fits with your business plans, experiment with different changes to see if they help.

Assisting Google in Finding Your Content

First, see if Google has already discovered your content. You can easily check this by searching for your site on Google using the “site:” search operator. If you find results pointing to your site, then your content is already indexed. For example, searching for yields results for that site. If you don’t see your site listed, ensure there are no technical issues preventing Google from indexing your site, and then return here.

Google mostly discovers pages through links from other pages it has already scanned. Often, these links come from other websites that are linking to your pages. Over time, other sites naturally link to yours, but you can also promote your site to encourage more people to discover your content.

If you’re up for a bit of a technical challenge, you can also submit a sitemap. A sitemap is a file that contains all the URLs on your site that you want Google to know about. Some content management systems (CMS) might even do this for you automatically. However, it’s not mandatory; your primary focus should be on making sure people are aware of your site.

Ensure Google views your webpage like a regular visitor

When Google examines a webpage, it should see it just like any person would. To achieve this, Google needs access to the same elements as a visitor’s web browser. If your website hides important elements such as CSS and JavaScript, Google might struggle to comprehend your pages. Consequently, they might not appear in search results or rank well for your desired keywords.

If your webpage displays different content based on the user’s location, confirm that you’re content with what Google sees from its crawler’s perspective, typically located in the US.

To assess how Google views your webpage, utilize the URL Inspection Tool available in Search Console.

Do you not want a page to appear in Google search results?

If you want to keep your entire website or specific sections of it out of Google search results, you have options. For instance, if you don’t want your posts about an embarrassing haircut to pop up in searches, you can choose to opt out. Google provides different methods to prevent your URLs from being crawled and indexed. If you’re interested in blocking certain files, directories, or even your entire site from Google Search, take a look at our guide on how to prevent content from showing up in search results.

Organize your website
When you’re creating or revamping your website, it’s helpful to organize it logically. This helps both search engines and users understand the relationship between your pages. However, you don’t need to rush into reorganizing your site right away. While these suggestions can be beneficial in the long run, especially for larger websites, search engines generally understand your pages as they are now, regardless of your site’s organization.

Build clear URLs: URLs play a role in search results, showing breadcrumbs that help users gauge if a link will be helpful.

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Google automatically learns breadcrumbs from the words in the URL. But, if you’re up for a challenge, you can also influence them using structured data. Try to use words in the URL that are helpful for users. For instance:

A URL like is more user-friendly.

However, a URL with random identifiers like is less helpful.

Grouping pages with similar topics into directories can be helpful, especially if you have many URLs on your site. How you organize your content can affect how Google crawls and indexes your site. Using directories to group similar topics can help Google understand how often the content in those directories changes.

For example, consider these URLs:

The content in the “policies” directory changes infrequently, while the content in the “promotions” directory changes frequently. Google can learn this and crawl the directories at different frequencies. For more tips on creating search-friendly site structures, you can check out our guide for ecommerce sites. This is particularly important for larger sites.

Minimize Duplicate Content

Some websites display identical content using different web addresses, which is called duplicate content. Search engines select a primary URL (the canonical URL) to display to users for each piece of content.

Although having duplicate content on your site isn’t against our spam policies, it can create a poor user experience, and search engines might spend resources crawling URLs that aren’t important to you. If you’re up for it, it’s worth considering specifying a canonical version for your pages. However, if you don’t do this yourself, Google will try to handle it automatically.

When dealing with canonicalization, aim to ensure that each piece of content on your site is accessible through only one URL. Having two pages with the same information about your offers can confuse users—for instance, they might wonder which page is correct or if there’s any difference between them.

If you have multiple pages containing the same information, try implementing redirects from less preferred URLs to the most appropriate one. If redirects aren’t possible, use the rel=”canonical” link element instead. Nonetheless, don’t stress too much about this; search engines usually handle it well on their own most of the time.

Enhance Your Website with Engaging and Valuable Content

Improving your website’s visibility in search results largely hinges on creating content that captivates and assists users. While the definition of “compelling and useful content” varies, such content typically shares some key characteristics:

  1. Readability and Organization: Ensure your text flows naturally, is easy to follow, and is devoid of errors. Break lengthy content into digestible paragraphs with clear headings for easier navigation.
  2. Originality: When generating new content, avoid duplicating others’ work. Craft your content based on your own expertise and insights rather than rehashing existing material.
  3. Timeliness: Regularly review and update previously published content to keep it relevant. Remove outdated content if necessary.
  4. Value and Reliability: Focus on creating content that offers genuine assistance and reliability to your readers. Incorporating insights from experts or personal experiences can enhance the credibility of your articles.

Consider User Search Queries

Think about the terms users might input to discover your content. Different users may use varied keywords based on their familiarity with the topic. For instance, while some may search for “charcuterie,” others might look for “cheese board.” Tailoring your content to anticipate these variations can positively impact its performance in search results.

Don’t stress about predicting every possible search term variation. Google’s language algorithms are advanced and can interpret the relevance of your page to numerous queries, even if the exact terms aren’t explicitly used.

Ensure ads are not overly distracting

Although advertisements are common on the internet, they shouldn’t overwhelm users or hinder them from accessing your content. For instance, avoid using ads or interstitial pages that disrupt the website’s usability.

Include relevant links

Links are effective for guiding users and search engines to different parts of your site or relevant pages on other sites. Google often discovers new pages through links, underscoring their importance in helping your content get noticed and potentially featured in search results. Moreover, links can enhance your content by providing additional resources that support your topic.

Creating Effective Link Text

Link text, also known as anchor text, is the visible text within a link. It informs users and search engines about the destination page’s content. Choosing the right anchor text helps users and search engines understand the linked pages before visiting them.

When to Use Links

Links offer additional information on a topic for both users and search engines. This can showcase your expertise on a subject. However, when linking to pages not under your control, like content on other websites, ensure you trust the source you’re linking to. If you’re unsure about the content but still want to link to it, consider adding a “nofollow” or similar annotation to the link. This prevents search engines from associating your site with the linked site, avoiding potential negative impacts on your Google Search rankings.

Managing User-Generated Content

If your website accepts user-generated content such as forum posts or comments, it’s crucial to automatically add a “nofollow” or similar annotation to every link posted by users through your content management system (CMS). Since you’re not responsible for creating this content, you likely don’t want your site to be indiscriminately linked to other sites. This measure can also deter spammers from exploiting your website.

Shape Your Google Search Appearance

When someone searches on Google, they see different parts on the results page. You can affect how your site looks in these results. We’ll talk about the title link and the snippet because these are the main things people notice.

Make Your Title Links Stand Out

The title link is like the headline of your search result. It helps people decide if they want to click on it. Google uses different sources to create this title link, like the words in the element (also known as the title text) and other headings on your page. This title text is also what shows up in browsers and bookmarks.

You have the power to impact the titles that appear in search results. A good title should be specific to the page, clear, and brief while accurately representing what the page is about. For instance, your title could feature your website or business name, essential details like your business’s location, and a brief description of what users can expect from the page. Our documentation provides additional tips on crafting effective titles and influencing the titles that appear in search results for your site.

Manage your descriptions Beneath the title link, a search result usually includes a brief summary of the linked page, known as a snippet. This snippet helps users determine whether they want to click on the search result.

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The snippet is sourced from the actual content of the page the search result is linking to, thus you have complete control over the words that can be used to generate the snippet. Occasionally the snippet may be sourced from the contents of the meta description tag, which is typically a succinct, one- or two-sentence summary of the page. A good meta description is short, unique to one particular page, and includes the most relevant points of the page. Check out our tips for writing good meta descriptions for more inspiration.

Add images to your site, and optimize them

Many people search visually, and images can be how people find your website for the first time. For example, if you have a recipe blog, people might find your content by searching for “fruit tart recipes” and browsing photos of various types of fruit tarts.

As you add images to your site, make sure that people and search engines can find and understand them.

Add high-quality images near relevant text

When you use high quality images, you give users enough context and detail to decide which image best matches what they were looking for. For example, if people are looking for “daisies” and come across a rogue edelweiss in search results, a higher quality image would help them distinguish the type of flower.

Use images that are sharp and clear, and place them near text that’s relevant to the image. The text that’s near images can help Google better understand what the image is about and what it means in context to your page.

For example, if the page is reviewing yarn shops in London, then it would make sense to embed one of your photos of the yarn shop in the section that details the location, description, and review information for that yarn shop. This helps Google and users associate the image with text that provides more context to what the page is about.

Add descriptive alt text to the image

Alt text is a short, but descriptive piece of text that explains the relationship between the image and your content. It helps search engines understand what your image is about and the context of how your image relates to your page, so writing good alt text is quite important. You can add this to your HTML with the alt attribute of the img element, or your CMS may have an easy way to specify a description for an image when you’re uploading it to your site. Learn more about how to write good alt text, and how to add it to your images.

Optimize your videos

If your website includes pages that are primarily about individual videos, people may also be able to discover your site through video results in Google Search. Many of the best practices for images and text also apply to videos:

  • Create high-quality video content, and embed the video on a standalone page, near text that’s relevant to that video.
  • Write descriptive text in the titles and description fields of a video (the title of a video is still a title, and so you can apply the best practices for writing titles here too).

If your site is particularly video-focused, then continue reading about more things you can do to optimize your videos for search engines.

Promote your website

Effectively promoting your new content will lead to faster discovery by those who are interested in the same subject, and also by search engines. You can do this in many ways:

  • Social media promotion
  • Community engagement
  • Advertisement, both offline and online
  • Word of mouth, and many other methods

One of the most effective and lasting ways is word of mouth: that is, people familiar with your site tell their friends about it, who in turn visit your site. This can take time, and usually you need to invest some time and effort in other practices first, such as community engagement. Our friends over at Google for Creators have excellent resources about building and engaging your audience.

Putting effort into the offline promotion of your company or site can also be rewarding. For example, if you have a business site, make sure its URL is listed on your business cards, letterhead, posters, and other materials. With their permission, you could also send out recurring newsletters to your audience letting them know about new content on your website.

As with everything in life, you can overdo promoting your site and actually harm it: people may get fatigued of your promotions, and search engines may perceive some of the practices as manipulation of search results.

Things we believe you shouldn’t focus on

As SEO has evolved, so have the ideas and practices (and at times, misconceptions) related to it. What was considered best practice or top priority in the past may no longer be relevant or effective due to the way search engines (and the internet) have developed over time.

To help you focus on the things that are actually important when it comes to SEO, we collected some of the most common and prominent topics we’ve seen circulating the internet. In general, our message on these topics is that you should do what’s best for your business area; we will elaborate on a few specific points here:

Meta keywordsGoogle Search doesn’t use the keywords meta tag.Keyword stuffingExcessively repeating the same words over and over (even in variations) is tiring for users, and keyword stuffing is against Google’s spam policies.Keywords in the domain name or URL pathWhen picking the name of your site, do what’s best for your business. Users will use this name to find you, so we recommend following general marketing best practices. From a ranking perspective, the keywords in the name of the domain (or URL path) alone have hardly any effect beyond appearing in breadcrumbs.And while still on the topic of domain names: the TLD (the domain name ending like “.com” or “.guru”) only matters if you’re targeting a specific country’s users, and even then it’s usually a low impact signal. For example, if you’re trying to sell Dutch cheese to people searching from Switzerland, it makes some sense (both from business and SEO point of view) to use a .ch domain name. Otherwise Google Search doesn’t care which TLD you’re using (whether it’s a .com or .org or .asia).Minimum or maximum content lengthThe length of the content alone doesn’t matter for ranking purposes (there’s no magical word count target, minimum or maximum, though you probably want to have at least one word). If you are varying the words (writing naturally to not be repetitive), you have more chances to show up in Search simply because you are using more keywords.Subdomains versus subdirectoriesFrom a business point of view, do whatever makes sense for your business. For example, it might be easier to manage the site if it’s segmented by subdirectories, but other times it might make sense to partition topics into subdomains, depending on your site’s topic or industry.PageRankWhile PageRank uses links and is one of the fundamental algorithms at Google, there’s much more to Google Search than just links. We have many ranking signals, and PageRank is just one of those.Duplicate content “penalty”If you have some content that’s accessible under multiple URLs, it’s fine; don’t fret about it. It’s inefficient, but it’s not something that will cause a manual action. Copying others’ content, however, is a different story.Number and order of headingsHaving your headings in semantic order is fantastic for screen readers, but from Google Search perspective, it doesn’t matter if you’re using them out of order. The web in general is not valid HTML, so Google Search can rarely depend on semantic meanings hidden in the HTML specification.There’s also no magical, ideal amount of headings a given page should have. However, if you think it’s too much, then it probably is.Thinking E-E-A-T is a ranking factorNo, it’s not.

Next steps

  • Get started with Search Console: Setting up a Search Console account helps you monitor and optimize how your website performs on Google Search. Learn how to set up your account and what reports to check out first.
  • Maintain your website’s SEO over time: Learn more about managing your site’s presence in the long term, including more in-depth SEO tasks and scenarios, such as preparing for a site move, or managing a multi-lingual site.
  • Enhance how your site looks in Google Search results: Valid structured data on your pages also makes your pages eligible for many special features in Google Search results, including review stars, carousels, and more. Explore the gallery of search result types that your page can be eligible for.

Stay informed and ask questions

As you embark on your SEO journey, here are some resources that can help you stay on top of changes and new resources we publish:

Google Search Central blog: Get the latest information from our Google Search Central blog. You can find information about updates to Google Search, new Search Console features, and much more.Google Search Central on X: Follow us for updates on Google Search and resources to help you make a great site.Google Search Central Help Forum: Post questions about your site’s SEO issues and find tips to create high quality sites from the product forum for website owners. There are many experienced contributors in the forum, including Product Experts and occasionally Googlers.Google Search Central YouTube Channel: Watch hundreds of helpful videos created for website owners.

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