In Part I of this series I laid out the concept of Search Engine Friendliness and gave you a couple of simple questions whose answers will help you get started with this topic.
Today I’ll explore 2 more questions for you or your developer to dig a little deeper.
Question 3 – Do You Have a Sitemap?
There are two kinds of sitemaps: the kind humans use and the kind that search engines use. In both cases they are designed to identify all the pages of your website and make sure they all are accessible. (Think of a directory at a shopping mall and you get the idea.)
The kind I’m talking about in this post, however, is the kind employed by search engines. This type of sitemap is known as an “XML” sitemap (XML stands for eXtensible Markup Language, but that really is irrelevant to the discussion). If you wonder whether you have one, the easiest thing to do is to enter your website address and then follow it with /sitemap.xml. This is the conventional location for a sitemap. Take a look at the sitemap for this website, for example:
Go ahead and navigate to that link and you’ll be able to see that it’s not very useful to humans. Search engines, on the other hand, know exactly what to do with it.
What if you don’t have a sitemap in that location? The most likely reason is that your developer did not set up either a sitemap or a program that automatically generates a sitemap.
You can generate your own sitemap by going to the resource we used last week to test whether spiders can crawl your website, http://www.xml-sitemaps.com/. Go back to that site and let them guide you through the process (see screen capture below). One word of caution however: if you use this method you’ll have to remember to re-generate the sitemap anytime you make a significant change to your site.
Or, if you have a Content Management System (such as WordPress, Joomla, Drupal) you should be able install a plugin or add-on that will generate a sitemap automatically anytime you make changes to the pages of your site. This latter option is definitely preferred, since you don’t have to remember to update your sitemap manually.
Question 4 – Are Your URLs Search Engine Friendly?
A URL is the unique identifier to any given page on your website. Search engines think in terms of URLs. At the same time, URLs often are created by programmers to make pages display content based on a set of criteria. For example, a typical Google search result page URL might look like this:
Even though Google uses URLs like this, their robots, which constantly crawl the web, aren’t crazy about such a convoluted URL, and they would likely shy away from crawling pages with addresses like this.
More commonly, many people who set up WordPress blogs will let WordPress use a default configuration that is a simpler version of the same principle. The following is a screen capture of a WordPress site displaying two different URLs. The top one is the default WordPress URL, and the bottom one is a “search engine friendly” URL.
If you have search engine unfriendly URLs you’ll be able to tell just by browsing some of your pages and looking for addresses that carry characters like these:
& # ! % ; ?
If you see a bunch of these types of special characters in your website pages, better have a chat with the developer and see if you can convert those URLs to something that will be more friendly. In WordPress this is fairly easy. Just navigate to the Permalinks section and set it up as you can see in this last screen shot:
In our next and final installment dealing with Search Engine friendliness I’ll be discussing two very common mistakes that many businesses make that render their sites far less welcoming to Google and Bing than they could be.