Based on reading Google's Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) Starter Guide, here are a few key guidelines for good practice in SEO that I can see being very useful to me as a novice web developer.
- Use your <head> Though the information in the <head> is not seen on your page, it is still important for helping ensure that people will actually visit your page.
- The <title> tag sets out the text that appears in the browser tab when your page is visited. Even more important, this is the first thing someone will see of your site when it appears in a search result.
- The "description" meta tag is also very powerful. The sentence or short paragraph used here will be available for Google to use as a 'snippet' for your page in search results.
- Accurate - Be sure to accurately summarise the content of the page so that users would be interested if they read your description as a snippet of your page.
- Unique - Be sure to also use a different description for each page on the site. This way, the unique content on your pages can be found more easily by those searching for it.
- Get some structure. The structure of the URLs for your site, as well as its overall structure can make or break the ease of navigating to and within your site.
- URLs are best made of real words. Why? The URL itself can offer a succinct description of the content, and complicated or overly long URLs tend to turn off users. A simple, readable URL will look friendlier and more shareable to your users.
- Using a simple, clean directory structure will help keep users oriented as they browse your site. That straightforward structure will also help search engines direct people to the most relevant page within your site.
- Sitemaps and breadcrumb lists will make navigation easier for everyone by providing a reference point for getting where they want to be.
- Don't let users stay lost! Even the best organised sites should have a contingency plan for when users lose their way. If a user mistypes a url within your site or visits a broken link, be sure they land on a helpful 404 page. I found this article on making a better 404 page, which I'll be refer back to in future.
- Be interesting! Offer interesting and useful content first and your site's reputation will follow. Well organised and edited content gives your users the information they want, and fresh content gives them a reason to come back. There are a few things you can do to help highlight the great content on your site though.
- Anchor text for links should be descriptive, making it easy for users to predict whether the link is one they need to follow. Also, making links visually distinct will help draw attention to them.
- Images and alt text are important for SEO as well as making your site accessible to those using screen readers, etc. Be sure to pay attention to the alt text for your images and ensure that it is descriptive, helpful, and unique to the image.
- Help the Crawlers - Making use of rel="nofollow" and robots.txt can help the search engine crawlers to keep focus on your content, and protect your page's reputation.
- If you have a blog that allows public comments, you can protect yourself from comment spam by using rel="nofollow" to tell the web crawlers to disregard the links in the comments section.
- More relevant to massive sites with large amounts of content is robots.txt, which can steer the web crawlers away from entire pages or sections of the site. This would be helpful if there are areas of your site that you do not want to be included in search engine results.
So, how does all of this relate to the website I am currently building? I think all of the tips outlined above are relevant to most sites. Since my project site is in its early stages, of most relevance at the moment would be setting up better use of the <head>. I currently do not have a description tag on the page, so that would be a first addition. Following that, I would ensure that images and anchor text are optimised and also implement breadcrumbs to help users browse more easily.