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Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Start Guide

Who is this guide intended for?

It will be of interest to you if you own or manage online content, generate income with it, or advertise it using Google Search. But also for everyone who runs a growing and successful company, has various websites, as well as for SEO specialists in web agencies or self-made SEO experts, this guide is also exactly the right reading. And even if you want to get a comprehensive overview of the basics of search engine optimization according to our best practices, you should read on. However, this guide holds - unfortunately! - no secrets ready that will automatically catapult your website to the first place in Google search results. Hopefully, if you follow the best practices outlined below, search engines will hopefully be able to crawl, index, and understand the content of your website better.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is often about making small changes to parts of your website. Taken individually, these changes can be seen as incremental improvements, but when combined with other optimizations, they can significantly improve your site's user experience and performance in organic search results. You are probably already familiar with many of the topics in this guide because they are essential to any website, but you may not have reached their full potential.

Your website should be profitable for your users and any optimization should serve the purpose of improving the user experience. One of these users is a search engine that helps other users discover your content. The aim of search engine optimization is that search engines can better understand and present the content of your website. Your site may be larger or smaller than our sample site and may have completely different content, but don't worry: the optimization topics discussed below apply to sites of all sizes and types. We hope you find some new ideas for improving your website in our guide, and we look forward to hearing your questions, feedback, and success stories for us on the Google Search Central Help Forum1 can communicate.

We wish you an interesting read and hope to hear from you in our Google support forums. Your feedback is always welcome there.

Feel free to save this guide, print it out if necessary, and share it with others. In this way, together we make a contribution to improving the quality of the Internet.

Have fun while reading.

Best wishes
The Google Search Quality Team

First steps


This is a brief glossary of key terms used in this guide.
  • index: All websites known to Google are displayed in index saved by google. In the index entry for the respective page, its content is described and the Internet address (URL) is given. Index is the process of Google getting a page, reading it, and adding it to the index: Today Google indexed several pages on my website.
  • Crawling: the process of finding new or updated web pages. Google follows links, reads sitemaps, and uses many other methods to find URLs. Google crawls the web, finding new pages, and indexing them when necessary.
  • Crawler: automated software that crawls, retrieves and indexes pages from the web.
  • Googlebot: the common name of Google's crawler. The Googlebot is constantly crawling the internet.
  • SEO: Search Engine Optimization - the process by which your website is improved specifically for search engines. Also the job title of a person who works in the field of search engine optimization: We just hired a new SEO to improve our presence on the web.

Are you on google

Check if your website is in the Google index: Do a "site:" search for the URL of the home page of your website. If you see results, the website is in the index. For example, a search for “site:” will provide these results2.

If your website is not indexed on Google: Although Google is crawling billions of web pages, it is inevitable that some web sites will not be tracked. When a website is ignored by our crawlers, it is often for one of the following reasons:

  • The website is not sufficiently linked to other websites.
  • You have just published the website and it's too early for Google's next regular crawl.
  • The structure of the website makes it difficult for Google to effectively crawl the content of the page.
  • Google received an error message while trying to crawl your website.
  • Your policies are blocking Google from crawling the site.

What do I have to do to get my website to appear in search results?

Adding your website to Google search results is free and easy. You don't even have to submit your website to Google. Google is a fully automated search engine that uses web crawlers to continuously crawl the web and find websites to add to our index. The vast majority of the websites listed in our results are not submitted for inclusion manually but are automatically detected and added when the Googlebot crawls the web. This is how Google recognizes and crawls websites and includes them in the search results3

We provide guidelines for webmasters4 to create a Google-friendly website. While there is no guarantee that our crawlers will find a particular page, your website should appear in our search results if you follow the guidelines.

Google's Search Console provides helpful tools for submitting content to Google and checking your status in Google Search. You can also have Search Console send you notifications about critical issues on your website that Google detects. Register with Search Console.5

Once you have answered the following basic questions, you can be sure that you have already considered the most important points right from the start:

  • Will my website appear in Google search?
  • Am I offering quality content to users?
  • Is my company location visible on Google?
  • Can users access my content quickly and easily on all devices?
  • Is my website safe?

You can find more information on how to get started at

The remainder of this document provides guides, sorted by topic, on how to improve your website for search engines. You can find a short print version of the checklist with tips at download.

Do you need an SEO expert?

A search engine optimization expert is someone who is specifically qualified to improve your website's search engine visibility. If you follow this guide, nothing should stand in the way of optimizing your website. In addition, you should think about an SEO expert who can help you review your pages.

Hiring an SEO is a big decision that can potentially improve your website and save time. Find out about both the potential benefits of engaging an SEO and the disadvantages of not acting responsibly for your website. Many SEOs as well as other agencies and consultants offer practical services for website owners:

  • Review of the content or structure of your website
  • Technical advice on website development - for example on hosting, redirects, error pages, the use of JavaScript
  • Content development
  • Management of online campaigns for business development
  • Keyword research
  • SEO training
  • Expertise in specific markets and geographic locations

Before you start looking for an SEO, you should do your research and familiarize yourself with how search engines work. We recommend reading this guide in its entirety, and especially the following resources:

If you want to use the services of an SEO, the following applies: the earlier, the better. The best moment is when you are planning to redesign your website or create a new website. In this way, you can work with SEO to ensure that your website is designed to be search engine friendly from the ground up. But good SEO can also help improve an existing website.

You can find a detailed overview of whether you need a search engine optimizer and the points to look out for in our help article "Do you need a search engine optimizer (SEO)?"11.

Help Google find your content

Make sure your website can be found by Google - this is the first step in indexing the website. The best thing to do is to hand over one Sitemap a. A sitemap is a file that is on your website and informs search engines of new or changed pages on your website. Learn more about creating and submitting a sitemap12

Google also finds pages through links from other sites. In the section Promote your website Further down in this document you will find out how you can motivate users to visit your website.

Tell Google which pages Not should be crawled

Best practices

Block unwanted crawling of non-sensitive information using robots.txt

A “robots.txt” file informs search engines whether they can access parts of your website and thus crawl it. This file, named robots.txt, will be placed in the root directory of your website. It is possible that pages blocked by robots.txt can still be crawled. You should therefore use a more secure method for confidential pages.

# # Tell Google not to crawl any URLs in the shopping cart or images in the icons folder, # because they won't be useful in Google Search results. User-agent: googlebot Disallow: / checkout / Disallow: / icons /

You may want certain pages on your website not to be crawled because their display in search engine results doesn't make sense to users. With the user-friendly robots.txt generator of the Google Search Console you can create the file "robots.txt" if you want to prevent search engines from crawling your pages. Note: If your website has subdomains and you do not want to crawl some pages from a particular subdomain, you will need to create a separate robots.txt file for that subdomain. For more information on the robots.txt file, see this guide.13.

You can find out more about other ways in which you can prevent certain content from appearing in search results here.14

To avoid:

  • Google crawls your internal search results pages because users don't like it when they click on a search engine result to get to another search results page on your website
  • Allow URLs that are created due to proxy services to be crawled

Use more secure methods for sensitive information

The robots.txt file is neither a suitable nor an effective way to block sensitive material. It just tells crawlers who are programmed to behave in a way that the pages are not intended for them. However, your server is not prevented from sending these pages to a browser that requests them. One reason for this is that search engines can still point to the URLs you have blocked if there are links to these URLs on the Internet, for example in referral logs. In this case, only the URL is displayed without a title or snippet. In addition, the instructions in the robots.txt file can be disregarded by non-compliant or criminal search engines that do not recognize the Robots Exclusion Standard. Finally, curious users could also look through the directories or subdirectories in your robots.txt file and guess the URL of the content that should not be displayed.

In these cases, use the tag if you don't want the page to be displayed on Google, but you don't mind that a user can access the page via a link. If you really want to be on the safe side, you should use suitable authorization methods, such as requiring a user password to be entered, or removing the page completely from your website.

Make your content understandable for Google (and users)

Allow Google to see the page as a user would

When the Googlebot crawls a page, the page should be presented to it in the same way as it would to a user.15 Allow the Googlebot to access the JavaScript, CSS and image files used by your website at any time for optimal rendering and indexing. If your website's robots.txt file prevents these assets from being crawled, it immediately affects our algorithms for rendering and indexing your content. This can result in suboptimal rankings.

Recommended action:

  • Use the URL checking tool.16 You can see your content exactly as the Googlebot sees and renders it. It will also help you identify and fix some indexing issues on your website.

Create unique and correct page titles

A tag is used to tell users and search engines the subject of a particular page. The tag should be placed within the element of the HTML document. You should create a unique title for each page on your website.

<html> <head> <title>Brandon's Baseball Cards - Buy Cards, Baseball News, Card Prices</title> ...

Create meaningful titles and snippets for search results

If your document appears on a search results page, the content of the title tag may appear in the first line of the result. If you are not familiar with the parts of a Google search result, you should watch the video on building a search result17 look at.

In the home page title, you can include the name of your website or company and other important information such as location, or perhaps some of the company's main focuses or offerings.

Best practices

Describe the content of the page correctly

Choose a natural-sounding title that effectively communicates the subject matter of the page's content.

To avoid:

  • Selection of a title that has no relation to the page content
  • Using standard titles or unspecified titles such as "Untitled" or "New Page 1"

Create a unique title for each page

Ideally, every page on your website should have a unique title that allows Google to determine how it differs from the other pages on your website. If your website has separate mobile pages, you should also use descriptive titles for the mobile versions.

To avoid:

  • Use the same title for all pages on your site or for a large group of pages

Use short but meaningful titles

Titles can be both short and informative. If the title is too long or is classified as less relevant for other reasons, Google may only show part of it or an automatically generated title in the search result. Google may also display different titles depending on the user's query or the device they are searching for.

To avoid:

  • Using extremely long titles that are not helpful to users
  • Overloading tags with unnecessary keywords</li></ul><h3>HTML snippet with the meta tag "description"</h3><p>In the meta tag “description”, the topics dealt with on the relevant page for Google and other search engines are summarized. The title of a page can contain multiple words or a phrase. The “description” meta tag on a page, on the other hand, can contain a sentence or two or even a short paragraph. Like the tag, the meta tag "description" is also placed within the element of the HTML document.</p><html> <head> <title>Brandon's Baseball Cards - Buy Cards, Baseball News, Card Prices</title> <strong><meta name="description" content="Brandon's Baseball Cards provides a large selection of vintage and modern baseball cards for sale. We also offer daily baseball news and events."></strong> </head> <body> ... <h4>What are the advantages of “description” meta tags?</h4><p>Description meta tags play an important role because Google may use them as snippets for your pages. Note that we say “possibly” because Google may use a relevant section of the visible text on your page to match a user's search query.It's always a good idea to add “description” meta tags to each page - in case Google can't find a good selection of text to use in the snippet. You can find informative posts on optimizing snippets with better “description” meta tags on the Google Search Central blog<sup>18</sup> and to better snippets for users<sup>19</sup>. There's also a handy help article for creating meaningful titles and snippets<sup>20</sup>.</p><p><img src=""></p><h4>Best practices</h4><p><strong>Summarize page content correctly</strong></p><p>Write a description that is informative and interesting for users when they see your “description” meta tag as a snippet in a search result. There is no minimum or upper limit for the text length in a “description” meta tag. However, we recommend that it is long enough so that the text is displayed in full in search and contains all the relevant information users need to assess whether the page is useful and relevant to them. Note, however, that users may see snippets of different sizes depending on the type and location of the search.</p><p><strong>To avoid:</strong></p><ul><li>Writing a "description" meta tag that is unrelated to the content on the page</li><li>Use general descriptions such as "This is a web page" or "Baseball cards page"</li><li>Descriptions that consist entirely of keywords</li><li>Copy the entire document content into the “description” meta tag</li></ul><p><strong>Use unique descriptions for each page</strong></p><p>If you set a different “description” meta tag for each page, this will help both users and Google - especially with search queries where users can access multiple pages in your domain, e.g. B. when searching with the operator. However, if your website has thousands or even millions of pages, it is likely not possible to manually create “description” meta tags for all pages. In this case, you can automatically generate “description” meta tags based on the content of each page.</p><p><strong>To avoid:</strong></p><ul><li>Use the same "description" meta tag for all pages on your site or for a large group of pages</li></ul><h3>Use heading tags to highlight important text</h3><p>Use meaningful headings to identify important topics and thereby create a hierarchical structure for your content. This is how you help users to find their way around your document.</p><h4>Best practices</h4><p><strong>Imagine writing an outline</strong></p><p>Much like writing an outline for a large document, think about the main and sub-items on the page, and determine where it is appropriate to use heading tags.</p><p><strong>To avoid:</strong></p><ul><li>Placing text in heading tags that is not helpful in defining the structure of the page</li><li>Use heading tags in places where other tags like and make more sense</li><li>Irregular switching between different headline tag sizes</li></ul><p><strong>Don't use too many headings on one page</strong></p><p>Use heading tags where it makes sense. Too many heading tags on a page can make it difficult for users to get an overview of the content and see where one topic ends and another begins.</p><p><strong>To avoid:</strong></p><ul><li>Using excessive heading tags on a page</li><li>Very long headings</li><li>Use of heading tags as a pure design element for text without any structure being discernible</li></ul><h3>Add markup for structured data</h3><p>Structured data<sup>21</sup> are code that you can paste on the pages of your website to describe their content for search engines. This enables them to understand the content of the pages better. Search engines can use this knowledge to display your content in an appropriate (and eye-catching!) Form. This, in turn, can help you attract exactly the right customers for your company.</p><p><img src=""></p><p>For example, if you have an online shop and markup a single product page, we can better see that this page is about a bike, its price, and customer reviews. For relevant searches, this information may appear in the search results snippet. These are the so-called "rich search results".</p><p>We not only use the markup for structured data in rich search results, but we can also use it to display relevant results in other formats. For example, if you have a physical store, opening hours markup allows potential customers to find you exactly when they need you. They also find out whether your store is open or closed at the time of the search.</p><p><img src=""></p><p>You can markup many business-relevant elements:</p><ul><li>Products offered by you</li><li>Your location</li><li>Videos about your products or your company</li><li>opening hours</li><li>Event and appointment lists</li><li>Recipes</li><li>Your company logo and much more</li></ul><p>For a full list of supported content types, please visit our developer website.<sup>22</sup></p><p>We recommend that you use structured data to describe the content with the markup for all supported representations. You can add the markup in the HTML code on your pages or use tools like data highlighter<sup>23</sup> and the markup help<sup>24</sup> use. See the “Best Practices” section for more information on these tools.</p><h4>Best practices</h4><p><strong>Check markup with the Rich Search Results test</strong></p><p>Once you've markup your content, you can use the Rich Search Results test<sup>25</sup> make sure there are no bugs in the implementation. You can either enter the URL where the content is located or copy and paste the HTML that contains the markup.</p><p><strong>To avoid:</strong></p><ul><li>Use of invalid markup</li></ul><p><strong>Use data highlighter</strong></p><p>With Data Highlighter, you can try out structured markup without changing your website's source code. It's a free tool built into Search Console that supports some of the content types.</p><p>If you want to prepare the markup code to be copied and pasted onto the page, try the markup help.</p><p><strong>To avoid:</strong></p><ul><li>Modifying the website's source code if you're not sure you want to implement markup</li></ul><p><strong>Track the performance of the marked pages</strong></p><p>In the various reports on rich search results<sup>26</sup> The Search Console shows how many pages with a certain markup have been recognized on the website, how often these have appeared in the search results and how often users have clicked on them in the last 90 days. It also lists errors detected by Google.</p><p><strong>To avoid:</strong></p><ul><li>Adding markup data that is not visible to users</li><li>Creating fake reviews or adding irrelevant markup</li></ul><h3>Manage appearance in Google search results</h3><p>Correct structured data on the pages also qualify them for many special functions in the search results, including star ratings or unusual results. For more information, see the gallery of search result types available for your page.<sup>27</sup></p><h3>Organize your website's hierarchy</h3><h3>How do search engines use urls?</h3><p>Search engines need a unique URL for every single piece of content so that they can crawl and index this content and refer users to it. For different content, for example different products in a shop, and modified content, for example translations or regional variants, separate URLs must be used so that they are displayed accordingly in the search.</p><p>URLs are generally divided into different sections:</p><p>Example:</p><p>Google recommends using the HTTPS (https: //) protocol for all websites if possible. The host name represents the location where your website is hosted. It usually uses the same domain name that you would use for email. Google differentiates between versions with and without “www”, for example “” or just “”. When adding your website to Search Console, you should add both the versions with “http: //” and “https: //” and the versions with and without “www”.</p><p>The path, file name and query string determine which content is accessed on your server. These three parts are case-sensitive, which is why “FILE” would lead to a different URL than “file”. The host name and protocol are not case-sensitive. Upper or lower case would therefore not play a role there.</p><p>A fragment, in this case “”, generally indicates which part of the page the browser is scrolling to. Since the content is usually the same regardless of the fragment, search engines generally ignore any fragments used.</p><p>When referring to the start page, a trailing slash after the host name is optional, as it leads to the same content. “Https://” and “” are therefore identical. A trailing slash in the path and file name would be treated as a different URL and would indicate either a file or a directory. For example, “” is not the same as “”.</p><h3>Navigation is important for search engines</h3><p>Navigating a website is important so that visitors can quickly find the content they want. They also enable search engines to better identify what content the website owner considers important. Although Google's search results are mapped at the page level, Google also wants to be able to classify the role a page plays in the larger context of the website.</p><p><img src=""></p><h3>Plan navigation based on the home page</h3><p>All websites have a start or root page, which is usually the most visited page on the website and the starting point for navigation for many visitors. If your website has more than a handful of pages, consider how visitors get from a general page, your home page, to a page with more specific content. Do you have enough pages on a particular subject area that it would be useful to create a page that describes those related pages - e. B. Main page -> Entry for further information -> specific topic? Do you have hundreds of different products that need to be broken down into multiple category and sub-category pages?</p><h3>Use navigation paths</h3><p>A navigation path is a line of internal links at the top or bottom of the page that visitors can use to quickly return to the previous section or the root page. For many navigation paths, the most general page - usually the root page - appears as the first link on the far left, and the more specific sections appear further to the right. We recommend that you use appropriate markup for structured data when displaying navigation paths<sup>28</sup> to use.</p><p><img src=""></p><h3>Create a simple navigation page for users</h3><p>A navigation page is a simple page on your website that shows the structure of your website. It usually consists of a hierarchical list of the pages on your website. This is the page that visitors can go to if they have trouble finding pages on your site. Search engines also access this page in order to crawl as many pages as possible on your website. However, it is primarily aimed at visitors.</p><h4>Best practices</h4><p><strong>Create a hierarchy for natural navigation flow</strong></p><p>Make it as easy as possible for users to get from general content to the more specific content they're looking for on your site. Add navigation pages when it makes sense and incorporate them effectively into your internal link structure. Make sure that all pages of your website are accessible via links and that no internal search function is required. If necessary, create links to related pages so that users can find similar content.</p><p><strong>To avoid:</strong></p><ul><li>Creating complex webs of navigation links, for example by linking each page of your website to all other pages</li><li>The structuring of content is too small so that it can be accessed from the start page e.g. B. can only be reached after twenty clicks</li></ul><p><strong>Use text for navigation</strong></p><p>Using text links to do most of the page-to-page navigation on your site will make it easier for search engines to identify and crawl your site. 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