SEOs tend to use a lot of tools. Some of the most useful are provided by the search engines themselves. Search engines want webmasters to create sites and content in accessible ways, so they provide a variety of tools, analytics and guidance. These free resources provide data points and opportunities for exchanging information with the engines that are not provided anywhere else.
Below we explain the common elements that each of the major search engines support and identify why they are useful.
Think of a sitemap as a list of files that give hints to the search engines on how they can crawl your website. Sitemaps help search engines find and classify content on your site that they may not have found on their own. Sitemaps also come in a variety of formats and can highlight many different types of content, including video, images, news and mobile.
Extensible Markup Language (Recommended Format)
- This is the most widely accepted format for sitemaps. It is extremely easy for search engines to parse and can be produced by a plethora of sitemap generators. Additionally, it allows for the most granular control of page parameters.
- Relatively large file sizes. Since XML requires an open tag and a close tag around each element, file sizes can get very large.
Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary
- Easy to maintain. RSS sitemaps can easily be coded to automatically update when new content is added.
- Harder to manage. Although RSS is a dialect of XML, it is actually much harder to manage due to its updating properties.
- Extremely easy. The text sitemap format is one URL per line up to 50,000 lines.
- Does not provide the ability to add meta data to pages.
The robots.txt file, a product of the Robots Exclusion Protocol, is a file stored on a website's root directory (e.g., www.google.com/robots.txt). The robots.txt file gives instructions to automated web crawlers visiting your site, including search spiders.
By using robots.txt, webmasters can indicate to search engines which areas of a site they would like to disallow bots from crawling as well as indicate the locations of sitemap files and crawl-delay parameters. You can read more details about this at the robots.txtKnowledge Center page.
The following commands are available:
Prevents compliant robots from accessing specific pages or folders.
Indicates the location of a website’s sitemap or sitemaps.
Indicates the speed (in milliseconds) at which a robot can crawl a server.
|An Example of Robots.txt
# Don’t allow spambot to crawl any pages
Warning: Not all web robots follow robots.txt. People with bad intentions (i.e. e-mail address scrapers) build bots that don’t follow this protocol and in extreme cases can use it to identify the location of private information. For this reason, it is recommended that the location of administration sections and other private sections of publicly accessible websites not be included in the robots.txt. Instead, these pages can utilize the meta robots tag (discussed next) to keep the major search engines from indexing their high risk content.
3. Meta Robots
The meta robots tag creates page-level instructions for search engine bots.
The meta robots tag should be included in the head section of the HTML document.
|An Example of Meta Robots
<title>The Best Webpage on the Internet</title>
<meta name="ROBOTS" content="NOINDEX, NOFOLLOW">
In the example above, “NOINDEX, NOFOLLOW” tells robots not to include the given page in their indexes, and also not to follow any of the links on the page.
Remember how links act as votes? The rel=nofollow attribute allows you to link to a resource, while removing your "vote" for search engine purposes. Literally, "nofollow" tells search engines not to follow the link, but some engines still follow them for discovering new pages. These links certainly pass less value (and in most cases no juice) than their followed counterparts, but areuseful in various situations where you link to an untrusted source.
|An Example of nofollow
<a href=”http://www.example.com” title=“Example” rel=”nofollow”>Example Link</a>
In the example above, the value of the link would not be passed to example.com as the rel=nofollow attribute has been added.
Often, two or more copies of the exact same content appear on your website under different URLs. For example, the following URLs can all refer to a single homepage:
To search engines, these appear as 5 separate pages. Because the content is identical on each page, this can cause the search engines to devalue the content and its potential rankings.
The canonical tag solves this problem by telling search robots which page is the singular "authoritative" version which should count in web results.
|An Example of rel="canonical" for the URL http://example.com/default.asp
<title>The Best Webpage on the Internet</title>
<link rel="canonical" href="http://www.example.com">
In the example above, rel=canonical tells robots that this page is a copy of http://www.example.com, and should consider the latter URL as the canonical.