(This article is an 8.5 minute read)
THREE THINGS YOU'LL GET FROM THIS ARTICLE
1. A way to test whether Google can see you or not
2. The difference between Analytics and Search Console
3. Two easy ways to build and submit a sitemap
Ahh, search engines — they’re always trying to please. Back in the old days, TV stations and magazines didn’t really care if you existed. Actually, they did care, but they couldn’t measure it well, so it didn’t matter. But the new giants of the media age, Google and Facebook, know you well and care very much.
Search engines want to see your website in such a way that it makes it easy for them to know you. That’s why you’ll often hear technical folk talking about optimising for search engines. Optimising might involve using certain keywords or phrases, and making sure those parts of your site that search engines can’t read—things like pictures, videos etc—have some information around them that helps the search engines identify them.
A lot of people assume that once they put their web page up, Google and other search engines will just find them. That’s not always a safe assumption. If you’re not getting the results from search engines that you think you should be, there are some steps you can take to figure out what’s going on.
How Google sees you
If you want to see how Google sees you, open a web page and in the address bar at the top, type “site:” followed by your URL. So if you were from the Australian Dental Association, for example, you’d type “site:www.ada.org.au”. What you will see is every page on your site that Google sees.
So if you type your URL and you see a result like this:
… you know why your site isn’t turning up in Google searches. It’s because Google hasn’t indexed you.
The difference between the Google index and the web
A key thing to remember is when you ask Google to search the web, the page of search results you get isn’t directly from the web. As SEO-celebrity and former head of Webspam at Google, Matt Cutts explains in this video on how search works, the results you get following a search query are drawn from Google’s index of the web. Not the web itself.
There’s solid logic behind them doing that. The web is filled with stuff that you wouldn’t necessarily care about in search results: test pages, dodgy spam-filled gunk pages left over from the bad old days of black-hat search engine gaming, and all sorts of other stuff.
Google sends its spiders out to crawl through links to discover popular and respected pages. Then they index them on their own servers. Then they serve it back to you as search results.
So it makes sense that you should find some way of making your website as discoverable as it can be.
Luckily there’s a tool you can use to check your site to see if Google likes it. It’s called the Search Console.
The difference between Analytics and the search console
So some of you might have already signed up for Google Analytics (if you haven’t, you should). Google Analytics tells you how many visitors you’re getting, how many are returning visitors, how they get to you, and whether they’re spending time on your site. This is really important information. It’s like looking at your site from the outside in.
Google Search Console (which used to be called Webmaster Tools, but changed its name earlier this year) is like the flip-side of Analytics. It looks at your site from the inside out. It can tell you who is linking to your site, and gives you ways of making your site more discoverable by Google.
If you have already signed up for Google Analytics, signing up for the search console is easy. Just go to the Search Console Website and sign in using your Google account – the same one as you use for Analytics.
Two simple fixes which might make a difference
If you’re visiting the search console for the first time, you might be asked to add a property. This would be the URL of your website. Open your site in another window, and copy-and-paste the URL. That way you won’t make the mistake of including (or not including) the www in front of the URL.
Having the www there doesn’t make a difference if you just type it in, but it does make a difference to Google. Search engines distinguish between www and non-www URLs. If you type the wrong one, Google might look for your site in the wrong spot, and assume there’s nothing there.
Once you’ve connected your site, have a look over the right-hand side of the page under the panel named 'sitemaps'. It’s a good idea to add a sitemap here, which Google’s spiders will read to index your site.
There’s a couple of ways you can produce a sitemap, which are explained in more detail on the search console. But to make it easy, the two possibilities you can think about are either doing a manually-produced .txt file or, if you are using WordPress, using the Yoast plugin.
The first is just a list of URLs. You can copy and paste them from your site, then save the file as a simple text (or .txt) file. The second is automatically produced by Yoast. You’ll find it on your WordPress dashboard in the left-hand menu, under SEO, XML Sitemaps.
A rookie tip which we fell for—when the software was updated we found certain sitemaps had been checked as being disabled. Make sure you’ve got them all turned on by going through and either checking or unchecking appropriate boxes.
A button under the ‘General’ tab will open a page with a list of your sitemaps. You then use the URL of that page in your Search console.
What happens next?
Well, in many cases … nothing. Which is a bit unnerving. You sit there thinking, ‘But I did all the stuff they told me to. WHY AREN’T I RANKING AT NUMBER ONE?’
Google has calmly answered this many times before. Just submitting your site doesn’t mean it gets immediately crawled or indexed. It may take several days or weeks. One site we have read suggested it could take months.
But if you haven’t done these things, Google and other search engines may never discover your site. So this is where you start.
Your next step
While you wait patiently for your site to appear in searches, there’s other stuff you can do. First and foremost, this is a great opportunity to spend some time building a content strategy. Coming up with a content strategy isn’t hard, but it’s one of the building blocks of making your business blog work for you.
If you’re already totally across the whole content strategy thing, then perhaps you should focus some time and effort into building content on your site that helps with SEO and sales. Then you’re not wasting your SEO efforts.
Want more of this gear?
If any of that is unclear, please feel free to leave a comment. I do read them and comment back, and I’m more than happy to discuss it with you.
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