Search Engine Optimization for Developers
SEO stands for search engine optimization, and it is simply put “the process of making your website easy for search engines like google to find and read your website”.
It should be one of the primary considerations for every modern application developer, and ff you are developing a website professionally, taking SEO into consideration while building your website can make a huge difference to your companies bottom line.
There are a few primary categories of optimizations that will allow you to excel in SEO. At some point I would like to delve deeper into each of these topics, but for in this article I want to give a birds-eye view of the categories, with links off to more in depth resources for each.
How do Search Engines Work
The way that the search ecosystem works, in a general sense, is that each major company that has a vested interest in scanning and saving website information (think google) builds what is called a crawler.
A crawler is a robot that scans websites on the internet, saving information about each and every one to a long list called an index. An index is just a giant list of websites and their associated information.
When you publish your website to the internet, unless you specifically tell them not to, your website will begin to be crawled and saved (indexed) by these companies. The primary companies that you might think of when you think of SEO are search websites, but there are many companies that might be crawling your site (think pinterest, facebook, yelp, etc.). SEO makes it possible for any of these crawlers to scan and understand your website.
Next we will look at the main categories of optimization that you can use to optimize your website.
1. Website Structure and Content
Your website structure and content are considered the most reliable indicator of the quality of your websites information to website crawlers. The structure of the website, in this context, means the order of the content on the page, which text is inside of h1, h2, h3 tags vs. paragraph tags, as well as other data included in the HTML markup of the page. Crawlers read your website as a data hierarchy, with h1 tags indicating the highest importance information, and h5 tags indicating lower importance. Crawlers will also reduce your overall credibility if you are to do things that are seen as an impossible hierarchy, like putting all of the paragraph text for your whole site inside an h1 tag.
For more information on how to optimally structure your site content, see Google’s tutorial on the topic here.
2. A Sitemap
A sitemap is an XML document that you store on your websites server that shows the crawlers directly all of the pages and their URLs. This gives the crawler a chance to scan all of your pages quickly because it will know where they are all located. View more information about sitemaps here.
3. Meta Tags
Meta tags are HTML elements that describe information about a web page not related to the page’s visual representation. These are things like the title of the page, the icon that appears next to a tab containing your website in the browser etc. There are a number of meta tags that are hugely important to the crawlers that will document your site for search sites like google, bing, etc.
One thing to remember though is that only certain data can be communicated directly to crawlers through meta tags. The fact that these tags are supplied by the website developers themselves makes them inherently less of a reliable source of info for a search engine like google. Crawlers weight content more heavily as I indicated in the first section.
The most important categories of tags are as follows, general tags are for high level information about the page, while the social tags are used by social media crawlers to decide what information they should add to their thumbnail images when people share your webpage on those social platforms.
- General tags: Title, description, language, canonical. View more information about these meta tags here.
- Social Media tags:
twitter:<…>tags. View more information about these meta tags here.
4. Structured Data
“Structured Data”, (referred to as SD in this article) is simply data that helps Google and other search engines categorize and display the data on your web page. It famously helps Google add extra information (Or as Google calls it “Rich Results”) to your search card, as you can see below.
Using Structured Data on your website will allow google to present valuable information to your potential customers in search, including product details like price + rating, carousel lists, and article information that will help users sort through your site data, and ultimately click into your website to view more.
I wrote a more detailed post about the topic that you can view here.
Thank you for reading. There is so much depth to this topic, but I think that this first look should give you an idea of where to go if you are a developer getting started optimizing your site for crawlers. Finally, here is a cheat sheet from MOZ.org that gives you the same information in a slightly different format.
Good luck, and happy coding!