Search engines are one of the primary methods people use to get to our websites, and are also how many users find what they are looking for within them. To make this journey easy for them, follow these best practice guidelines to present a consistent, user-friendly experience.
If we want a website to be accessible through external search engines, we can manage and monitor our search presence through Webmaster Tools.
About 90% of our search traffic comes from Google. To manage our presence on Google, the TELUS digital team uses Google Webmaster Tools. This allows us to submit pages for indexing, remove pages from search results, and monitor the site for errors. Google Webmaster Tools considers each subdomain to be a “distinct” website. If your site has multiple subdomains, it is necessary to install Webmaster Tools for each subdomain.
To install Google Webmaster Tools:
- Create a file named “google9b61302933d14bce.html”
- The content of this file should be a single line of plain text reading: google-site-verification: google9b61302933d14bce.html
- Place this file in the root folder of your website or the subdomain of your website. For example, if your website is at subdomain.telus.com, you should be able to enter the address http://subdomain.telus.com/google9b61302933d14bce.html in your browser and return the content of the verification file
- When this is completed, contact the TELUS digital analytics team, who will complete verification through Google Webmaster Tools. The purpose of this file is to verify ownership of this website with Google.
- Webmaster Tools programs are also available for Bing and Yahoo!.
Search engines automate their processes for discovering websites and removing obsolete search results, but websites can help themselves out by following these guidelines.
Troubleshooting index issues
If you are not seeing the website’s pages in search results as expected, there are many technical reasons why Google’s crawler may not be able to access and/or read the pages.
Blocking pages with robots.txt
If it is necessary to keep certain sections of your website out of search engines, the simplest method is to place a file called “robots.txt” in the root of your website in addition to the Google Webmaster Tools verification file. Visit www.robotstxt.org to learn more about the robots.txt file.
Blocking or removing pages
If the website has internal site search functionality, it is recommended to block the results pages from search. Typically, they will be generated in a folder called www.yoursite.com/search/. For the best user experience, this folder should be included as a disallowed folder in the robots.txt file.
Other pages commonly blocked from search results include error message pages, region select pages, and automatically-generated pages that duplicate content - any page that does not add value to customers when they search.
If your website or some of its web pages are no longer in use, remove them from search results. Leaving pages to return “not found” error messages when accessed from Google is a poor user experience, and can hurt rankings for your entire site.
Search engine user experience
To make search results easy to use, it is important to put useful information in a page’s Title and Meta Description tags - these are how the user will identify your pages in search results.
Avoid duplicating Title and Meta Description tags - this makes it difficult for a customer to distinguish between results.
The Title tag is the link that customers click on to reach a search results page. Some guidelines:
- It is placed in the
<head>section of a page’s code, with the tag
- Maximum length is 60 characters, including spaces.
- Format: (name of page) | (section of site) | (name of site)
- “name of page”: Use the words that the customer is searching for that are unique to that page
- “section of site” - If it is a “help” page use “Help” as your section name.
- “name of site” - This is where to include branding
- Use caution when using a CMS to put special characters in Title tags - they may be converted to a format that does not render properly. Monitor the results and adjust accordingly
- Do not include tags within a Title tag
Meta Description tag
The Meta Description content is what appears beneath the link on a search results page. It is your primary opportunity to inform users as to what they can find on the page when they click the link, so make it informative. Some guidelines:
- It is placed in the
<head>section, with the tag
<meta name="description" content="(your description)">
- Maximum length is 155 characters, including spaces
- It is generally more effective to use a call-to-action, with a verb phrase, to entice a customer to click on the result. Suggest what benefit they can gain by following the link.
- As with Title tags, use caution when including special characters, especially through a CMS.
- Do not include tags within a Meta Description tag
Meta Keywords tags
The Meta Keywords tag is not used by search engines. Only use it if required for HTML validation, and limit its content.