By way of response to a friends specific question, below I present some thoughts on general website setup and dig a little into the dark arts of SEO as I experience it. Hopefully some of this will be of help!
These are some of the things to look into once you have your basic website going and are wanting to fine tune things and get a bit of notice on the search engines.
Get some analytics hooked up.
Most common is Google Analytics. For various reasons my personal preference is Piwik but whatever works for your situation. The main point is, get some analytics. This is how you “you gather and analyze important information about your users” or “Gain new insight with a total view of the customer experience.”.
analytics help you to know what kind of traffic you are getting, from where, how long visitors are on your site, what pages work better or worse, etc.
Get hooked in as a search engine webmaster
First stop google, of course - https://www.google.com/webmasters/
Register your site, get it authenticated etc and wait for some details to start accumulating. Then you can see where your site appears in peoples searches, what links point to your site, etc.
The other one worth connecting to is bing - http://www.bing.com/toolbox/webmaster
If you, your target audience, are in a country that has a popular local search engine(s) other than Bing and Google then get cracking on those too!
Connecting your site to these “webmaster” tools also tells them to start actively indexing your site.
You want to be https not plain old http.
The easiest (and free) way to do this is via https://letsencrypt.org/
How you get that connected depends on the details of your server or provider involved in hosting your website but the good ones should already have a “enable let’s encrypt” button you can just mash. No excuses not to have SSL anymore!
If not already then pretty soon search engines are going to rank you lower for not being https
Browsers are already starting to refuse to load sites that are not https. People are already loading “https only” browser extentions. This is only going to get more strict, sort it out asap.
Yeah, it can’t hurt to have them but they don’t really have a huge impact on search visibility (In my experience and opinion). There is nothing stopping a robot from ignoring robots.txt so keep it simple and always think of it as not much more than a friendly suggestion to nice robots
If you have one, you might want to make sure that your sitemap.xml is updated when content is added to your site. That will depend on how you are making your site. Some frameworks update sitemap.xml automatically, others you need to do something manually.
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
SEO is a funny game… there is no science to it but there are a few good practices.
Keep an eye on your analytics and webmaster dashboards. Until you get a feel for it, make notes when you change things or add new content and see what effect you had on traffic.
Don’t be spammy and then search engines won’t treat you as spammy. Don’t go keyword crazy, just have natural and real content that people, like the customers you want to have, would be interested in!
Things that help:
Seriously, the number one thing for a good website is to have information that people want to see. Keep it fresh, keep it relevant, keep adding to it and the search engines will find you.
Search engines really like it if they find other websites in their indexes that contain links to your website.
For starters, this is a way for them to even know that you exist. They follow the links, they find your site and they discover how awesome it is and start building an index of your site.
The more (contextually relevant!) links that are out there in the big WWW the better for you. Firstly because people will of course find your site organically but this also reminds search engines that you are awesome and they will likely rank you higher.
Show your visitors that you care about their safety
It doesn’t matter if you are selling anything or not, just get your https sorted.
Content is still king but if your website loads a zillion things and is several MB and your servers are slow then visitors will bounce and search engines will rank you low.
In your bowser, hit F12 and look at the “network” view while your page loads. This should give you an initial impression of where you are at. Perhaps compare that to sites similar to your and make a decision on how you are doing compared to them. Don’t stop there though!
Google webmaster will give you some indication if your site is slow, it also shows you crawl stats eventually but you will have to wait as this does not update immediately.
Check out also:
Use minification and compression where you can to combine resources and reduce the number of requests a page makes in order to load your content.
Update The Things - For Performance and Security!
You can’t always update everything to the latest and greatest version but unless you are doing somethings spectacularly unique you should be ok.
Often newer versions will be faster e.g. try out different versions of PHP.
If you are using wordpress then please, please keep that thing updated.
Note: vulnerabilities can exist in updates that have not been found yet but they sure do exist in older versions and are usually well known and often targeted. Know your versions, know their vulnerabilities and keep on top of that stuff or get someone who can do it for you. Blah, blah, some kind of care maintenance analogy.
Keep an eye on your media
High resolution images can be great, especially if your market is all about the look but do consider the impact of images on load times. Where possible, consider having smaller images that can be clicked to load a full resolution version.
Thanks for reading, this is all for now. I will add to this if I can with more ideas later!