Search engine optimization basics for Sitecore

While the forefront of search engine optimization (SEO) is always in constant flux, the basics have more or less stayed consistent over the years. And depending on your content management system (CMS), SEO efforts may be as simple as downloading a plugin or it may mean heavy development effort to retrofit your existing system.

Utilizing a freely available CMS brings the option of many different types of SEO plugins; however, many times these plugins are version specific and can break after upgrading your CMS to the latest version. When you invest in an enterprise level CMS like Sitecore, you have the unique opportunity to leverage the Sitecore Experience Accelerator (SXA) as well as request your development team or firm to build out additional functionality.

With Sitecore Experience Accelerator version 1.1 you get the basic SEO requirements:

Title Tag

What is a title tag?

The title tag, or title element as it is sometimes called, within the HTML code defines the title of a document page. This tag can sometimes be displayed on search engine results pages (SERPs), depending on the user query. It is arguably one of the most important on-page SEO components.

How do I use a title tag?

A title tag is implemented within the head tags of an HTML document. See the example code below:  

<head>
<title>Purpose of the page | Company Name</title>
</head>

How do I use Sitecore Experience Accelerator to enter a title tag?

Sitecore Experience Accelerator injects the title tag you enter into the Title field automatically into the head section of the HTML without you have to code a thing!

  1. Open the Experience Editor.
  2. Navigate to the page for which you want to add a title tag.
  3. Select the Experience Accelerator tab.
  4. Click SEO.
  5. Enter the title tag you want to associated with the page in the Title field, within the Basics data section.
  6. Click OK.

What are some title tag recommendations?

Google displays as many characters as will fit into a 600 pixel area – which is roughly 50-60 characters, depending on the size of the characters. According to a study done by Moz, “If you keep your titles under 55 characters, you can expect at least 95% of your titles to display properly.” – again, it all depends on the query performed by the user as to what is displayed in the SERPS.

Update: Moz: Title Tag Length Guideline 2016 Edition

Additional Information

Google: Review your pate titles and snippets
W3Schools: HTML <title> Tag
Portent: SERP Preview Tool

Keywords Tag

What is a meta keyword tag?

Well over a decade ago, you would include the keywords you wanted your site to rank for in the meta keywords tag. Webmasters quickly began manipulating rankings by stuffing the keyword meta tag – because of this, Google, along with other popular search engines, eventually dropped it as a ranking signal.

How do I use a meta keywords tag?

A meta keywords is implemented within the head tags of an HTML document. See the example code below:

<head>
<meta name="keywords" content="keyword 1, keyword 2, keyword 3, etc">
</head>

How do I use Sitecore Experience Accelerator to enter a title?

It is recommended to not use this tag.

What are some meta keyword recommendations?

It is recommended to not use this tag.

Description Tag

What is a meta description tag?

The meta description tag within the HTML code is used to advertise the content to searchers. The content of your description tag can be used on search engine result pages, depending on the query of the user. While these tags are not directly considered a ranking signal, they do have the power to influence the searcher to click through to your page – so you can possibly increase your click-thru-rate by implementing quality meta descriptions.

How do I use a meta description tag?

A meta description is implemented within the head tags of an HTML document. See the example code below: 

<head>
<meta name="description" content="This is what you will find valuable about this page if you visit.">
</head>

How do I use Sitecore Experience Accelerator to enter a description?

In the same way SXA injects the title tag, it does the same thing with the meta keywords tag.

  1. Open the Experience Editor.
  2. Navigate to the page for which you want to add a meta description.
  3. Select the Experience Accelerator tab.
  4. Click SEO.
  5. Enter the description you want to associated with the page in the Page Description field, within the Page Meta Properties section.
  6. Click OK.

What are some meta description recommendations?

Google displays as many characters as will fit into an approximately 920 pixel area – which is roughly 156 characters, depending on the size of the characters. Also, you should continuously be testing your meta description. It is safe to test, as it does not impact your rankings directly, but you should test for an increase or decrease in click-thru-rate (which may or may not indirectly influence rankings – Google has not been direct about the effects of pogo-sticking – clicking on a result in the SERPs, visiting the page, then going back to the SERPs to search again).

Additional Information:

Screaming Frog: Meta Description Lengths by Pixel Width

XML Sitemap

What is a XML sitemap?

An XML sitemap is an XML file that lists important web page, by URL, priority, last modified date, and change frequency, on your website. Search engine robots use this file to better understand the organization of your website’s content and make it easier to find that may be located deep within your website.

How do I use a XML sitemap?

A XML sitemap is built using Extensible Markup Language tags and can be manually created or through the use of software. See the example XML code below: 

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<urlset xmlns="http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9">
<url>
<loc>http://www.YourWebsite.com/</loc>
<lastmod>2016-11-15</lastmod>
<changefreq>monthly</changefreq>
<priority>0.8</priority>
</url>
</urlset>

How do I use Sitecore Experience Accelerator to create a XML sitemap?

You can use SXA to modify the change frequency and priority fields of your XML sitemap. If you need more control over your XML sitemap, use Sitecore’s Configure a sitemap information.

  1. Open the Experience Editor.
  2. Select the Experience Accelerator tab.
  3. Click SEO.
  4. Select how often the page’s content changes from the Change frequency field.
    Note: To exclude a page from the sitemap, select do not include.
  5. Select the priority of this page relative to other pages on your site, between 0.1 (low priority) and 1.0 (high priority), from the Priority field.
  6. Click OK.

What are some XML sitemap recommendations?

While submitting an XML sitemap through Google Search Console (previously Google Webmaster Tools) will not influence rankings, it is considered a best practice, as search engines may consult them when establishing crawl priority and frequency.

Make sure you periodically check your XML sitemap for references to broken links, as well as “hidden” pages used for proprietary information or marketing campaigns that you do not want search engines to crawl. References that return a 404 waste your search engine spider crawl budget and can impact other pages within your sitemap from being crawled on a regular basis. And if a “hidden” page unintentionally gets indexed, because it was referenced in your sitemap, modify your sitemap to not include the page, then request that Google remove the URL from their search index by using Google Search Console (previously Google Webmaster Tools).

Additional Information

Sitemaps.Org: Sitemaps XML Format
Google: Build and submit a sitemap

SXA 1.1 is SEO 101.

The addition of SEO components and tags to Sitecore is a welcomed one from any search engine optimization specialist. That said, these are merely the basics – the SEO to-do checklist if you will. I will write another post in the future exploring more advanced SEO tactics and strategies.

About the author

I am a Digital Marketing Strategist. This blog does not represent the thoughts, intentions, plans or strategies of my employer. It is solely my opinion.

Also, I'm a digital strategist, not a developer - so when you see code on here, do not assume that it follows any best practices, because I'm simply trying to create actionable, measurable, marketing strategies as quickly as possible so that I can test and pivot accordingly.

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