Getting your website listed in the search engines is the very first step to building a business online. Maybe you’re a seasoned entrepreneur starting a new business but haven’t invested online before, or maybe you’re a seasoned business owner looking to take an existing business to the next level.
If you’re like the 54% of businesses who don’t have a budget for SEO, then you need to take it into your own hands and at least get started so you can justify the investment in the future. Because after all, 93% of online experiences begin with a search engine (source).
So how do you get your website listed?
1. Ignore those spam phone calls
If you’re anything like me, you get spam calls frequently telling you that “your website cannot be found in Google” and they’re offering to do it for you.
Ignore these calls, especially if they are automated. They’re not going to do good work for you and you DEFINITELY should not trust them with your logins to things like Google Search Console or Google My Business.
You get what you pay for.
2. Build an XML sitemap
In order to get your website listed in the search engines, you need two things:
- Links pointing into your website from other websites;
- An XML sitemap listing all of your URLs that is then submitted to the search engines.
There are other things to investigate if your site will not index (such as checking to make it is not blocked by robots.txt), but these first two are the things you need to do if your site is not listed at all.
We’ll talk about links in the fourth point (because it’s secondary and a sledgehammer to getting your site indexed instead of properly setting up your site technically), but let’s talk about building an XML sitemap.
Tools to use
In our current day and age, most website platforms have automatic sitemap builders.
On WordPress you have Yoast SEO which is a free plugin (with a paid version) that automatically builds segmented XML sitemaps for standard WordPress installs
With Magento you can generate it automatically as long as you have write access to your server. Details here.
Squarespace automatically generates XML sitemaps for you and puts them at yoursite.com/sitemap.xml
Shopify automatically creates sitemaps for you and they can be found at yoursite.com/sitemap.xml
In this day and age, there is very little excuse to not have your website build on a CMS like WordPress or Squarespace.
How to build an XML sitemap manually
If for some reason your marketing site is not build on a platform like WordPress or Squarespace, you will have to build sitemaps yourself.
The right solution to this depends on how actively your website changes. If you’re blogging constantly, adding and removing content, and more then you’ll need an automated solution. This is what I recommend for enterprise clients I work with who don’t have XML sitemaps (you would be amazed how often websites with 100,000+ pages don’t have sitemaps submitted to search engines so that you can get indexation information).
If you have a relatively small (10-ish pages) small business website that is meant to be a placeholder for your business, then you can get away with a static XML sitemap submitted to the search engines. In this case though, I’d just recommend that you put it onto WordPress or similar for the sake of simplicity.
XML sitemaps have the following structure:
<?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”UTF-8″?>
To have multiple URLs, you add more of these:
Here’s how you do this:
- Get a full crawl of your website (using a tool like Screaming Frog or similar)
- Create a clean list of all of your URLs within Excel or a Google sheet. A clean URL is a URL that returns a 200 status code (eg is publicly accessible), does not redirect to another page, and is meant to drive traffic from search engines.
- Insert each URL into its own <loc> section within the above XML format.
If you have more URLs than this makes feasible sense for, then you can use some Excel formula wizardry to make this happen. It’s a pain to do though, so avoid manually building sitemaps at all costs.
If manually building them this way doesn’t make sense, then try these tools:
It is worth noting that if you use Screaming Frog, then you can build sitemaps from directly within the tool! This is likely the best way for you to go to build your sitemaps!
3. Submit that sitemap to search engines
Now it’s time to submit your sitemap to the search engines. Note that submitting your sitemap does not guarantee inclusion or ranking for the keywords your pages are targeting, but it is the best way to directly tell the search engines about pages on your website.
To submit your sitemap to Google, first go to Search Console:
Click into your profile (if you don’t have it set up then you need to do that first. Start here) and navigate to Crawl > Sitemaps and click on Add Sitemap:
Then you can test and submit your sitemap to the search engines:
4. Build links to your website
If you’ve submitted your sitemaps then your website will be discovered by the search engines.
But to get them ranking, you need to have links pointing to your website from other relevant websites.
The best way to do this is to earn links by publishing content that your industry cares about. But this is a long hard journey that can take years to really start showing results.
In the short term, there are ways to speed up your link acquisition to help your site get stronger and more relevant to the queries you are trying to rank for with dedicated pages on your site.
- Local business directories if you are a local business;
- Guest blogging on complementary websites that have more traffic than yours;
- Offering testimonials to products you use in exchange for a link back to your website;
If you want a full list of link building ideas, we recommend Brian Dean’s.
What about you? What questions do you still have about adding your website to the search engines?