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Technical Best Practices for SEO

Website content that is relevant, up-to-date and built according to best practices will be more easily found by your intended audience via search engines like Google. This page serves as a guide to technical best practices.

For content best practices and tips on how to write for search engines, visit the Brand Tools website. Ultimately, the goal is to create and format content that search engines love, without losing sight of your main communication objectives.

Page Title

The title of the page is weighted heavily in keyword searches. The title of the page is what appears (usually) at the top of your browser window. The title is controlled in HTML code by what exists between the <title></title> tags in the document. Depending on how you write your content into your pages, a Content Management System administrator may be able to advise you on how to set page titles. Keep your titles concise, but put your most important keywords there in natural language.


Search engines concern themselves with the words they can identify in the URL of a page. URLs closer to the top of the site hierarchy have higher weight than pages deep in the site. Each word that can be identified by the search engine will be compared against the keywords searched for, so it's important to use good wording when naming pages and folders.

A good word separator is a hyphen. Failing that, you may use the underscore. If your page is attempting to market a graduate degree in psychology counseling, you might for example have a URL like The keywords in the page name are slightly more important than folder name keywords. Don't go overboard to create elaborately long URLs just to pack your keywords in; but at the same time avoid the "slug," as it's often called, which is a one-word description of a piece of content.

Canonical Tags

A canonical tag tells search engines which specific URL represents the master copy of a page. This prevents problems caused by duplicate content appearing on multiple URLs and tells search engines which URL they should be indexing.

For example, both and will take you to an identical Northwestern homepage. However, we created a canonical tag to communicate that we prefer the second version (without index.html) for search purposes. If you type “Northwestern” into a search engine, you will see that the URL does not include the index.html.

To learn about canonicalization, please talk to a developer in your affiliated department, or learn more about it and see example code using these external resources:

XML Sitemap

Create and submit an XML sitemap of your webpages for indexing purposes. Even though search engines can still technically find your pages without one, adding a sitemap can simplify the process.

By submitting an XML sitemap to Google Search Console, you’re giving Google a clue that you consider the pages in the XML sitemap to be high-quality search landing pages, worthy of indexing. The sitemap.xml provides a means to communicate the priority of a page in the site and announce additions of new pages – please note that it is important to keep this sitemap up to date, or it will be ignored.

If you have questions about how to create a sitemap, please reach out to your affiliated IT team.