If you’ve done any reading on search engine optimization (SEO) and how to rank well on Google, you likely heard of the Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. These guidelines help website owners understand what Google is looking for when ranking websites in search results. As a website owner who is practicing SEO, it’s very important to understand these guidelines. This blog post covers what you need to know about Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
The “General Guidelines” portion covers how to ensure Google can find and understand your webpages, and how to make your pages easy to use. These qualities are important enough to potentially warrant their own blog posts, so keep in mind that we are summarizing. To best understand how to achieve these things, you should look to Google’s Webmaster Guidelines or other blog posts. The rest of this post explains concepts presented in Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. First, let’s look at how to get Google to find your website in the first place.
Helping Google Find Your Website
Before trying various methods to get Google to crawl to your website, you should check to see if they already have. It’s very likely they have crawled your your website and it already ranks. To check to see if your website is in Google’s search results, you have to conduct a simple search. Type “site:[your domain name and top-level domain]” to see results from only your website. For example, we would type “site:jjlyonsmarketing.com” to see if our website is indexed by Google. If you find your website has not been indexed by Google, it has either not been crawled by Google, or it has been blacklisted.
Before asking Google to crawl your website, you need to check on a few things. When a website is of poor quality, Google may decide to completely eliminate it from search results altogether. You can also get your website blacklisted by practicing blackhat SEO tactics. To avoid getting blacklisted, pay close attention to the rest of this blog post. You should also ensure that you have high-quality content and include some SEO elements. Once you have made any necessary changes, you should request Google to crawl your website.
Create a Sitemap
If you have any important pages on your website that you need to have highlighted, then Google requires you to provide a sitemap file containing links that will direct users to those pages. There are many sites available that will help you create sitemaps that are sufficient by Google’s standards. Examples of these sites include sitemaps.org, xml-sitemaps.com, and writemaps.com. It is also recommended by Google that the number of links you have on a page is limited to a reasonable number. This means that at a maximum if you want to include a few thousand links, then this is acceptable. However, most important pages on websites realistically don’t need anywhere near that many links.
Help Google Understand Your Website
To help Google recognize that you have a high-quality website, you should include elements to break up your content. These elements include headings, subheading, images and videos. Your website should also be organized and clean. Keep in mind that Googlebot, Google’s web crawler, is a robot and it needs to read your website easily. A complicated and cluttered website can be marked as low-quality if Googlebot cannot easily crawl it.
Google Search represents the meat and potatoes of its process in understanding the content of a page. It utilizes structured data to process information about a website. Structured data provides information such as which colors are needed to make a specific painting, which types of paint brushes are needed, and how the artist should paint certain angles of the painting. Structured data supported by Google Search mainly implements schema.org vocabulary, but you should also use documentation that is available on developers.google.com to get a better understanding of Google Search behavior.
Try to have important content front and center on your website, as it is recommended in the guidelines. While you will not be penalized for using tabs and sections, Google does prefer you to have content on a default page layout. One way around this is to have your homepage include the most important information or content on your website. This allows you to have an organized website and have important content easily accessible.Try to have important content front and center on your website, according to Google's Webmaster Guidelines Click To Tweet
Help Website Visitors Use Your Website
One of the most important goals for your website should be to make it user-friendly and resourceful. If it is too difficult to navigate, your users will be less likely to stay on your page. Google understands this, so they rank easy-to-use websites higher than complicated and confusing websites.
Update your website to make it more user-friendly by making sure it is fast. 40% of people will click off of a website if it takes over three seconds to load. Avoid people leaving your website by checking its speed using Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool. You should also make sure your website is mobile-friendly, as this is very important to both your website visitors and Google.
Along with optimizing page loading times, you should also keep in mind all the device types and sizes that your site will be accessed on. Desktops, tablets and smartphones all have their own processes for how they render a site. For example, while your site may work very well on a desktop computer, if it proves to be unfriendly towards mobile devices, then you have a problem to address. You can use another one of Google’s tools called the Mobile-Friendly Test to see if your website works on mobile devices.
Secure Your Website
Though this is only a suggestion and not mandatory, securing your website’s connections with HTTPS can be worthwhile. Using HTTPS will encrypt any interactions between the user and your website, and this practice is meant to protect the integrity and confidentiality of data that is shared between both parties. One main reason data encryption is necessary is because it blocks any eavesdroppers from listening in on conversations, from tracking a user’s activities, or from stealing personal information.
Check Browser Compatibility
Browser compatibility comes into play if you want your website to have a strong presence in search results. Each browser will interpret the code of your website differently, which means that users may see a different presentation of your website according to the browser they are using. It is recommended that you test your site in as many browsers as you can to get an idea of what users are generally seeing when they access your site. Services such as Google Analytics will allow you to see which of the most popular browsers are being used to view your site.
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Website content is very important for informing Google on how to rank a website. There are many ways you can improve your content so you rank better in search engines, but we will only cover a few. We also have an entire blog post called 10 Content Creation Tips to Consider, which provides even more information regarding website content.
Publish Your Own Unique Content
Some website owners will publish auto-generated content or duplicate content thinking it will help their rankings. This cannot be further from the truth. Google looks to see if content was written by a human, for humans and if it’s original. Publishing duplicate content can damage your search result rankings and can even lead to legal consequences. When publishing content, make sure it’s original and that it’s high-quality so you can rank well in search results.
Use Follow and No-Follow Links
Backlinks are very useful for increasing referral traffic and also increasing the position of your website in search engines. When you add a hyperlink over text in your content, you are either adding value or hurting your website. The website you link to in your content must be of good quality, or else your rank may be negatively affected. To avoid being negatively affected by a website, you can use a no-follow link.
A no-follow link tells Google to “ignore” a backlink on your page. These links come in handy when you absolutely must link to a website whether that be for credit or to use as an example. Keep in mind, you should almost always use a follow link unless you are absolutely sure a website will hurt your rankings. Follow links can build credibility and are usually seen as positive signal by Google.
Use Great Photos
As mentioned above, images are an excellent way to break up text in lengthy portions of content. When including images on your website, they should be clear and of good quality. Google does not want to display websites with blurry pictures on the first page of search results. They want to feature high-quality websites with professional photos that relate to the topic of the content.
You do not have to go out and buy a top of the line camera to rank well on search engines. Most smartphones have cameras that are good enough quality for SEO practices. You can also use royalty free photos that can be retrieved from dozens of websites. Just be sure you can legally use the photos you have, and they are high quality and relate to your content.
Shutterstock is a tool that you should consider utilizing for your site. Shutterstock helps you to improve your content by using great images that break up text. Using this tool allows you to add more context around the content you put up on your site. Features such as image captions and badges are just some of the methods you can use to make your site’s images stand out. Some tips to creating a good user experience for your site’s images include providing good and relevant context, and placing the images next to relevant text.
Make Accessible Videos
If you intend to make a video that talks about your site and what your business offers, then it needs all the online exposure it can get. In order to get this exposure, Google must understand the key points of your video. There are a few ways Google can extract information about your video. Google can crawl the video and extract a thumbnail and preview. Google can also extract information that is provided in the audio and video of a file. Another way that Google can extract information about your video is that it can read the page text and the meta tags that you add to the page.
If you already have a YouTube channel, for example, then those kinds of videos are always crawlable. When posting YouTube content on your site, make sure to provide a video sitemap or structured data so that Google can locate the embedded YouTube video on your page.
The minimum requirements that you should be mindful of when it comes to video search results include two very basic elements. You must provide a high-quality thumbnail image for your video, and you must ensure that the information you provide in a video sitemap remains consistent with the actual video content itself. Each video you post must reside in a page that is publicly available, and not blocked by robots.txt or noindex. In other words, don’t require a user to go through a login process just to watch a video. Also, consider adding closed captions so Google can understand what your video is about. Additionally, users who rely on captions can access your video as well.
A large portion of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines revolves around quality. Quality is so important to Google that there is an entire section on its help center dedicated to quality guidelines. Google wants to serve its users the best websites in search results, so having high-quality content is important. This blog post would be too long if we touched on every point specified, so take this as a brief summary.
Avoid Blackhat SEO Tactics
As stated above, it is possible to get blacklisted from Google’s search results. You should not take risks or be sneaky when practicing SEO. We recommend looking at Google’s Webmaster Guidelines to see all of the techniques you should avoid. If you are interested, you may want to read our blog post, Buying Links and Other Blackhat SEO Tactics That Will Get You in Trouble, where we discuss tactics and guidelines that may get your website removed from search results.
Monitor Your Site for Hacking
If you leave your website vulnerable to hackers, there is no telling what could happen to all your generated content. Thankfully there are good practices to follow to ensure that your website stays protected from any hacking attempts. There are many software tools that specifically monitor websites. One example is Alertra, which allows you to diagnose the health of your website when pertaining to accessibility. Another example is Ntop, a network probing tool that shows the extent of network usage in real-time.
When trying to follow Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, it’s important to ensure your website has maximum security. Google will only show their users secure and high-quality websites. So, if there are indications of a hacking on your site, Google won’t show it in search results.
You are responsible for the spammy comments users leave in the comments of your webpages. Regularly monitor your comments to make sure there is no spam on your website. To prevent these comments, you can set up an approval process where you approve each comment that a user leaves. You can also place a reCAPTCHA on your website to prevent bots from leaving comments.
Develop a User Community
If you run a blog, consider developing a community or monitors and admins. Know that you are not the only one who cares about your website. A community of admins, those who regularly follow you, can help you solve the problem of spam for you. By flagging spam comments or threads, your admins can save you time and stress from having to remove spam.
User reputation systems can also help your community by separating the trusted users from the abusive spammers. If you are trying to avoid looking like a spammy website to search engines, you can block spammers if you add robots.txt or noindex to your website, as mentioned earlier. But, this can eliminate some of your best content from being ranked on search engines. So, it’s best to set up a filter or a group of admins to protect your site from spammy comments.
Rule of Thumb
Google heavily stresses that website owners should create content for humans and not search engines. Your primary focus should be to answer your website visitors’ questions and to provide value. While you should make efforts to rank on search engines, that shouldn’t be your only goal. Focus on what humans like and then practice SEO tactics. Then you will be on the right path.
General Website Guidelines
In addition to content and quality guidelines, there are also general website guidelines. The way you set up your website and its webpages is very important to Google.
Use Simple URL Structures
Many websites use complicated URL structures with several numbers, symbols or layers. According to Google themselves, they prefer simple URL structures over complicated ones. For example, this blog post has the URL, “https://jjlyonsmarketing.com/resources/what-you-need-to-know-about-googles-webmaster-guidelines”. This is a simple URL when compared to other blog posts such as “https://jjlyonsmarketing.com/resources/category/resources/tag/google-webmaster-guidelines/what-you-need-to-know-about-googles-webmaster-guidelines”.
If you don’t know how to simplify your URL structure, feel free to contact our team. We have helped many clients with shortening and simplifying their URLs for the sake of SEO. Our team can help you see better results quickly through this simple task.
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Don’t Cloak Test Pages
One of the specific tactics Google outlines in their Webmaster Guidelines is cloaking. This is where you show a different version of your webpage to Google than to website visitors. Google specifically says that even if you are running a test, you should never practice cloaking. They say your site can be removed from search results, no matter the reason you are practicing cloaking.
Clarify if Your Website is Designed For Kids
Do you run a website that has children as a target audience? If so, tell Google! Because of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, Google has made a specific tag to tell them you are a child-friendly website. This will help you be more likely to rank well for your target audience. But, do make sure your content is meant for children to see, or else Google will deny you.
Never Buy or Sell Links
Another specific tactic Google’s Webmaster Guidelines includes is to never buy or sell backlinks. Many website owners try to buy or sell backlinks to help their SEO efforts and to make some extra money. However, this is a direct violation of their guidelines. You should never sell or buy links from other sites, because you can be permanently removed from their search results. But, if someone pays for you to mention their products or services, you can still link to their website. You just have to make this a no follow link in order to show the link wasn’t for SEO benefits.
Learning Google’s Webmaster Guidelines
The guidelines that Google lays out for website owners are extremely helpful when practicing SEO. It’s a great idea to refer back to Google’s Webmaster Guidelines when you have a question about SEO expectations and ethics. Make sure you are not taking any risks with your SEO tactics. Also, always remember to check the guidelines laid out by Google.
If you have any questions about Google’s Webmaster Guidelines or SEO, please fill out the form below so we can contact you. We will set up a time to speak with you one-on-one and address all of your questions.