In December 2017, Google updated their Search Engine Optimization (SEO) starter guide (yes, they do in fact have an SEO starter guide). The guide is full of best practices from Google that can make it easier for search engines to crawl, index and understand a website’s content. I’m not going to get into a debate about whether SEO is dead or not, or whether SEO is dying a slow death. The fact is that there will always be a need to optimize your content no matter how it gets consumed (i.e. through traditional web search, mobile, A.I. assisted-answers, holograms or whatever the future holds for information consumption.
Optimization Tip: As cliché as this will sound (and you’ve heard it before), you must optimize your website for your audience and for the user. Not just for search engine crawlers or bots, however part of your optimization techniques should make it easier for machines (search engines) to find and index your content easier. Optimizing for the user means also optimizing for search engines as they should also be considered a user of your website’s content.
Here are eleven tips advised by the Google Search Quality team.
- Google recommends that a great time to hire an SEO is when you are planning a website redesign or are planning to launch a new website. The reason? An experienced SEO can ensure that your site is search-engine and user friendly from the ground up.
I have created solutions around SEO for website redesign and have assisted numerous clients with their website redesigns with a high success rate. Much of the success is a result of bringing me in early enough to help plan and map out the redesign, migration, or re-platform of their site. Those that stick with the recommendations and execute in a timely manner are the ones that tend to have the greatest success with their audience. Check out my 21-step SEO Checklist for planning a website redesign.
- Google recommends blocking your internal search results pages. There is no need to have these indexed by Google as users do not want to click on a Google Search Results Page (SERP) only to be taken to another results page on your site. Provide the information in a concise manner with a search-friendly content (landing page or otherwise).
- Create one, unique title per page. To quote Google, “You should create a unique title for each page on your site.” – as a tip Google recommends including the location of your business within the title tag of your homepage. Regardless your title tag needs to accurately describe the page’s content. This is applicable to mobile content as well.
- Although Google has stated that the meta description tag is not used in their ranking algorithms, they recommend using the “description” meta tag. Google goes so far to say that “… a page’s description meta tag might be a sentence or two or even a short paragraph.” Quite often you will see SEO’s recommending that meta descriptions be in the 155-170-character range. That is true for display purposes, but did you know that search engines (including Google) will index longer meta descriptions? Google will display meta descriptions in their search results and as I always mention a well-written meta description can entice the click from the Search Results page, so you want to sure that it is semantically relevant based on the user’s search query. For large websites, you should be able to automatically generative description meta tags based on the content of the given page. Check out our meta description best practices.
- Use heading tags to present the structure of your page. This means don’t use heading tags for design or styling purposes.
Google may debate this, but historically it appears that from a ranking perspective they place some weighting on an H1 heading which make sense as this should convey the core topic of your given page. Yet subsequent heading or sub heading tags (h2, h3, h4 etc) carry little weight in terms of the page’s ability to rank in Google. Again use heading tags to present the structure of your content.
- Google suggests avoiding adding irrelevant markups. A good example of this is adding markup for fake reviews or ratings. When used properly, structured data or rich markup can be very effective in communicating to search engines and machine-learning tech about what your page is about. Thing of structured data as true meta data that is data about data.
- Google recommends that all websites use https:// when possible.
- When it comes to URLs, excluding the homepage, Google states: “For the path and filename, a trailing slash would be seen as a different URL (signaling either a file or a directory), for example, “https://example.com/fish” is not the same as “https://example.com/fish/”.”
- Organize your website hierarchy carefully. Navigation is important for both users and search engines. From a user perspective, it can help them quickly find the copy and information that they are looking for. From a search engine perspective, it can communicate which content you feel is more important relevant to other content on your website. Google likes to have a sense of what role a page plays in the bigger picture of the site.
- Google places a higher weighting on contextual links (aka text links). Google’s SEO Guide specifically says to “Use text for navigation” a good example of this could be breadcrumb navigation or text links from within page copy (contextual links). Avoid overuse of linking from images or animations.
- Be strategic with sitemaps. Nowadays when an SEO mentions “sitemap”, they are referring to an XML sitemap. However, as I always advise, you should always deploy an HTML sitemap or a navigational page (i.e. a page with links to other pages) providing that it links to your most important pages and not tens of thousands of links (if you have a large site). When creating an HTML sitemap:
- Ensure that you do not link to too many pages (a general rule of thumb is that an HTML sitemap should not have more that 100+ links
- Ensure that your HTML sitemap lists links that are organized by subject
- Avoids links that are out of date or features broken links (i.e. links that do not take the user or crawler to the proper destination page that is being linked to).
For more information, check out my article on the benefits of an HTML sitemap.
Google’s SEO Starter Guide can be accessed by the link below. Many suggest that Google “hates” SEOs. Well I think it’s more of Google not wanting people to try and manipulate their search results. My background is in marketing, specifically in Digital Marketing and customer experience. While I’ve been referred to as an SEO, I’ve not fully embraced (or liked) this title as I’ve never tried to manipulate Google’s search results, I’ve simply worked with my clients to make their content more compelling and useful to their audience based on the search intent of their audience. I’ve had the privilege of working with and managing several talented folks who truly understand Search, and how people search. While I have great respect for Google, I can’t always say that they always get “search” right. However if you are looking for a solid, core foundation of SEO best practices, their updated SEO Starter Guide is a great reference tool to review.
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