Last month Google updated its webmaster guidelines, these are guidelines on how to improve your website for the Google search engine. Most of the changes didn’t come as a surprise but it’s interesting to take a look over what’s new and updated.
Line one of Google’s Guidelines says it all:
“following the General Guidelines below will help google find, index and rank your site.”
That’s the most important bit for your average Google webmaster tools user. But if you are thinking of pushing the boundaries, the second part of the webmaster guidelines come into play: the Quality Guidelines. In this update there weren’t too many changes made, but they outline the banning offences and what is considered as spam.
If you’re new to webmaster tools there’s some simple do’s and don’ts from Google:
- Do make pages primarily for users, not for search engines.
- Do think about what makes your website unique, valuable, or engaging. Make your website stand out from others in your field.
- Don’t deceive your users.
- Don’t use tricks intended to improve search engine rankings. A good rule of thumb is whether you’d feel comfortable explaining what you’ve done to a website that competes with you, or to a Google employee. Another useful test is to ask, “Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?”
And some more specific techniques to avoid here:
- Automatically generated content
- Participating in link schemes
- Creating pages with little or no original content
- Sneaky redirects
- Hidden text or links
- Doorway pages
- Scraped content
- Participating in affiliate programs without adding sufficient value
- Loading pages with irrelevant keywords
- Creating pages with malicious behavior, such as phishing or installing viruses, trojans, or other badware
- Abusing rich snippets markup
- Sending automated queries to Google
Here are the details on the new guidelines step by step:
Make your site mobile-friendly
“Design your site for all device types and sizes, including desktops, tablets, and smartphones. Use the mobile friendly testing tool to test how well your pages work on mobile devices, and get feedback on what needs to be fixed.”
This isn’t a huge surprise in the growing mobile world. You can use this testing tool to check how your website stands up to being visited in a mobile web browser. This is now more important than ever as it becomes a Google ranking factor for mobile search. Using a responsive web theme will help here, as it ensures your content is laid out well on mobile devices.
“If possible, secure your site’s connections with HTTPS. Encryption interactions between the user and your website is good practice for communication on the web.”
We very much agree with Google! We’ll be writing an article soon about adding an SSL certificate to your website thus giving your site HTTPS status rather than HTTP. This is something we will be adding as a service all websites we design, re-design or just host.
Interestingly Google will soon push even further for universal encryption across the web, by warning users of their Chrome browser when they visit insecure (i.e. not HTTPS) sites.
“Make your site’s important content visible by default. Google is able to crawl HTML content hidden inside navigational elements such as tabs or expanding sections, however we consider this content less accessible to users, and believe that you should make your most important information visible in the default page view.”
In a later section talking about ‘title’ and ‘alt’ tags Google made a subtle change by adding the work “specific”. “Ensure that your <title> elements and alt attributes are descriptive, specific, and accurate.” This will be aimed at people who use plugins to automatically add alt attributes to images which, rather than being specific to the image are just the post’s title. More info on Alt Tags to follow.
Updates to existing guidelines are as follows:
Site Structure and Links
It used to read:
“Make a site with a clear hierarchy and text links. Every page should be reachable from at least one static text link.”
Now it reads:
“Ensure that all pages on the site can be reached by a link from another findable page. The referring link should include either text or, for images, an alt attribute, that is relevant to the target page.”
Overall this changes two major things: the value of anchor text and ‘findable’ links. Google are saying that anchor text is important whether it’s an alt attribute or actual link text as it tells them what the page you’re referring to is about. Google’s reference to “findable links” is a message telling us page links should be easily found on your site not hidden somewhere in the footer of your website. Therefore you need good internal links and a good site structure.
XML and HTML Sitemaps
“Provide a sitemap file with links that point to the important pages on your site. Also provide a page with a human-readable list of links to these pages (sometimes called a site index or sitemap page).”
“Offer a sitemap to your users with links that point to the important parts of your site. If the site map has an extremely large number of links, you may want to break the site map into multiple pages.”
Google is talking about a human visible sitemap in its guidelines more than it did before. Yoast SEO takes care of the XML sitemap and are looking to create a HTML sitemap “as more people will be looking to get one now”.
There are plenty more technical changes that most of you shouldn’t need to think about if you are a normal user with a decently built website. There is however more coverage on seroundtable.com and thesempost.com if you want to dive into the rest of the changes.
Google has always been moving towards user-friendliness towards the user and their updated webmaster guidelines focus even more on the value for the user than the previous webmaster guidelines did. The points covered in this blog should give you enough of a guide to the things you should be focusing, helping you make more informed decisions on what best to spend your time on.