Image Credit: Sean MacEntee
Google recommends best practices and guidelines to webmasters in their support center and have also crafted an SEO Starter Guide. So, I’m going to explore Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) starter guide for you.
Note: If you’re displaying Google AdSense ads on your website then I also suggest you to check out their AdSense Program Policies. AdSense publishers are required to adhere to the Google Webmaster Guidelines as well.
Wait, if you still don’t know how Google Search works…
Google Webmaster Guidelines: Do This, Not That!
Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines.
Design & Content Guidelines
- Do write high quality content and give the visitors what they’re looking for.
- Do link to other sites as well to improve the user experience.
- Make sure that every page on your website is reachable from at least one text link. [Hint: Use an HTML sitemap]
- Keep the total number of internal and external links on a given page to a reasonable number.
- Don’t use images instead of text to display important titles, texts, and links as spiders don’t recognize them. [Hint: Use ALT attributes – alternate texts and titles – for images]
- Write descriptive and accurate meta tags (meta titles, description, keywords) for each page.
- Show your author information in search results.
- Don’t place too much ads as it annoys the users and affects the user experience.
- You can hire an SEO if you want but check out the useful questions to ask an SEO before you hire them.
- Make effective use of robots.txt file if you want to block or remove some pages.
- Don’t stuff your web pages with keywords as Google may penalize the site for over optimization.
- Don’t create multiple copies of a single page under different URLs. [Hint: Use canonicalization for duplicate content]
- Set rel=”nofollow” for links that shouldn’t be followed. Make sure that you “nofollow” user-added links so that you’re not giving reputation to a spammy site.
- You can also use “nofollow” when you want to reference a website (let’s say when you want to mention a spammy website), but don’t want to pass your reputation.
- Don’t participate in link schemes or paid links to manipulate rankings. [Tip: Use a nofollow attribute for sponsored links]
- Don’t use unauthorized software to submit pages, check rankings, etc. as they consume computing resources which violates Google’s terms of service.
Google SEO Guidelines: In A Nutshell
No one can guarantee a #1 ranking on Google.
Create unique (avoid duplicate title tags) and accurate page titles (preferably 50 to 70 characters) for each page as it tells the users and search engines about the topic of a particular page. [Hint: Use Webmaster Tools > Optimization > HTML Improvements to get more insights about your meta tags.]
Make use of the “meta description” tags (preferably 130 to 160 characters). It can directly impact your click-through rates (CTR) as Google might use them as snippets for your webpages.
The best practice is to use your primary keywords for your title tags and the long tail keywords for your meta description tags providing both users and search engines with a summary of what your page is all about.
Website URL Structure
- Improve the structure of your URLs by using user friendly URLs (preferably less than 60 characters) that conveys the information to your users easily.
- The best practice is to avoid generic file names (page1.html, page2.html) and use a shortened version of your title (including a keyword) as your URL.
- Use a directory structure that makes sense. (E.g. example.com/country/state/city)
- Set your preferred domain in Google Webmaster Tools > Configuration > Settings > Preferred domain and use rel=”canonical” tag for duplicate content.
- Make your site easier to navigate as it helps visitors to find the content easily and also helps search engines to understand the content.
- You can improve the user experience by using ‘breadcrumb lists’. Breadcrumbs helps to navigate your visitors quickly to important pages/sections in your website.
- Create two sitemaps – one for users (an HTML page) and one for search engines (an XML sitemap). Check out Microsoft’s Site Map and see for yourself how nicely they have categorized different sections of their company/website. [Hint: Sitemaps are automatically crawled by search engines however you may still submit them manually via Webmaster Tools]
- Create a useful 404 page by telling your visitors clearly that the page they’re looking for doesn’t exist and offer a “search box” or showcase important pages to improve user experience.
E.g. Here’s a screenshot of Microsoft’s 404 page http://www.microsoft.com/google
- Write original content and offer quality services. Users know when they see good content and they will bookmark, share, and blog about it.
- Use Google AdWords Keyword Planner to discover new keywords variations for your website and go to Google Webmaster Tools > Traffic > Search Queries to find the top search queries that’s driving traffic to your website.
- Write sensible anchor texts (clickable texts) for both internal and external links that tells users and search engines something about the target page.
- Optimize the images by making use of “alt” (the text shown if the image can’t be displayed) and “title” (text shown when the user hover mouse over image) attributes. Enter descriptive filenames, titles and alt texts for your images so that it performs well in Image Searches as well.
- Consolidate your images into a single directory (e.g. example.com/images/) especially if you have a service or an e-commerce website.
- If you have so many Images then submit an Image Sitemap to Google.
- Use heading tags (H1, H2, H3, H4, H5, H6) effectively. H1 tag is the most important and H6 is the least important heading in a page. [Hint: You can have multiple H2 – H6 tags but it’s a best practice to limit to one H1 tag per page].
- You can use use schema.org “article” markup on your web pages when you publish in-depth articles.
E.g. Where is Microsoft located?
- <H2>North America</H2>
- <H3>United States</H3>
- <H6>One Microsoft Way<H6>
SEO For Mobile Phones
- The world is going mobile, if you have a mobile-friendly site then make sure that you notified Google and configured your mobile site so that they can be indexed.
- Create a Mobile Sitemap and submit the same to Google via Google Webmaster Tools. [Hint: Submit your Mobile Sitemap here Webmaster Tools > Optimization > Sitemaps]
- If you’re running a desktop and mobile versions of your website then redirect mobile users to the correct version.
Website Promotion & Analysis
- Google believes that most of the links to your website will be gained naturally and gradually as people discover your content.
- You can still promote your content by using blogs, social media, newsletters, offline campaigns etc.
- Make effective use of Google Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics.
- Low quality guest blogging is now considered as content spam.
Google’s Guidelines To Affiliate Marketers
Google offers few tips to affiliate marketers to improve the rankings of their website. As always, their first advice is to create websites with original content. Most affiliate websites (especially niche blogs and sites) features just few posts only to get search engine love and offers no value for users.
Google believes that pure affiliate websites do not provide additional value for web users, especially if they are part of a program that distributes its content to several hundred affiliates.
- Google is okay with affiliate marketing content as long as it forms only a small part of your website.
- Join affiliate program(s) which is completely relevant to your content. For example, if you’re blogging financial news, insights, analysis etc. then the following affiliate programs might work for you – credit cards, loans, insurance, trading etc. So, if you’re offering quality content and is improving the user experience (with relevant ads) then your website will be ranked higher in Google’s search result pages.
- Google recommends to build community among users by using forums, user reviews, and blogs.
- Update the website regularly and keep the content fresh and up to date.
Additional Google Webmaster Resources
- Google Webmaster Blog – It is the official Google Webmaster Central Blog that offers news and tips on crawling, indexing and algorithm updates.
- Google Webmaster Help Forum – If you have any specific question about crawling, indexing, ranking, malware, site verification, webmaster tools, sitemaps, etc. then you can ask here as Googlers do monitor the help forum very closely.
- Google Webmaster Tools Help – It is the official Google Webmaster Tools Help Center where you can find tips and tutorials on using their Webmaster Tools and answers to your frequently asked questions.
- Webmaster FAQ – Have answers to the most common questions about Google and Webmaster Tools including some tips about your site’s search result listing, position and removing information from Google search results.
- Webmaster Academy – Offers tips, tutorials, how to’s and videos for beginners, experienced webmasters and businesses.
- Google Webmasters on YouTube – It is the official YouTube channel of Google Webmasters and is your one-stop shop for webmaster resources.
- Webmaster Support – Get additional support! You can submit a reconsideration request or report spam, objectionable content, paid links, malware, copyright and other legal issues, etc here.
- Google AdSense Program Policies In A Nutshell – If Google AdSense is your primary source of revenue then you are supposed to read their program policies word by word.
- Google AdWords Advertising Policies In A Nutshell – It’s a list of Google AdWords advertising policies every digital marketer should know.
- Google Search Quality Rating Program General Guidelines – It’s a 160-page search quality rating guidelines used by Google’s human search quality raters to improve Google’s search results. But you can go here or here for a simplified version.
As you probably know, SEO tactics are changing rapidly. But I believe the above guidelines and webmaster guidelines will act as a base for many years to come.
Have I missed any useful webmaster resource or a tip? If so, let me know as a comment below and I will be happy to feature it.
First Published: September 6, 2012; Last Updated: Monday, December 1, 2014