Google Updates Basic Guidelines

The Local Web infographics

From Google image search (labeled for reuse).

Google has to walk a line between giving us information, but not so much information that we can “game” search results and land on the all-important first page.

Google wants to give us guidelines, so we can give it better information, so Google can give its users better information, so it can earn revenue from ads.
Google can’t give us too much, though, because then it won’t be able to give accurate results and people won’t use it anymore.

And, since Google is always changing its algorithms, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) practitioners listen when Google speaks – as it did recently to give updated guidelines on SEO basics.

In the background, Google regularly (and it varies for different sites) “asks” our website for information when it “crawls” it. Basically, it sends a virtual robot to the code on our website looking for information about what the website is about. When we give Google useful information in Google’s language, Google gives us “points” that, ideally, get us to the first page of search results before our competitors.

What Does Google Want?

What’s Google looking for, according to the updated guidelines? In the latest guidelines, Google gives 11 suggestions, six of which can be implemented within an hour on a small site. (I’ll address the other five in a future post.)

  1. As one would expect, Google values its own products, so the first advice is to get in “Google’s index.” All that means is that you want to make sure you’ve claimed your business on Google.
  2. The next place Google stops is the robots.txt file. This tells Google where not to look on your website, like sensitive or confidential information. To underscore the importance of it, “the Internet” has been using robot files since 1994, according to wikipedia. We need to make sure, though, that we’re not hiding things in there that could help Google help us, such as CSS, image files, Javascript, etc.
  3. Once Google knows what it can save time by not looking at, we can give it clues as to what is there. We do that when we create a sitemap. It’s self-explanatory: It’s a map of our site structure.
  4. Tags. Through the years, Google has given us ever-better opportunities to give it “signals” to our content. The most useful to Google – and therefore to site owners – are title and description tags, sometimes called meta tags. Each page should have a title and description that is exclusive to that page. The predecessors to these, keyword tags (not keywords, but the keyword tags), were overused, abused, and eventually ignored by search engines. There is a place for keywords, and it’s not in meta tags.
  5. Just like tags, Google gives us control by allowing us to choose/write our own snippets. This is the sentence or two that Google gives searchers with each search result. There was a time when Google took the first couple sentences of that page, then, for a while, it tried to find a couple sentences it thought would work. Now Google lets us write that. We should!
  6. Headings are another form of tag that gives Google clues. The signals this tag gives is the importance of what follows. Google figures our biggest headline (H1, usually) is going to have the most pertinent information about that page. Like titles, descriptions, and snippets, these are strong signals about content.

Being logged in to your business’s Google account will make implementation of at least the first two faster, since Google has step-by-step how-to’s.

I Can Help

Even if we think this is all in place, the behind-the-scenes of our websites often change without our knowledge. Most common are automatic updates of our hosting software. It can happen for any number of reasons, and it’s not necessarily anyone’s “fault.” It’s not a “good” or a “bad.” It’s an “is.” Instead of trying to place blame, let’s just find out what needs fixing, and fix it, okay?

We need to be looking at these things at least quarterly. If you need help implementing these, can’t wait for the post with the other five, or just want to know if anything is “broken” … contact me!