When deciding on an SEO strategy for your website what better to follow than what Google recommends themselves? We’re all at the mercy of Google’s search algorithm if we want to reach the top spot of the search results, there are thousands of “SEO Specialists” on the web, all claiming they can get you to the top spot, beat your competition and drive you sales. Some of these will use techniques that Google frowns upon, known as “black hat SEO”, this type of SEO uses automated tools that exploit vulnerabilities in Google’s search algorithm or use tools that automate tasks that Google’s terms of service prohibit. Ethical SEO or “White hat SEO” is SEO that follows all of the rules, it is seen as natural and legitimate, it may take longer but in the long run this is exactly what Google wants and will reward you for.
For someone getting started out it can get pretty confusing, especially when Google tinkers with their search algorithm from time to time, making slight adjustments to improve the way that they rank websites. There are literally thousands of pieces of SEO advice that you could follow, but in reality, there are only a few essentials that you really need to follow and with the right strategy the rest will follow suit.
In this guide, I will discuss the only SEO that Google recommends and what you need to do to put these recommendations into place on your website. For the beginner in SEO or someone looking for the exact blueprint on what Google are looking for this is all you need.
Following these tips won’t automatically see you rising up the rankings but will help Google to better understand your website and the type of keywords/phrases you want to rank for.
To finish off we’ll end up on some useful tips and tools.
So what exactly does Google recommend?
- Create unique accurate page titles
- Create unique page descriptions
- Improve the structure of your page URLs
- Ensure easier navigation of your website
- Ensure high quality, relevant content and optimize this content
- Ensure that search engine crawlers can easily read your site content
- Correctly promote your website & make use of free webmaster tools
Create unique accurate page titles
One of the most important aspects of your web page that helps both site users and Google to determine the topic of your page, to help Google determine the difference of each page and furthermore help your users you should try to include a unique title for each page of your site.
How to create a page title
Website page titles are created by using the HTML tag <title>”your title goes her”</title>, this is placed within the <head></head> section of your HTML page. Many content management systems such as WordPress will automatically deal with the code for you and allow you to change your page titles through your site settings.
Page titles – Good practice
Titles generally include the website/business name alongside the specific page of your website, e.g.:
“Home – Bronwyn Conroy”
This is enough to tell the user they are on Bronwyn Conroy’s website and viewing the “home” page, as well as enough to tell Google the page is “about” the company.
The title might include the location of your business or what your business offers/the goals of the business. For example:
What Google suggests:
- Try to ensure each page on your site has a unique title to help Google distinguish one page from the next, and more importantly the content of the page.
- Don’t use titles such as “page 1” or “untitled”
- Don’t stuff too many unnecessary keywords in your titles
- Ensure the title is relevant to the page
- Don’t produce lengthy titles that are confusing to users
Since your page title is usually a limited number of words the page description helps you to describe your pages content in more depth, this is the description that is shown in Google search beneath the page title. A good description should be between 150-160 characters, most search engines, including Google cut off descriptions at 160 characters.
Google may choose to display a block of text from a page on your website when a user searches a particular keyword/phrase however it is often a good idea to create your own to ensure that users can easily find your pages in the search results. If your business is selling paving slabs and yet your description does not include the words “paving slabs” then chances are your page will not appear in the search results.
How page descriptions are created
Again descriptions are placed within the <head></head> section of your web page, and are referenced using the “meta” tag:
<Meta name=”description” content=”Write your description here”>
Descriptions not only help to ensure that your pages appear in Google search for the correct terms but also give you an opportunity to entice the right people to visit your web pages, for example:
“Midland Stone supply paving slabs to the whole of Ireland. The company guarantees first class service and highly affordable prices.”
What Google suggests:
- Don’t fill the description purely with keywords that you want to rank for
- Write descriptions that do not relate to the content of that web page.
Create better page URLs
As well as the title and description for each of your web pages the next piece of content displayed in the search results is the URL of the page:
Descriptive filenames, folders, and categories further help Google and users to determine the content of your pages, furthermore, it is generally good practice and helps you to better understand the structure of your website. Time after time I have seen the would-be webmaster giving their pages names such as:
The problem with this is the site users have no clue on earth what the contents of page-1 might entail but a robot like Google’s site indexer is not going to have a hope in unravelling then contents of this page from such a description. Again if a user wanted to share the link to a particular page on a website the URL of that page helps to give a snippet of the content of that page for both users and search engines.
What Google recommends
- Don’t use lengthy URLs with unnecessary text/parameters
- Don’t use excessive keywords
Ensure easy navigation of your site
The navigation of your website not only helps users to easily access content on your site and find their way around your site but helps search engines to get a better idea of what the site owner deems of more importance on their site.
Content management systems like WordPress make this process very easy and customisable, building your site from the ground up? Consider implementing breadcrumbs in your pages, essentially a row of links through each directory, i.e. “Homepage > Our Services > Mobile apps”. Breadcrumbs help users to easily navigate back to previous sections of the site and help to show users where they are currently in relation to the rest of the site.
What Google recommends
- Do you have enough pages to warrant a whole topic/category?
- Think about how users will navigate from your site root/home page and build your categories/subcategories accordingly
Create a sitemap
A sitemap is a structured lists of all of the URLs on your site which helps both your site users to navigate the site and find what they are looking for and help search engines to crawl your website (add new content to or pages their search index).
You can create a sitemap using XML sitemaps: http://www.xml-sitemaps.com which also provides support on submitting your sitemap to Google/Bing/Yahoo to allow them to index pages on your website. If you use WordPress you can get hold of a plugin to manage this for you and keep your sitemap updated: http://wordpress.org/plugins/google-sitemap-generator/
Make pages on your website accessible by more than just dropdown menus, ordinary links help make your website accessible to all, across all browsers and platforms.
Produce good quality relevant content
One of the single most important aspects of SEO and one that you will hear a lot about, Google loves unique and good quality content and more importantly loves new content, this is why it’s a good idea for companies to have a blog on their website, the content does not have to be every day or every week but at least a consistent stream of content increases your chance of ranking in Google searches for more keywords and gives a reason or people to visit/come back to your website.
Good quality content increases the chance of your site being shared by people on social media sites, forums, news articles and other blogs, all increasing your search engine ranking at the same time.
Keep the content relevant to your site topic/business topic. Keep up to date with latest trends and write about what’s hot, this will increase the chance of you getting clicks from search engines and also increase the chance of your content being shared.
Use a variety of media if possible, use good formatting, images and videos to convey your point better, Google loves a mix of media and rewards sites that do more than simply writing blocks of text.
What Google recommends
- Don’t just rewrite/copy existing content that provides little value to users
- Don’t duplicate content across your website
- Ensure good spelling and grammar
- Ensure good formatting to make your content easier to read/understand
Google is getting more and more intelligent in reading the content on websites and improving the way that it ranks websites, the best advice generally is to treat Google as if they are a user of your website, give value and Google will reward your websites as that its really what they want to see from websites, that users are getting a good experience.
Use relevant anchor text
Anchor text is the clickable text that displays for a hyperlink, this helps to give Google and your site users an idea as to the content on the page you are linking to. Anchor text is referenced by the anchor tag:
<a href=”http://www.cubeseo.ie”>Cube Online Marketing</a>
Anchor text is an important factor in SEO both on your website as part of the navigation between your web pages and from external websites related to your own. The more relevant anchor text you have pointing to your website pages from a variety of relevant sites the more trust Google will put into your website and web pages.
What Google doesn’t like
- Try to ensure a range of anchor text pointing to your website and web pages, (a range of keywords/phrases), too much seems like manipulated spam as far as Google is concerned.
- Unnatural links – Google likes to see a range of links from external sites relevant to your own, anything otherwise may look unnatural and an attempt to “cheat” the Google search algorithm.
- Don’t use excessive anchor text – Keep your anchor text concise
- Ensure the anchor text is on topic to the content of the specific page the link is placed on
- Don’t create unnecessary links for the sake of SEO if they don’t help the user, nor use excessive keywords for the sake of search engine ranking.
- Links that are hard to read/spot – Use CSS to style your links to make sure that they are easy to distinguish/read.
Optimising the images on your website
As well as helping search engines to understand the purpose of a link through anchor text, the same can be said for images. Although search engines are getting better at understanding the content of images there is still a long way to go. By describing images with text helps search engines to rank the images on your page and users to understand the content of images as well. Should the image become unavailable the “alt” tag provides an alternate text description.
<img src=”logo.jpg” alt=”Cube Online Marketing”>
What Google suggests
- Avoid using generic filenames for images such as “image1.jpg”
- Avoid stuffing keywords into your image tags
Use appropriate heading tags
There are 6 heading tags starting with <h1> to <h6> in order of the most important headings on your page. Heading tags are generally larger/bolder than the rest of the text on the page and highlight important content on the page. Multiple heading tags help to structure/format your content better for users and help search engines to decipher the relevancy of the content on your page relative to a users search.
Use robots.txt to help manage how your website is indexed
Robots.txt is a file that that tells search engines what parts of your website should be indexed in the search results or not, this is useful if you have areas of your site that are not helpful to users to appear in search results. Google has a robots.txt generator in their webmaster tools that makes it quick and easy: http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.co.uk/2008/03/speaking-language-of-robots.html
The robots.txt file is placed in the root of your website and tells the search engine crawler what areas/pages/directories of your website to crawl or not.
Ensure your website is optimised to load quickly
Google PageSpeed insights analyses your website to determine how fast your website loads on different devices and gives recommendations on how to improve your site speed.
Speed is becoming a more and more important factor in how Google ranks your websites, rewarding those with faster loading speeds higher results.
Another very powerful tool with very useful actionable suggestions is: www.gtmetrix.com
Promoting your website
Google is always improving the way that they rank websites, several years back a strategy as simple as “the most backlinks wins” worked for those with the tools to “automate” their way to the top, now that these exploits have been blocked up with Google updates Penguin and Panda a modern SEO strategy now consists of much more.
- Google likes a social media presence and is beginning to take it into account in how it ranks websites, but it’s not all about numbers, keep your followers and those you engage with relevant, in SEO relevancy is key to ensure the highest quality in search results.
- Ensure a range of links to your website – Natural links from forums, homepages, news articles, blogs, directories and more, however, remember to provide value and quality, Google wants to see natural engagement and natural mentions of your website, not an attempt to simply gain higher rankings at the detriment to site visitors.
- If your business is local consider listing your business in Google places to help customers find you through Google maps: google.com/places
- Ping new content on your website – This essentially means “prodding” Google to tell them that there is new content on your website for them to index, you can use free tools such as Pingler.com – http://pingler.com
- Syndicate your content on RSS directories such as Alltop, Blogorama, Blloggs, a huge list here: http://www.toprankblog.com/rss-blog-directories
- Submit your site to the open directory project – http://www.dmoz.org
Free SEO Tools by Google
Google Analytics – Discover where users are coming from to visit your website, how long they are staying on your site and how they interact with your site – http://www.google.com/analytics.
Google PageSpeed – Google PageSpeed insights analyses your website to determine how fast your website loads on different devices and gives recommendations on how to improve your site speed. –http://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/insights
Google Trends – Get alerts on the trending topics, great for deciding what to write about – http://www.google.com/trends
Google Website Optimiser – Run experiments on your websites to see what will work best – http://www.google.com/websiteoptimiser
Google Webmaster Tools – Pretty much everything you need on how Google interacts with your website – www.google.com/webmasters/tools
An invaluable list of FREE SEO tools, all in one place: http://moz.com/blog/100-free-seo-tools
Hopefully, you will have found some of these tips helpful and will have learnt something, giving you a good basis to improving the SEO of your site based on what Google themselves want. To learn everything there is to know about SEO would take a lifetime, by implementing some of these techniques will give you a good helping hand and set you apart from some of your competitors.
SEO to some is something that seems like a “distant language”, in reality, there is not much to the basics and a short amount of time understanding these will go a long way to helping you in the search rankings.