An Introduction to Google’s Webmaster Guidelines

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Anytime there is a major algorithm update, Google always points SEOs to their Webmaster guidelines. When was the last time (if ever) that you read through those guidelines? In this video, I’ll do an introduction to the most important concepts found in Google’s Webmaster guidelines.

Read the guidelines here:

Video Transcript: 

In this video, we’re going to be doing an introduction to Google’s webmaster guidelines. Google is constantly changing. It’s been one of the most active summers, if not the most active summers, when it comes to updates that Google’s actually telling us about and admitting and saying, “Hey, doing some new things here.”

It started in June and it’s really carried through into November where we just saw the anti-spam update. The next iteration of that released just a few days ago before creating this video. Now, one of the things that Google always does is they always say, “Check out our webmaster guidelines,” or “We encourage you to follow our best practices for search.”

One of the things that I’ve noticed is many people actually haven’t read those guidelines and don’t take the time to look through them and understand what Google’s looking for. We look to SEO sites and all of these other places to learn things about search and how to optimize our pages, but it’s really important that we look at what Google is saying and reading their content, and even sometimes reading between the lines in order to make sure that our sites are meeting the expectations of what they’re looking for and that we’re following best practices.

So we’re going to be taking a look at what exactly do they detail in these guidelines and how we can leverage that to make sure that we’re creating sites that both can be found, can be indexed, and can start to rank for those terms we want to rank for.

Overview of Webmaster Guidelines

So within Google’s search central, there’s a tab for guidelines, and you can see it right over here. When we look at this overview of the SEO guidelines, it’s broken down into four main categories:

  1. Webmaster guidelines
  2. General guidelines
  3. Content-specific guidelines
  4. Quality guidelines.

And under each of these, there’s more information, and information and best practices that you should be following if you want your site to rank within Google search. So this is the breakdown of it. And typically they point over here to the webmaster guidelines, and we’ll look specifically at that today. But as you can see within here, you really should be looking at each and every one of these guidelines and making sure that you’re following best practices and really understanding what it is that Google is looking for.

Webmaster Guidelines

So within the webmaster guidelines, we really see another overview. We see an overview of general, we also see an overview of the quality guidelines. And while they don’t explicitly say it on the page, we actually see some information about content as well.

Now, some of the really important things that are on this page are the general guidelines overview, which talks about how Google can find and index and rank our site, as well as the quality guidelines, which outline what the algorithm likes, and more importantly, what the algorithm does not want to see within your website.

General Guidelines

So when we’re looking at the general guidelines, we can really break them down into these five main points here. And like I said, you can find all this information at the link on this slide, and I’ll also make that available in the video.

Linking a Page

So the most important thing is to make sure that every single page on your site can be reached from a link. A link is the road that the crawlers travel on in order to find content, in order to find that information that you want them to see. If you’re not using internal linking, or you don’t have a good internal linking structure, it could be hard for the crawlers to find those pages. So when you’re looking at these internal links and the structure of your links, we recommend using text, that’s going to be the easiest one to use, but you can also use images.

Now, the biggest thing is when you do use an image for a link, you need to make sure that your alt attribute has a relevant target and also has a relevant alt description so that the crawler can really understand what that link is. The anchor text plays a huge role when it comes to the crawler understanding the context of that link and what is the content it’s pointing to.

Sitemap File

You also need to make sure you have a site map, and it needs to be filed within Google search console. It needs to point to all the important pages on your site. And another thing that Google recommends is actually having an HTML site map for users.

Not only is this good for users, but also, it builds those internal links. So it allows the crawlers to see those links on the site, how those links are categorized, where they fit within the context of the site map, and can give you those text links that would point the crawlers to that important information.

Now Google loves links, but they also want you to limit the number of links. They say to keep it around 1,000. Now, there are not very many pages that have 1,000 links, but there are some large sites that do that. So you want to make sure you’re using a reasonable number of links. You’re not just putting links in there to put links in there, but they all make sense.

Use If-Modified-Since HTTP Header

One of the webmaster guidelines and something that’s a little bit more on the technical side is use ‘If-Modified-Since HTTP header’. Now, what this does is it allows the web server to tell Google if the content has been changed since they last crawled your site. So Google will crawl your site, sometimes daily depending on your site, sometimes weekly. It really just depends on where your site fits within their workflow.

But if you leverage this HTTP header, it actually will tell Google, “Hey, we’ve made an update to this page. You should crawl this information a little bit deeper this time because there’s something new for you to find.”

Use Robots.txt File

You also need to be using a robots.txt file. This really allows you to manage how your website is being crawled. And you can prevent crawling of parts of your site that really they don’t need to be crawled and they’ve got maybe search results. So the things like that, where they’re really not going to add value into the search engine, and you want to make sure that it’s up to date and that you’re leveraging it the right way.

Now Google’s got links within this documentation. We’ll go ahead and look at that page right now, and I’ll show you exactly where you can find more information to make sure that you’re doing this the right way.

So back here within Google Search Central, if you go ahead and click on webmaster guidelines, it pulls up this page, and this is kind of like a pillar page of all of the different guidelines. Underneath here, you can see general and content and quality. Right here, we just looked at our general guidelines and how Google can find our pages. We want to make sure that we follow all the rules here, and they’ve got links like how to build a site map correctly, how to test your robots.txt Here.

So this is really good information. You should spend some time here on this page and go a little bit deeper so that you know exactly how you need to apply it to your website.

Content Specific Guidelines: Ways to Help Google Understand Your Page

So one of the most important things is our content. We want to make sure that Google can understand the things that we’re talking about.

Now, one of the first things they talk about is creating a useful, information-rich website that clearly and accurately describes your content. They want you to be an expert. They want you to be authoritative. They want you to provide value to the end-user, not just regurgitate something that’s already been put out there on the internet.

They also tell you to think about the words that you use and think about the things that people would type into the search engines, and make sure that you actually have them specifically on the site, those specific words. Now we know this is important because some of the updates we’ve even seen within the Google search results when we look at some of that information they’re giving us to why a certain page ranks. And we did a video on that element, but I’ll show you right here really quickly. Now, when we make a query like SEO, when Google talks about using those types of terms in your website and why it’s important, we can see it right here within their own toolset. We click these three little dots here, we can see the about this search result. And this will actually tell us the search term appears in the result, SEO. And a term related appears in the result search engine optimization.

So Google is seeing exact match terms and also related terms right within the content and surfacing that. So when you’re creating content, use exact match terms, use related terms within that content, think about the things that people would type when they’re making a search query.

They talk a lot about title elements in all attributes. They need to be descriptive, they need to be specific, and they need to be accurate.

They also say you need to design your site to have a clear, conceptual page hierarchy. There needs to be structure to your content. There needs to be structure to your page.

They also talk about following best practices for image, video, and structured data. There’s more information under the content guidelines here. And we know that we need to use alt text. We know that we need to embed video the right way. And we also know based on a lot of the things we talk about here on this channel, that structured data plays a massive role within search engines in helping them understand context within the page itself.

They talk about using content management systems and making sure that you create pages and links that search engines can crawl. You need to have the right setting set up to make sure that they can find your pages and find your content. There’s been a number of times where we’ve looked at sites and people are struggling with ranking, and we’ve gone into their WordPress installed and see that they’ve actually checked the box to prevent search engines from finding their page. So when you’re using these content management systems, which are great, we love WordPress, make sure that it’s set up right, and make sure that Google can actually crawl and index your pages.

Google can also crawl things like CSS and JavaScript. And if it impacts the understanding of a page, you need to make sure that it’s crawlable. You need to make sure that Google can access that information because it’s very important. You need to allow bots to crawl your site without session IDs or URL parameters. You’re not tracking the bot’s behavior. Those are only used for user behavior. So make sure that the bots can find your site without any of that extra stuff. You need to make sure that your most important content is visible by default. So Google can crawl behind tabs, right? They can crawl behind all of these different elements that we create on pages to make them look cool. But one thing that they talk about and place importance on the content that is primarily visible, the content that you make visible by default.

So make sure that you’re not hiding that important information behind tabs, behind other elements that could impact how Google views it as important to you and important to your site. Google’s done a lot of work around links and affiliate links and paid links and sponsored links and all of that because they know that people do that and it’s not necessarily in and of itself a bad thing. They just want to make sure that webmasters are making an effort to distinguish the differences between those types of links within their content.

Help Users Use Your Site

They also place a lot of emphasis on the user within these guidelines.

They want you to use text instead of images when you’re displaying important names in content or links. Text, again, it’s a lot easier for the search engines to crawl and understand. The issue with images is people don’t always use contextual alt attributes, and it’s a little bit harder for them to understand the meaning behind those images. Now they’ve come a long way in crawling those images, but if you can give them descriptive text, it’s going to help them a ton. And the search engines like it when you make their lives easier.

You need to make sure that all your links go to live web pages. They’re not going to broken pages, dead pages, 404 errors, things like that.

They want you to optimize your page for loading time. People like fast sites. They want to have a site that they can get to quickly. They need your site to load quickly.

Design your site for all different types and sizes. And this is where responsive web design is awesome, and it’s definitely something that you should be leveraging if you’re not already at this point.

You need to make sure that it appears correctly through different browsers, you need to make sure you’re using HTTPS, and you also want to make sure that you’re allowing readers with visual impairments to be able to access and leverage your site as well.

Quality Guideline

So now we talked about the general guidelines. We talked a little bit about the content guidelines. Now we’re going to be talking about quality guidelines.

And the biggest thing Google says, and this is something we talk about a lot too, is you need to make sure that your web pages, that your website is designed and created for users first, search engines second. Google doesn’t want you to deceive your users.

They want you to provide value. They want you to do it in a way that’s going to have a good experience because they see your visitors as their customers. And if you’re not treating their customers well, they’re not going to treat you well. Avoid tricks that are intended solely for the purpose of improving search engine rankings.

And the biggest thing Google says, and this is something we talk about a lot too, is you need to make sure that your web pages, that your website is designed and created for users first, search engines second.

If it’s not going to help your users, if you wouldn’t do it if the search engines didn’t exist, then you probably shouldn’t be doing it. That’s a really good rule of thumb, and that’s something that Google suggests you think through when you’re implementing changes on your website.

Also, think about what makes your website unique and valuable and engaging. Everybody has a place here in the internet marketplace. And there’s a way for you to stand out, to be unique, to add new value, and to engage people. So make sure that you’re doing that.

The quality guidelines have a lot more information, which we’ll do a quick overview here just to help you out just to make sure you’re steering in the right direction.

So once again, we’re here at the webmaster guidelines. This is the main page. If you go down here to the quality guidelines, we talked about the basic principles, but there are also specific guidelines where they talk about avoiding these specific things. This is really important to follow these. As you can see, there are a lot more things to avoid than good practices.

Good practices, make sure your site’s not hacked. Make sure you’re not using user-generated spam on your website, right? Those are good practices. The rest of it is about not doing things that are really, really bad and you’re going to get dinged for and you could get manual penalties for.

So when you follow these guidelines and you actually spend some time to really understand them, and I would, again, just really recommend you going through the general guidelines and the content-specific guidelines at a little bit deeper level. This is just an introduction.

It’s going to make sure that your site is optimized. It’s going to make it easier for the search engines to crawl. It’s going to make them a lot happier with you, which is going to give you a higher chance of earning those coveted high-level ranked positions.

If you’ve got any questions about what we talked about today, please comment below. If there are things that you’re doing or things that you’ve learned within the search guidelines, we’d love to hear that and continue the conversation with you guys. Appreciate you taking the time to check out this video. Again, don’t forget to subscribe, like and, share it with your friends. And until next time, happy marketing.

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