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Website Design, Content Management and E-Commerce Solutions since 1997
Productivity Increases for your Website

By: Beth Garst      Email the Editor

How to optimize for Google

To understand how Google ranks your website you first need to know what Google is trying to accomplish. Put simply, Google wants to show you web pages that are relevant to your search, trustworthy and of high quality.

To accomplish this, Google uses a sophisticated algorithm that looks at a wide variety of characteristics of each web page and the entirety of your website. While keywords are still very important, they are just one aspect of many.

Our main focus here is the basic guidelines outlined by Google along with a brief explanation of how to translate the guidelines to your site. As you will see, most of the guidelines are content focused. Remember, Google wants to return web pages relevant to your search. Content may not be everything…but it’s most everything.

General Guidelines

Ensure that all pages on the site can be reached by a link from another findable page.
This is one of the most important guidelines to remember. Google uses a spider to crawl the web looking for web pages. This spider reads the links on a web page and follows those links to other web pages. These links can be text, or images. All image links should include an “alt” attribute that includes keywords that are relevant to the target page. All text links should include keywords that are relevant to the target page.

The keywords in the alt attribute or text link must be consistent with the information found on the page the link returns. If the text or alt attribute are not consistent with the information on the returned page, it will have little relevance to Google. It will be considered a low quality link.

Google indicates that you should limit the number of links on a page to a reasonable number (a few thousand at most). In fact, you should focus more on the reasonable number that the few thousand at most. You should think of each of your web pages as having a limited ranking or value. It is worth x number of points. Of course, Google is no longer going to tell you what that ranking is or how it compares to other pages on your site. The links on that page share those points. Having too many links, especially low-quality links, may reduce the overall value of each link.

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 site map page).
Sitemap files are XML sitemap formatted files that lists URLs for a site along with additional information. These files do not guarantee that pages will be included in search engines, but do allow web spiders to do a better job of indexing your site.

Make sure that your web server correctly supports the If-Modified-Since HTTP header.
This web server feature sends the last date your web page was updated. Google and all other search engines use this to determine how often your content changes. The most important point to take from this is that search engines like current information. This means that you need to change your content often…daily if possible.

Google knows what is on your web page so content changes should not be simply changing a word or two. Rather, you should make small changes often and substantial changes intermittently.

Help Google understand your pages

Create a useful, information-rich site, and write pages that clearly and accurately describe your content.
Think about the words users would type to find your pages, and make sure that your site actually includes those words within it.
Content is still king for search engines. Search engines appear to be adding relevance to sites that answer questions and that are authoritative in their field. If the search term is a product, the research also tends to include catalog sites like Amazon and Walmart. In addition, search results also tend return a list of questions that are often asked about the product.

The important points to remember are:
  • Use key words and phrases that people will use to find your website. You will never be indexed for a word that is not included on your web page.
  • Use key words and phrases that people will use to find your website. (Duplicated for effect.) Do your keyword research. It needs to be the first step in creating any content.
  • Create short, descriptive content elements. Headlines, bulleted lists and answered questions are good.
  • Create responsive content that works well with all browser sizes…especially mobile devices. Google is reducing ranking of sites that are not mobile friendly.
  • Put all important content one click away from your home page. Do not bury important information behind secondary, pull out or dropdown links.
Don’t forget the basics:
  • Make sure your <title> elements and alt attributes are descriptive, specific and accurate.
  • Allow all supporting files (JavaScript, images and CSS) to be crawled.
  • Always use the “nofollow” tag on any paid ads.
  • Create pages for users…not the search engine.
  • Don’t deceive your users. This means that alt attributes should be descriptive and accurate and links go where you say they will go.
  • Don’t try to trick search engines. The best test of any addition to your website should be “Does this help my site users”.
  • Never hide important text inside images.
  • Give your images detailed, informative filenames.
  • Anchor text (link text) should be useful, descriptive and relevant.
Optimization for search engines today is about creating great content for your users. Following these guidelines will help you rank better in search engines.
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