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Google updates its Webmaster Guidelines, and why they matter

Posted on February 17, 2016

 

Google is not fully transparent about how it ranks websites but, by following its Webmaster Guidelines, your site should rank well in Google – and the other search engines. With that in mind, it’s important to note when Google has something to say regarding its Webmaster Guidelines, and it has recently updated its guidelines.

Here are some of Google’s main recommendations that all web developers should take notice of. All quotes are from Google Webmaster Guidelines.

Help Google to find pages

“Ensure that all pages on the site can be reached by a link from another findable page. The referring link should include either text or, for images, an alt attribute, that is relevant to the target page.”

Google wants visitors to your website to easily find their way around. This should be obvious. Whether a link is contained in text or an image, navigation elements should be designed to make navigation simple and easy.

To help Google index the website, a site map and a robots.txt file needs to be included in your site. Though Google’s robots are good at crawling a site, robots.txt files and site maps make it easier for them to understand your site content. The easier you make it for Google, the better it will be for you and your rankings.

Google needs to understand alt tags

“Ensure that your elements and alt attributes are descriptive, specific, and accurate.”

There has been a tendency in the past to stuff Alt attributes of images with lots of keywords to help with what people perceived as ‘Search Engine Optimisation’. This has meant including Alt tags that are not necessarily relevant to the image. Google’s guidelines mean that this is not best practice.

The original intention for Alt attributes was to provide information for people who cannot see the image, either because they are on slow internet connection and have turned off the display of images (something which happened in the 90s), or they have vision difficulties and are using audio accessibility software to hear an audio description of the web page. If these people can understand your alt tags, so will Google.
In other words – make your alt tags relevant to the image and don’t see them as a chance to spam your page full of keywords.

Content management

“When using a content management system (for example, Wix or WordPress), make sure that it creates pages and links that search engines can crawl.”

There are many popular content management systems that can confuse Google, and even WordPress isn’t perfect out of the box. To remedy this you should ensure your website’s theme is SEO friendly, and that you use the best plugins for Google.

The mobile world

“Design your site for all device types and sizes, including desktops, tablets, and smartphones. Use the mobile friendly testing tool to test how well your pages work on mobile devices, and get feedback on what needs to be fixed.”

One of the biggest changes to how people access the internet in the last few years is the growth of mobile devices. This is why Google is expressing the need to design responsive sites that display correctly on all screen sizes. Most web designers now test their designs on phones, tablets and computer monitors alike. With more searches now occurring on mobile devices than on desktop machines, your websites has to be mobile friendly.

Treat Google webmaster guidelines as instructions

“We strongly encourage you to pay very close attention to the Google Webmaster Quality Guidelines.”

The Google Webmaster Guidelines should probably be renamed Google Webmaster Commands. Although it is not compulsory to follow the guidelines, the quote form Google in the preceding paragraph is a clear indication that you should study then implement the guidelines so that your site will be favourably indexed by Google.
After all, if Google can’t index your website then nobody else will find it either.

The updated guidelines are available to study here.

Darren Jamieson

Technical Director at Engage Web
Darren is Technical Director at Engage Web, as well as being a co-founder of the company. He takes a hands-on approach to SEO and web design, helped by more than 15 years’ experience in these fields.

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