Google Updates Webmaster Guidelines

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Updates to Google Webmaster GuidelinesGoogle Updates Their Webmaster Guidelines

If you’re not an SEO professional, you’re probably asking yourself, “Why do Google’s Webmaster Guidelines matter to me?”

The answer is quite simple:  Following Google’s Webmaster Guidelines “…will help Google find, index, and rank your site.” And that’s a good thing.

If there’s any doubt as to how important these changes are, look at this excerpt from the previous version and compare it to the new version.

Following these guidelines will help Google find, index, and rank your site. Even if you choose not to implement any of these suggestions, we strongly encourage you to pay very close attention to the “Quality Guidelines,” which outline some of the illicit practices that may lead to a site being removed entirely from the Google index or otherwise impacted by an algorithmic or manual spam action. If a site has been affected by a spam action, it may no longer show up in results on Google.com or on any of Google’s partner sites.

And the new version:

Following the General Guidelines below will help Google find, index, and rank your site. We strongly encourage you to pay very close attention to the Quality Guidelines below, which outline some of the illicit practices that may lead to a site being removed entirely from the Google index or otherwise affected by an algorithmic or manual spam action. If a site has been affected by a spam action, it may no longer show up in results on Google.com or on any of Google’s partner sites.

The missing verbiage: “Even if you choose not to implement any of these suggestions…”

New to Google’s Webmaster Guidelines

In this most recent update of the Webmaster Guidelines, several guidelines were newly added, and several are updates of existing guidelines. Here are the highlights.

HTTPS vs. HTTP

The new webmaster guideline reads:

If possible, secure your site’s connections with HTTPS. Encrypting interactions between the user and your website is a good practice for communication on the web.

Previously, it was more of a suggestion than a recommendation.

Mobile Friendliness

The new guideline reads:

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.

This really, really shouldn’t come as a surprise. In fact it’s more of a surprise that it was only now added to the guidelines. We’ve written about Mobilegeddon before “as it happened”, and, even before that, about mobile-friendly sites and SEO, when Google gave the first warnings about mobile friendliness becoming a ranking factor for mobile search.

Accessibility

Barry Schwartz from SearchEngine Roundtable talks about how this new version of the guidelines focuses on accessibility more. From Barry:

Make your site’s important content visible by default. Google is able to crawl HTML content hidden inside navigational elements such as tabs or expanding sections, however we consider this content less accessible to users, and believe that you should make your most important information visible in the default page view.

In another section where Google is talking about [ALT] attributes for images and title tags for pages they added the word “specific.” it’s minor, but if you read this sentence with and without the word specific, the change is pretty big.

Ensure that your <title> elements and [ALT] attributes are descriptive, specific, and accurate.

Does this mean that Google is taking that [ALT] image text into account when ranking?  There has been evidence that Google has been doing this for quite some time, but this is more evidence of the importance of it.

Updates to Existing Google Webmaster Guidelines

Next to new webmaster guidelines, there are also a lot of updates to existing guidelines. I want to touch on the most important ones:

Links & Site Structure

Among the updated guidelines, Barry also highlighted the section about links. It used to read:

Make a site with a clear hierarchy and text links. Every page should be reachable from at least one static text link.

Now it reads:

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.

What’s noteworthy here is that Google talks specifically about the value of the [ALT] modifier of an image.

As if to put an exclamation point on that concept, Google also says:

Try to use text instead of images to display important names, content, or links. If you must use images for textual content, use the alt attribute to include a few words of descriptive text.

XML & HTML Sitemaps

Google is recommending not just a sitemap for Google, but also a regular version for humans visiting the site.

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).

…and…

Offer a site map to your users with links that point to the important parts of your site. If the site map has an extremely large number of links, you may want to break the site map into multiple pages.

 

Blocked Resources

This is a slight change in wording from the old version that talks about the importance of letting Google “see” the same thing as a user sees.

To help Google fully understand your site’s contents, allow all site assets that would significantly affect page rendering to be crawled: for example, CSS and JavaScript files that affect the understanding of the pages. The Google indexing system renders a web page as the user would see it, including images, CSS, and JavaScript files.

Content Visible By Default

This is more of an issue for designers than for SEOs (we’ve been preaching this for a while) but Google is pushing for all of the content to be visible when the user lands on a page and not hidden behind <div> tags and tabs:

Make your site’s important content visible by default. Google is able to crawl HTML content hidden inside navigational elements such as tabs or expanding sections, however we consider this content less accessible to users, and believe that you should make your most important information visible in the default page view.

The Bottom Line

Though there are some interesting changes and additions here, the majority are common sense for most active SEOs. But if you are just a webmaster to a single site trying to get it ranking better, it’s definitely worth reading and paying attention.

 

As the Founder of Expert SEO Consulting, Eric Richmond brings with him more than 20 years of experience in advertising and technology consulting. Prior to forming Expert SEO Consulting, Eric served as Head of Audience Development for Complex Media, VP of Search and Social Media for TechMediaNetwork. Before that, Eric was VP of Technology & SEO at 360i, where he was responsible for overseeing the development of proprietary technology solutions for 360i in addition to managing the Agency’s SEO practice. Eric came to 360i from RichFX, where he served as Director of Strategic Accounts serviced clients list Wal-Mart, The Home Depot and Safeway. Prior to RichFX, Eric was VP/Global Account Director at Viewpoint, as well as CTO for Grey Interactive Worldwide and VP/Technology for APLDigital.

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