Validate Your SEO Advice Using Google’s Recommendations
“How do we know SEO is going to work?” This question or some form of it is often asked when presenting digital strategies to your company’s internal stakeholders. And if they are not saying it out loud, they’re probably thinking it.
One of the best ways to get your SEO recommendations implemented at your company is to prove that search engines also view your tactics as a best practice. It’s your job as the professional to educate and show evidence that what you are recommending works.
So in this article, I will tie some common SEO best practices to the Google advice found in its SEO Starter Guide and other sources.
- Search Engine Optimization
- Getting Started with SEO
- Technical SEO
- On-Page SEO
- Site Structure and Navigation
- Mobile-Friendly Websites
- Hiring an SEO
- FAQ: How can I ensure that SEO will generate results for my company?
Search Engine Optimization
First, it’s useful to show that Google believes SEO is actually a good thing when done right. In its SEO Starter Guide, Google defines SEO as “the process of making your site better for search engines.”
Getting Started with SEO
In its guide, Google outlines a few basic questions that website publishers want to explore:
- Is my website showing up on Google?
- Do I serve high-quality content to users?
- Is my local business showing up on Google?
- Is my content fast and easy to access on all devices?
- Is my website secure?
SEO tactics that can help with each of those are as follows:
Making sure your website shows up. There are a number of reasons why search engines can’t crawl and index a site (for example, your robots.txt file). Technical SEO can help determine the problem.
- Read: Technical SEO Tips
Serving high-quality content to users. Google assesses the quality of webpages, and it all starts with creating quality content from qualified experts and authorities on the matter.
This is especially true for “your money or your life (YMYL)” webpages. Google’s John Mueller reiterates how important E-E-A-T is for “YMYL” pages in a 2021 Google SEO office hours session:
- Read: E-E-A-T and SEO: You Can’t Have One Without the Other
- Read: What Are “Your Money or Your Life (YMYL)” Webpages?
Local business marketing online. Local SEO caters to small businesses with brick-and-mortar locations so that they can show up in the search results.
In 2021, Google’s John Mueller reiterated how important optimizing the Google My Business listing is:
- Read: Checklist for Local SEO
Fast content for mobile users. Optimizing for things like Google’s “core web vitals” as well as ensuring websites cater to mobile users is important to compete in the search results.
In 2022, Google’s John Mueller stated core web vitals is key for good performing websites:
On Reddit, Mueller also clarified that core web vitals adherence is more than a “tie breaker” when it comes to ranking:
Secure websites. HTTPS is the gold standard to secure the data that’s exchanged between a web browser (such as Chrome) and a web server (which stores, processes and delivers your webpages to a user). In addition to this security measure, you want to implement controls to ensure your site is safe from hackers. And yes, this is a part of SEO!
Technical SEO is the practice of optimizing the “back end” of a site so that search engines like Google can better crawl and index the website. Among other things, Google outlines the following:
- Sitemaps. A sitemap is to tell search engines about the pages, images and videos that are on the site. It helps ensure more thorough crawling and indexing. Make sure your site has one. Learn more by reading our article: What Is an XML Sitemap and How Do I Make One?
- Robots.txt. Make sure you are using this properly. Excluding important files can hinder search engines crawling and indexing your important webpages.
Google’s Gary Illyes once said on a Reddit thread:
“I really wish SEOs went back to the basics (i.e. MAKE THAT DAMN SITE CRAWLABLE) instead of focusing on silly updates and made up terms by the rank trackers, and that they talked more with the developers of the website once done with the first part of this sentence.”
On-page SEO is the practice of optimizing webpages from top to bottom. In doing so, you are accomplishing two things: 1) giving pages a better chance of showing up in the search results and 2) creating a better user experience for website visitors.
Google says to pay attention to your webpages meta tags, including the title and description.
Here, Google says to “create unique, accurate page titles.” Google goes on to say that the titles should …
“Accurately describe the page’s content. Choose a title that reads naturally and effectively communicates the topic of the page’s content.”
- Brief explanation: You want to make the title relevant to the page content so that 1) Google can quickly understand what the page is about, 2) you can get more click-through from the search results and 3) you can avoid a bounce because the page delivers on what the title says. You also want to avoid violating Google’s webmaster guidelines by attempting to keyword-stuff the title.
“Create unique titles for each page. Each page on your site should ideally have a unique title, which helps Google know how the page is distinct from the others on your site. If your site uses separate mobile pages, remember to use good titles on the mobile versions too.”
- Brief explanation: Avoid duplicate content, plain and simple. Duplicate content can work against you by filtering your webpages from the search results.
“Use brief but descriptive titles. … If the title is too long or otherwise deemed less relevant, Google may show only a portion of it or one that’s automatically generated in the search result. Google may also show different titles depending on the user’s query or device used for searching.”
- Brief explanation: You want to keep titles consistent with character count best practices, so that your titles are not cut off (aka “truncated”) in the search results. Think of the title as an advertisement for your webpage. Follow best practices but also make it compelling so people want to click through. Know that even with your best efforts, Google may change how it is displayed in the search results.
Google says: “Use the ‘description’ meta tag.”
Description meta tags are important because Google might use them as snippets for your pages. Note that we say “might” because Google may choose to use a relevant section of your page’s visible text if it does a good job of matching up with a user’s query. Adding description meta tags to each of your pages is always a good practice in case Google cannot find a good selection of text to use in the snippet.
Google goes on to say …
“Accurately describe the page content. Write a description that would both inform and interest users if they saw your description meta tag as a snippet in a search result. While there’s no minimal or maximal length for the text in a description meta tag, we recommend making sure that it’s long enough to be fully shown in Search … and contains all the relevant information users would need to determine whether the page will be useful and relevant to them.”
- Brief explanation: Just like the title tag, you want to view this tag as an opportunity to promote the webpage. Making it compelling is key. Google says there are no character count limits, though we recommend keeping within best practices to ensure the entire snippet is shown in the search results.
“Use unique descriptions for each page. Having a different description meta tag for each page helps both users and Google, especially in searches where users may bring up multiple pages on your domain …”
- Brief explanation: Meta tags can also contribute to the pesky duplicate content issue that can happen when Google sees similar content on a page. Since the description tag (along with the title tag) is usually one of the first pieces of content a search engine encounters on the page, you want it to be original and relevant to the page.
- What Are Meta Tags?
- Understanding Duplicate Content and How to Avoid It
- How to Get Rid of Duplicate Content in WordPress
Use meaningful headings to indicate important topics, and help create a hierarchical structure for your content, making it easier for users to navigate through your document.
Google goes on to say:
“Imagine you’re writing an outline. Similar to writing an outline for a large paper, put some thought into what the main points and sub-points of the content on the page will be and decide where to use heading tags appropriately.”
- Brief explanation: Headings carry weight in terms of categorization of your webpage to both search engines and users. The H1 is considered the most important heading on the page (usually the title), then H2 as a subsection, H3 as a sub-subsection and all the way to H6. You only want one H1 per page.
- Our recommendation is to maintain a hierarchy and not use more than H1 to H4. Beyond H4 you are usually too detailed and should be doing an e-book.
- And yes, you can use more than one H1 on a portal page where you link to other pages from each section. We have done it and it works just fine. But for detailed content pages it is usually better to have a single H1 for that content. Google’s John Muller has stated more than one H1 doesn’t matter.
- Use HTML elements
- Use the “alt” attribute
- Use brief but descriptive filenames and alt text
- Use standard image formats
- Use an image sitemap
All of these recommendations highlight the fact that optimizing images is an important part of optimizing the content on a page.
“Structured data is code that you can add to your sites’ pages to describe your content to search engines, so they can better understand what’s on your pages. Search engines can use this understanding to display your content in useful (and eye-catching!) ways in search results. That, in turn, can help you attract just the right kind of customers for your business.”
- Brief explanation: Structured data helps to further clarify to the search engine what the content on the page is about. It also has the benefit of enhancing the snippets in the search results in many cases. This can improve your click-through rate from the search results.
How important is it? It probably depends. But Google’s John Mueller says it’s an “extremely light signal.” In a since-deleted tweet:
“What about the non-RR SD that’s not absolutely clear from the page? It can be helpful, but it’s also limited in the extra value it provides. How do you rank something purely from SD hints? It’s an extremely light signal. If you’re worried, make the content more obvious.”
Site Structure and Navigation
How you structure your website can impact both visitors to your site and the search engine’s ability to determine relevance. Google says:
The navigation of a website is important in helping visitors quickly find the content they want. It can also help search engines understand what content the website owner thinks is important. Although Google’s search results are provided at a page level, Google also likes to have a sense of what role a page plays in the bigger picture of the site.
Google goes on to say:
“Create a simple directory structure. Use a directory structure that organizes your content well and makes it easy for visitors to know where they’re at on your site. Try using your directory structure to indicate the type of content found at that URL.”
“Make it as easy as possible for users to go from general content to the more specific content they want on your site. Add navigation pages when it makes sense and effectively work these into your internal link structure. Make sure all of the pages on your site are reachable through links, and that they don’t require an internal “search” functionality to be found. Link to related pages, where appropriate, to allow users to discover similar content.”
- Brief explanation: SEO siloing is a search engine optimization technique that structures a website’s content by grouping related webpages together in hierarchical categories based upon how people search. SEO siloing shapes the directories of your website and its internal linking structure to help Google and visitors better find the content.
“Create a navigational page for users, a sitemap for search engines.”
- Brief explanation: As mentioned earlier an XML sitemap is for search engines, but a site map is for users to get a bird’s eye view of the content on your site and to improve the user experience.
“Show useful 404 pages.”
- Another user experience-focused recommendation is to have a 404 page that will render if a link is broken on your site. This page can serve up other relevant content or suggest a next step to the visitor.
Content is one of the most important things to get right when it comes to SEO. Remember, Google wants only the highest quality webpages in its search results. So creating quality content can enhance your ability to compete in the search results.
Creating compelling and useful content will likely influence your website more than any of the other factors discussed here. Users know good content when they see it and will likely want to direct other users to it. This could be through blog posts, social media services, email, forums, or other means. Organic or word-of-mouth buzz is what helps build your site’s reputation with both users and Google, and it rarely comes without quality content.
Google goes on to say:
“Know what your readers want (and give it to them). Think about the words that a user might search for to find a piece of your content.”
- Brief explanation: Doing good keyword research will lay the groundwork for your content creation efforts. Making sure you target the right keywords can make or break your SEO strategy. And then, of course, optimize well.
In a 2021 Google SEO Office Hours, John Mueller reiterates where to put the keywords on the page so Google will understand what the page is about.
“Act in a way that cultivates user trust. Users feel comfortable visiting your site if they feel that it’s trustworthy. A site with a good reputation is trustworthy. Cultivate a reputation for expertise and trustworthiness in a specific area.”
“Make expertise and authoritativeness clear. Expertise and authoritativeness of a site increases its quality. Be sure that content on your site is created or edited by people with expertise in the topic.”
- Brief explanation: Both of the statements outlined above refer to what Google calls “expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness” in its Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines. Each of these factors contribute to the overall quality of a webpage and a website, according to Google. Creating content with these in mind can help you compete in the search results.
“Provide an appropriate amount of content for your subject.”
- Brief explanation: Content takes time and effort. Rather than just guess how much content is appropriate for the topic, be sure to find out what the top-ranked pages are doing for the keyword or topic you are writing about.
A mobile-friendly website creates a good experience for people who visit a website from a smartphone or tablet.
Most people are searching on Google using a mobile device. The desktop version of a site might be difficult to view and use on a mobile device. As a result, having a mobile ready site is critical to your online presence.
- Brief explanation: Google is planning to switch to a mobile-first index by the end of March 2021. That means it will analyze and rank the mobile version of websites and not the desktop version, as they have historically done. In addition, mobile friendliness is a factor in Google’s page experience ranking update. So having a mobile-friendly website is critical to compete in the search results today.
- How to Know if You’re at Risk When Google Switches to a Mobile-First Index
- Page Experience Matters: The Mobile-Friendly Site
Hiring an SEO
Hiring the right SEO professional or agency can pay dividends. Hiring the wrong one can harm your website. Google weighs in on this topics as well:
An SEO (“search engine optimization”) expert is someone trained to improve your visibility on search engines. By following this guide, you should learn enough to be well on your way to an optimized site. In addition to that, you may want to consider hiring an SEO professional that can help you audit your pages. Deciding to hire an SEO is a big decision that can potentially improve your site and save time. Make sure to research the potential advantages of hiring an SEO, as well as the damage that an irresponsible SEO can do to your site.
I disagree that simply reading Google’s starter guide is enough direction to compete in the search results. SEO is quite literally a full-time job that not only takes a lot of work but also a log of learning. Search engines change on a dime and we must continuously research, test and inform our efforts.
This is just a sample of the advice that Google gives on how to improve a website. Showing internal stakeholders this and other advice from Google, like on its Google Search Central channel on YouTube, can help support your ongoing SEO efforts and the ability to get things implemented.
Our SEO experts can work with you to develop an SEO program that gets better results — more qualified traffic, better search ranking and increased revenue. Contact us today to schedule a FREE 1:1 consultation.
FAQ: How can I ensure that SEO will generate results for my company?
To ensure that SEO generates favorable outcomes for your company, here are some expert insights to guide you:
Understand your target audience: Conduct thorough research to identify the demographics, preferences and search habits of your target market.
Perform keyword research: Discover relevant search terms and incorporate them strategically into your content, meta tags and URL structure.
Optimize on-page elements: Craft compelling titles, meta descriptions and headers for your webpages. Ensure your content is well-structured and includes relevant keywords.
Create high-quality content: Develop informative, engaging and shareable content that aligns with your target audience’s needs and preferences.
Build a strong backlink profile: Acquire quality backlinks from reputable websites, as they signal to search engines that your content is authoritative and trustworthy.
Enhance website speed and user experience: Optimize your site’s loading time and ensure it is mobile-friendly to provide users with a seamless browsing experience.
Leverage social media: Share your content across various social media platforms to increase its visibility and drive traffic back to your website.
Monitor and analyze performance: Utilize analytics tools to track your website’s performance, keyword rankings and user behavior. Make data-driven decisions to refine your SEO strategy.
Follow these steps to maximize the potential of SEO and drive success for your company.
Step-by-Step Procedure to Ensure SEO Success:
- Understand your target audience.
- Conduct thorough keyword research.
- Optimize on-page elements (titles, meta descriptions, headers).
- Create high-quality, relevant content.
- Build a diverse and authoritative backlink profile.
- Enhance website speed and user experience.
- Utilize social media for content promotion.
- Monitor performance through analytics tools.