Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Starter Guide

Who is this guide for?

If you own, manage, monetize, or promote online content via Google Search, this guide is meant for you. You might be the owner of a growing and thriving business, the webmaster of a dozen sites, the SEO specialist in a Web agency or a DIY SEO ninja passionate about the mechanics of Search : this guide is meant for you. If you’re interested in having a complete overview of the basics of SEO according to our best practices, you are indeed in the right place. This guide won’t provide any secrets that’ll automatically rank your site first in Google (sorry!), but following the best practices outlined below will hopefully make it easier for search engines to crawl, index and understand your content.

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Search engine optimization (SEO) is often about making small modifications to parts of your website. When viewed individually, these changes might seem like incremental improvements, but when combined with other optimizations, they could have a noticeable impact on your site’s user experience and performance in organic search results. You’re likely already familiar with many of the topics in this guide, because they’re essential ingredients for any web page, but you may not be making the most out of them.

You should optimize your site to serve your users’ needs. One of those users is a search engine, which helps other users discover your content. Search Engine Optimization is about helping search engines understand and present content. Your site may be smaller or larger than our example site and offer vastly different content, but the optimization topics we discuss below should apply to sites of all sizes and types. We hope our guide gives you some fresh ideas on how to improve your website, and we’d love to hear your questions, feedback, and success stories in the Google Webmaster Help Forum1.

We hope you will enjoy the content and we hope to hear and integrate your feedback via our Google support Forums

Feel free to save, print off the guide responsibly and re-share it: let’s improve the quality of the web.

Happy reading!

Signed,
The Google Search Quality team

Best practices for website testing with Google Search

Test variations in your site URLs or content

This page covers how to ensure that testing variations in page content or page URLs has minimal impact on your Google Search performance. It does not give instructions on how to build or design tests, but you can find more resources about testing at the end of this page.

Overview of testing

Website testing is when you try out different versions of your website (or a part of your website) and collect data about how users react to each version. Typically you will use software to compare behavior with two different variations of your pages (parts of a page, entire pages, or entire multi-page flows), and track which version is most effective with your users.

A/B testing is when you run a test by creating multiple versions of a page, each with its own URL. When users try to access the original URL, you redirect some of them to each of the variation URLs and then compare users’ behavior to see which page is most effective.

Multivariate testing is when you use software to change different parts of your website on the fly. You can test changes to multiple parts of a page—say, the heading, a photo, and the ‘Add to Cart’ button—and the software will show variations of each of these sections to users in different combinations and then statistically analyze which variations are the most effective. Only one URL is involved; the variations are inserted dynamically on the page.

Depending on what types of content you’re testing, it may not even matter much if Googlebot crawls or indexes some of your content variations while you’re testing. Small changes, such as the size, color, or placement of a button or image, or the text of your “call to action” (“Add to cart” vs. “Buy now!”), can have a surprising impact on users’ interactions with your page, but often have little or no impact on that page’s search result snippet or ranking.

In addition, if we crawl your site often enough to detect and index your experiment, we’ll probably index the eventual updates you make to your site fairly quickly after you’ve concluded the experiment.

Best practices when testing

Here is a list of best practices to avoid any bad effects on your Google Search behavior while testing site variations:

Don’t cloak your test pages

Don’t show one set of URLs to Googlebot, and a different set to humans. This is called Cloaking, and is against our Webmaster Guidelines, whether you’re running a test or not. Remember that infringing our Guidelines can get your site demoted or removed from Google search results—probably not the desired outcome of your test.

Cloaking counts whether you do it by server logic or by robots.txt, or any other method. Instead, use links or redirects as described next.

Use rel=”canonical” links

If you’re running an A/B test with multiple URLs, you can use the rel=“canonical” link attribute on all of your alternate URLs to indicate that the original URL is the preferred version. We recommend using rel=“canonical” rather than a noindex meta tag because it more closely matches your intent in this situation. For instance, if you are testing variations of your home page, you don’t want search engines not to index your homepage, you just want them to understand that all the test URLs are close duplicates or variations on the original URL and should be grouped together, with the original URL as the canonical. Using noindex rather than rel=“canonical” in such a situation can sometimes have unexpected bad effects.

Use 302 redirects, not 301 redirects

If you’re running an A/B test that redirects users from the original URL to a variation URL, use a 302 (temporary) redirect, not a 301 (permanent) redirect. This tells search engines that this redirect is temporary—it will only be in place as long as you’re running the experiment—and that they should keep the original URL in their index rather than replacing it with the target of the redirect (the test page). JavaScript-based redirects are also fine.

Run the experiment only as long as necessary

The amount of time required for a reliable test will vary depending on factors like your conversion rates, and how much traffic your website gets; a good testing tool should tell you when you’ve gathered enough data to draw a reliable conclusion. Once you’ve concluded the test, you should update your site with the desired content variation(s) and remove all elements of the test as soon as possible, such as alternate URLs or testing scripts and markup. If we discover a site running an experiment for an unnecessarily long time, we may interpret this as an attempt to deceive search engines and take action accordingly. This is especially true if you’re serving one content variant to a large percentage of your users.

Steps to a Google-friendly site

Things to do

Our Webmaster Guidelines provide general design, technical, and quality guidelines. Below are more detailed tips for creating a Google-friendly site.

Give visitors the information they’re looking for

Provide high-quality content on your pages, especially your homepage. This is the single most important thing to do. If your pages contain useful information, their content will attract many visitors and entice webmasters to link to your site. In creating a helpful, information-rich site, write pages that clearly and accurately describe your topic. Think about the words users would type to find your pages and include those words on your site.

Make sure that other sites link to yours

Links help our crawlers find your site and can give your site greater visibility in our search results. When returning results for a search, Google uses sophisticated text-matching techniques to display pages that are both important and relevant to each search. Google interprets a link from page A to page B as a vote by page A for page B. Votes cast by pages that are themselves “important” weigh more heavily and help to make other pages “important.”

Keep in mind that our algorithms can distinguish natural links from unnatural links. Natural links to your site develop as part of the dynamic nature of the web when other sites find your content valuable and think it would be helpful for their visitors. Unnatural links to your site are placed there specifically to make your site look more popular to search engines. Some of these types of links (such as link schemes and doorway pages) are covered in our Webmaster Guidelines.

Only natural links are useful for the indexing and ranking of your site.

Make your site easily accessible

Build your site with a logical link structure. Every page should be reachable from at least one static text link.

Use a text browser, such as Lynx, to examine your site. Most spiders see your site much as Lynx would. If features such as JavaScript, cookies, session IDs, frames, DHTML, or Macromedia Flash keep you from seeing your entire site in a text browser, then spiders may have trouble crawling it.

Things to avoid

Don’t fill your page with lists of keywords, attempt to “cloak” pages, or put up “crawler only” pages. If your site contains pages, links, or text that you don’t intend visitors to see, Google considers those links and pages deceptive and may ignore your site.

Don’t feel obligated to purchase a search engine optimization service. Some companies claim to “guarantee” high ranking for your site in Google’s search results. While legitimate consulting firms can improve your site’s flow and content, others employ deceptive tactics in an attempt to fool search engines. Be careful; if your domain is affiliated with one of these deceptive services, it could be banned from our index.

Don’t use images to display important names, content, or links. Our crawler doesn’t recognize text contained in graphics. Use ALT attributes if the main content and keywords on your page can’t be formatted in regular HTML.

Don’t create multiple copies of a page under different URLs. Many sites offer text-only or printer-friendly versions of pages that contain the same content as the corresponding graphic-rich pages. If your site has identical content that can be reached via different URLs, there are several ways of indicating the canonical (preferred) version of a page. More information about canonicalization.

Get your website on Google

Inclusion in Google’s search results is free and easy; you don’t even need to submit your site to Google. Google is a fully automated search engine that uses software known as “web crawlers” that explore the web on a regular basis to find sites to add to our index. In fact, the vast majority of sites listed in our results aren’t manually submitted for inclusion, but found and added automatically when our bots crawl the web.

Is my site on Google?

To determine whether your site is currently included in Google’s index, do a site: search for your site’s URL. For example, a search for “site:wikipedia.org” returns these results.

My site isn’t on Google!

Although Google crawls billions of pages, it’s inevitable that some sites will be missed. When our spiders miss a site, it’s frequently for one of the following reasons:

  • The site isn’t well connected from other sites on the web.
  • You’ve just launched a new site and Google hasn’t had time to crawl it yet.
  • The design of the site makes it difficult for Google to crawl its content effectively.
  • Google received an error when trying to crawl your site.

How do I get my site or mobile app on Google?

We offer guidelines for building a crawler-friendly website. While there’s no guarantee that our site crawler will find a particular site, following these guidelines should make your site appear in our search results.

If you want to get your mobile app on Google, be sure to implement App Indexing in your app.

Google Search Console provides tools to help you submit your content to Google and monitor how you’re doing in Google Search. If you want, Search Console can even send you alerts on critical issues that Google encounters with your site or mobile app.

Basic checklist for appearing in Google Search results

Here are a few basic questions to ask yourself about your website when you get started. You can find additional getting started information on Google Webmasters and in the SEO Starter Guide.

checkmark Is my website showing up on Google?

Inclusion in Google Search results is free and easy; you usually don’t even need to do anything except post it on the web. To see if your pages are already indexed, search for your site in Google Search with a query like this:

site:example.com

Substitute your own site for “example.com”. If your site doesn’t show up, you can verify ownership of your website in Google Search Console and then submit your site for indexing .

checkmark Do I serve high-quality content to users?

Your number one priority should be ensuring that your users have the best possible experience on your site. Think about what makes your site unique, valuable, or engaging.  Read the Google Webmaster Guidelines and make sure that you’re managing your website using Google-friendly practices.

checkmark Is my local business showing up on Google?

Google My Business is a free and easy-to-use tool that helps you manage how your business information appears across Google, including Search and Maps. Consider adding your business and its website to google.com/business

checkmark Is my content fast and easy to access on all devices?

Most searches are now done from mobile devices; make sure that your content is optimized to load quickly and display properly on all screen sizes. Test if your pages are mobile-friendly .

checkmark Is my website secure?

Modern users expect a secure online experience. Secure your website’s connection with HTTPS.

checkmark Do I need additional help?

SEOs (search engine optimizers) are professionals who can help you improve your website and increase visibility on search engines. Learn more about why and how to hire an SEO.

Do you need an SEO?

SEO is an acronym for “search engine optimization” or “search engine optimizer.” Deciding to hire an SEO is a big decision that can potentially improve your site and save time, but you can also risk damage to your site and reputation.

Make sure to research the potential advantages as well as the damage that an irresponsible SEO can do to your site. Many SEOs and other agencies and consultants provide useful services for website owners, including:

  • Review of your site content or structure
  • Technical advice on website development: for example, hosting, redirects, error pages, use of JavaScript
  • Content development
  • Management of online business development campaigns
  • Keyword research
  • SEO training
  • Expertise in specific markets and geographies.

Keep in mind that the Google search results page includes organic search results and often paid advertisement (denoted as “Ads” or “Sponsored”) as well. Advertising with Google won’t have any effect on your site’s presence in our search results. Google never accepts money to include or rank sites in our search results, and it costs nothing to appear in our organic search results. Free resources such as Search Console, the official Webmaster Central blog, and our discussion forum can provide you with a great deal of information about how to optimize your site for organic search.

Before beginning your search for an SEO, it’s a great idea to become an educated consumer and get familiar with how search engines work. We recommend starting here:

If you’re thinking about hiring an SEO, the earlier the better. A great time to hire is when you’re considering a site redesign, or planning to launch a new site. That way, you and your SEO can ensure that your site is designed to be search engine-friendly from the bottom up. However, a good SEO can also help improve an existing site.

Some useful questions to ask an SEO include:

  • Can you show me examples of your previous work and share some success stories?
  • Do you follow the Google Webmaster Guidelines?
  • Do you offer any online marketing services or advice to complement your organic search business?
  • What kind of results do you expect to see, and in what timeframe? How do you measure your success?
  • What’s your experience in my industry?
  • What’s your experience in my country/city?
  • What’s your experience developing international sites?
  • What are your most important SEO techniques?
  • How long have you been in business?
  • How can I expect to communicate with you? Will you share with me all the changes you make to my site, and provide detailed information about your recommendations and the reasoning behind them?

While SEOs can provide clients with valuable services, some unethical SEOs have given the industry a black eye through their overly aggressive marketing efforts and their attempts to manipulate search engine results in unfair ways. Practices that violate our guidelines may result in a negative adjustment of your site’s presence in Google, or even the removal of your site from our index. Here are some things to consider:

One common scam is the creation of “shadow” domains that funnel users to a site by using deceptive redirects. These shadow domains often will be owned by the SEO who claims to be working on a client’s behalf. However, if the relationship sours, the SEO may point the domain to a different site, or even to a competitor’s domain. If that happens, the client has paid to develop a competing site owned entirely by the SEO.

Another illicit practice is to place “doorway” pages loaded with keywords on the client’s site somewhere. The SEO promises this will make the page more relevant for more queries. This is inherently false since individual pages are rarely relevant for a wide range of keywords. More insidious, however, is that these doorway pages often contain hidden links to the SEO’s other clients as well. Such doorway pages drain away the link popularity of a site and route it to the SEO and its other clients, which may include sites with unsavory or illegal content.

If you feel that you were deceived by an SEO in some way, you may want to report it.

In the United States, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) handles complaints about deceptive or unfair business practices. To file a complaint, visit: http://www.ftc.gov/ and click on “File a Complaint Online,” call 1-877-FTC-HELP, or write to:

Federal Trade Commission
CRC-240
Washington, D.C. 20580

If your complaint is against a company in a country other than the United States, please file it at http://www.econsumer.gov/.

  • Be wary of SEO firms and web consultants or agencies that send you email out of the blue.Amazingly, we get these spam emails too:

    “Dear google.com,
    I visited your website and noticed that you are not listed in most of the major search engines and directories…”

    Reserve the same skepticism for unsolicited email about search engines as you do for “burn fat at night” diet pills or requests to help transfer funds from deposed dictators.

  • No one can guarantee a #1 ranking on Google.Beware of SEOs that claim to guarantee rankings, allege a “special relationship” with Google, or advertise a “priority submit” to Google. There is no priority submit for Google. In fact, the only way to submit a site to Google directly is through our Add URL page or by submitting a Sitemap and you can do this yourself at no cost whatsoever.
  • Be careful if a company is secretive or won’t clearly explain what they intend to do.Ask for explanations if something is unclear. If an SEO creates deceptive or misleading content on your behalf, such as doorway pages or “throwaway” domains, your site could be removed entirely from Google’s index. Ultimately, you are responsible for the actions of any companies you hire, so it’s best to be sure you know exactly how they intend to “help” you. If an SEO has FTP access to your server, they should be willing to explain all the changes they are making to your site.
  • You should never have to link to an SEO.Avoid SEOs that talk about the power of “free-for-all” links, link popularity schemes, or submitting your site to thousands of search engines. These are typically useless exercises that don’t affect your ranking in the results of the major search engines — at least, not in a way you would likely consider to be positive.
  • Choose wisely.While you consider whether to go with an SEO, you may want to do some research on the industry. Google is one way to do that, of course. You might also seek out a few of the cautionary tales that have appeared in the press, including this article on one particularly aggressive SEO: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/businesstechnology/2002002970_nwbizbriefs12.html. While Google doesn’t comment on specific companies, we’ve encountered firms calling themselves SEOs who follow practices that are clearly beyond the pale of accepted business behavior. Be careful.
  • Be sure to understand where the money goes.While Google never sells better ranking in our search results, several other search engines combine pay-per-click or pay-for-inclusion results with their regular web search results. Some SEOs will promise to rank you highly in search engines, but place you in the advertising section rather than in the search results. A few SEOs will even change their bid prices in real time to create the illusion that they “control” other search engines and can place themselves in the slot of their choice. This scam doesn’t work with Google because our advertising is clearly labeled and separated from our search results, but be sure to ask any SEO you’re considering which fees go toward permanent inclusion and which apply toward temporary advertising.
  • What are the most common abuses a website owner is likely to encounter?
  • What are some other things to look out for?There are a few warning signs that you may be dealing with a rogue SEO. It’s far from a comprehensive list, so if you have any doubts, you should trust your instincts. By all means, feel free to walk away if the SEO:
    • owns shadow domains
    • puts links to their other clients on doorway pages
    • offers to sell keywords in the address bar
    • doesn’t distinguish between actual search results and ads that appear on search results pages
    • guarantees ranking, but only on obscure, long keyword phrases you would get anyway
    • operates with multiple aliases or falsified WHOIS info
    • gets traffic from “fake” search engines, spyware, or scumware
    • has had domains removed from Google’s index or is not itself listed in Google

Source: support.google.com