For the first time in more than seven years, Google has revamped its SEO Starter Guide. The shiny new version is web-based and replaces both the old SEO guide and Google’s Webmaster Academy.
And when you consider that Google is the largest search engine in the world by quite some way, powering a staggering 81.53% of all web searches in 2017 [source: Net Market Share], whenever it offers SEO advice, you should sit up and take notice.
That’s why you should absolutely take the time to read all of Google’s new SEO Starter Guide. It will provide you with a holistic view of what the world’s largest search engine recommends when it comes to website optimization.
To give you a head start, we’ve been through the new guide with a fine-toothed comb and picked out five of the biggest gems within.
Here’s what we think you need to know:
1. Hiring An SEO Expert
Should I hire an SEO expert?
It’s a question that many business owners ask themselves and one that often goes unanswered. That’s because the SEO industry used to have a reputation for using lots of smoke and mirrors, or was being brought down by the unscrupulous black hat SEO practitioners that used to focus only on satisfying search engines, not a human audience.
The fact of the matter is that SEO is a constantly evolving methodology of strategies, tactics, and techniques, which means that unless you remain on top of every new announcement in the industry, you could be missing out in the future.
In fact, Google’s new SEO Starter Guide actually contains a section near the beginning that outlines how you may still want to employ the services of a professional SEO expert, in addition to reading the guide.
Google lists some of the services offered by SEO experts and explains how you should familiarize yourself with how search engines work before going any further. It also warns about the damage an irresponsible SEO can do, which is why you should always spend some time checking that the digital marketing agency you are considering partnering with is reputable, professional, and trusted.
When does Google recommend you hire an SEO expert?
“The earlier the better,” so you can ensure your website search engine-friendly from the start. So a good time would be before you launch a new website or ahead of an existing site redesign. However, Google says that even if you’re not going to be launching a new site or redesigning one, an SEO expert can add value and improve your existing website.
[Related reading: Why Website Over-Optimization Could Be Harming Your SEO Efforts]
2. Add Structured Data Markup
Rather than simply letting search engines find your website and try to determine the different types of content on it, you can proactively provide them with intuitive instructions. These instructions come in the form of structured data markup, which is code you add to your web pages that basically tells the search engines what these pages are all about.
By understanding your web pages better, search engines can display the content found on them in useful and eye-catching ways in the search engine results pages (SERPs). This not only makes them stand out but also helps you attract the right visitors to your website.
The image above shows a product page in the SERPs that has had structured data markup added to it. As you can see, the information is laid out in an easy to digest format and includes both a price and customer ratings.
Google calls these kinds of informative snippets “rich results,” but you may also hear them referred to as “rich snippets.”
In addition to these rich results, structured data markup also allows you to emphasize certain aspects of your brick-and-mortar store. For example, you can mark up your opening hours so that potential customers can see instantly whether you are open at the time of searching:
Structured Data Best Practices
- Use the Structured Data Testing Tool to check your markup
- Use Data Highlighter (found in the Google Search Console) if you don’t want to change your website’s code, but want to take advantage of structured markup
- Use the Structured Data report to keep track of how your marked up pages are performing in the SERPs
[Related reading: Using Schema Markup to Improve Your SEO]
3. Optimize Your Content
Yet again the importance of great content is highlighted by Google. If that’s not a ringing endorsement, I don’t know what is!?
In fact, Google goes to on to say: “Creating compelling and useful content will likely influence your website more than any of the other factors discussed here.”
Wow! More than any of the other factors found in its new SEO Starter Guide.
Google implies there are two keys to content success:
- Making your site interesting and useful
- Know what your readers want (and give it to them)
Sounds simple, right? Unfortunately, though, too many businesses don’t take their content marketing efforts seriously enough and think it’s okay to churn out a mediocre blog post once a week.
At the end of the day, it’s organic, word-of-mouth buzz that often gets your website known among search engines and users. That’s why you need to be creating quality content that resonates with both.
Think about what you’re writing and then consider how people search online. Why kinds of queries do they punch into search engines when they want to find some content on that particular subject?
Google uses the example of someone searching for information on football (soccer). While a long-time fan of the sport may search for the term “FIFA,” the global governing body, a newcomer might search for “rules of football.” Consider which of these individuals you are trying to target with your content (it might be both) and then craft your words accordingly.
Content Best Practices
- Write easy-to-read text
- Organize your topics clearly
- Always create fresh, unique content
- Optimize for people, not search engines
4. Use Links Wisely
Google stresses that website owners should think carefully about any links they add to their sites, especially the text they use and the particular site they’re linking to.
When it comes to link anchor text, Google says you should be using information that’s easy to understand and provides an indication of what the content you’re linking to is about.
For example, you should avoid links like “click here” or simply pasting the URL and instead use something that relates to the content. Google says to “aim for short but descriptive text-usually a few words or a short phrase.”
Furthermore, any links should be easy to spot in a passage of text, which is why formatting them correctly is important. Most good content management systems do this automatically when you add a link, but you may have some custom CSS in place that removes any bespoke link formatting. Remove it to help make your links stand out.
Finally, Google says website owners should be conscious of who they link to. This is because whenever you link to a site, you confer some of your own reputation to it. In other words, it’s almost like you vouching that the site you’re linking to is okay in your eyes.
But what if you’re warning people about a dodgy business or a website that spams others with comments to get links? Google says in these circumstances you should use the “nofollow” link attribute.
5. Make Your Website Mobile-Friendly
We are living in a mobile-first world, which means your website absolutely must be friendly for people browsing it on mobile devices.
In the new SEO Starter Guide, Google even goes as far as to mention how it has been experimenting with using a website’s mobile version as the primary basis for ranking, parsing structured data, and generating snippets.
Now while nobody is saying that the mobile versions of websites are going to be primarily used by Google going forward, it’s a huge hint about the importance of being mobile-friendly.
According to Google, responsive web design is the preferred method for ensuring your site displays correctly on mobile devices. Furthermore, if you serve up a lot of static content (product landing pages, blog posts), consider taking advantage of Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP).
Google recommends people check how mobile-friendly their websites are using the Mobile-Friendly Test Tool. This basically allows you to see how Google perceives your site in terms of mobile-friendliness and allows you to make changes accordingly. It’s an invaluable tool as it saves you from testing it manually.
[Related reading: Why A Mobile-Friendly Website Is A Must For Businesses Today]
Hopefully, you’ve now got a pretty good idea of what you need to do to make your website shine in Google’s eyes. But as mentioned at the start of this post, you should also take the time to read the Google SEO Starter Guide in full and try to implement all of the search giant’s recommendations.