What do Google and other search engines actually want your website to provide?
It’s a question that is very vexing for site owners and website designers alike, as it’s often very tricky to get a straight answer.
However, there is one place that you can find advice direct from Google, and that’s the Webmaster Guidelines.
So when Google quietly updated these a couple of weeks back, we went delving into the small print to find out if anything major had changed….
Google Guidelines = Website Golden Rules
They’re actually a lot less techie than you’d imagine, and anyone can read them online*. Webmaster Guidelines have been available for years, and in the past, have had a rather Spartan, techie-focused feel. That has now gone, replaced by a more intuitive menu system that simply offers three choices:
- Help Google find your pages
- Help Google understand your pages
- Help visitors use your pages
We like this - nice and straightforward, and with a shift in emphasis away from what you shouldn’t do to what you should in terms of the overall user experience. That shift is definitely A Good Thing, as it is an acknowledgement that it’s not all about technical tick boxes and coding.
So, what are the headline changes?
1. Internal Links
The new Guidelines state:
“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.”
In plain English, this means that somewhere on your website, you should have a link to other pages on your website, even if it’s only one link. We’ve done this for years when we write webtext for clients. If you’ve written the text yourself, it might be an idea to go through and just check your links.
“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).”
To a techie, a sitemap is a file that search engines robots read and humans never do. To anyone using your site, a sitemap is really useful for skipping direct to the page you want. Again, Akira have always put human-friendly sitemaps into the footer of our sites, but it’s nice to see Google now recognise how useful they are!
3. Alt text for images
OK, a quick word of explanation before this one. When you put an image on a webpage, you have the option to add some hidden text to the image file, so Google can understand what the image shows. It’s always been good practice to do this to make your site accessible to the visually impaired, and it’s part of the WCAG-AAA requirements. We’re treating the increased emphasis as recognition of the importance of alt tags, and it’s such an easy change to make too. Call us for details.
4. Be specific
The new Guidelines state:
“Ensure that your <title> elements and alt attributes are descriptive, specific, and accurate.”
Note the word, specific. This is new. It means that your title tags and alt tags should relate to the subject and be unique. If you have three images on a page and you just alt tag them “image 1 of a dog”, “image 2 of a dog”, etc, you’re wasting the opportunity to tell Google it’s a disability assistance dog retrieving a sock from a washing machine, or whatever.
The same applies to the title tags. If the name of your Home page appears in a browser tab as “Home”, that’s not going to help Google one bit. That’s why at Akira we always write new title tags for every page of copy we create, so your website title tags work for you, not against you.
5. Number of Links Allowed
Now this one did surprise us. In the past, Google has stated that the maximum number of links should be “a reasonable number”. This has now been clarified to “a few thousand at most”. Yikes, that’s a lot of links, but does prove that if you have a Links page for your suppliers, etc, you will not be penalised, as was feared in the past.
However, on a normal page, we suggest you stick to no more than 5 external links, (internal ones are fine). Too many links can pull your customers away from your main message and potentially from your website.
If you are wondering where SEO comes into all this, here’s the answer at the top of the Help Google understand your pages section:
“1. Create a useful, information-rich site, and write pages that clearly and accurately describe your content.
2. Think about the words users would type to find your pages, and make sure that your site actually includes those words within it.”
1. good copywriting
2. SEO keyword research
to you and me!
If you’re concerned your website doesn’t quite meet all the Guidelines, call us. Chances are, it meets most, but the extra time taken to bring it right up to scratch could pay dividends.