Google is looking for a “website that is well cared for and maintained” so you need to keep content management systems updated, check for broken image links and HTML links. If you create a frustrating user experience through sloppy website maintenance – expect that to be reflected in some way with a lower quality rating. Google Panda October 2014 went for e-commerce pages that were optimised ‘the old way’ and are now classed as ‘thin content’.

QUOTE: “In place of a pop-up try a full-screen inline ad. It offers the same amount of screen real estate as pop-ups without covering up any content. Fixing the problem depends on the issue you have for example if it’s a pop-up you’ll need to remove all the pop-up ads from your site but if the issue is high ad density on a page you’ll need to reduce the number of ads” Google, 2017
Wow! This was so helpful to me. I am new to the blogging world and have been feeling really frustrated and discouraged because I lacked the knowledge of getting my post to rank in search engines. I know there is a lot more I still need to learn but this has layed a foundation for me. I am bookmarking it so I can return and read it again. Thank you for writing!
Google will INDEX perhaps 1000s of characters in a title… but I don’t think anyone knows exactly how many characters or words Google will count AS a TITLE TAG when determining RELEVANCE OF A DOCUMENT for ranking purposes. It is a very hard thing to try to isolate accurately with all the testing and obfuscation Google uses to hide it’s ‘secret sauce’. I have had ranking success with longer titles – much longer titles. Google certainly reads ALL the words in your page title (unless you are spamming it silly, of course).

Creating high quality content takes a significant amount of at least one of the following: time, effort, expertise, and talent/skill. Content should be factually accurate, clearly written, and comprehensive. So, for example, if you describe your page as a recipe, provide a complete recipe that is easy to follow, rather than just a set of ingredients or a basic description of the dish.
QUOTE: “Another problem we were having was an issue with quality and this was particularly bad (we think of it as around 2008 2009 to 2011) we were getting lots of complaints about low-quality content and they were right. We were seeing the same low-quality thing but our relevance metrics kept going up and that’s because the low-quality pages can be very relevant. This is basically the definition of a content farm in our in our vision of the world so we thought we were doing great our numbers were saying we were doing great and we were delivering a terrible user experience and turned out we weren’t measuring what we needed to so what we ended up doing was defining an explicit quality metric which got directly at the issue of quality it’s not the same as relevance …. and it enabled us to develop quality related signals separate from relevant signals and really improve them independently so when the metrics missed something what ranking engineers need to do is fix the rating guidelines… or develop new metrics.” SMX West 2016 – How Google Works: A Google Ranking Engineer’s Story (VIDEO)
At first glance, the Ads or SC appear to be MC. Some users may interact with Ads or SC, believing that the Ads or SC is the MC.Ads appear to be SC (links) where the user would expect that clicking the link will take them to another page within the same website, but actually take them to a different website. Some users may feel surprised or confused when clicking SC or links that go to a page on a completely different website.
Early versions of search algorithms relied on webmaster-provided information such as the keyword meta tag or index files in engines like ALIWEB. Meta tags provide a guide to each page's content. Using metadata to index pages was found to be less than reliable, however, because the webmaster's choice of keywords in the meta tag could potentially be an inaccurate representation of the site's actual content. Inaccurate, incomplete, and inconsistent data in meta tags could and did cause pages to rank for irrelevant searches.[10][dubious – discuss] Web content providers also manipulated some attributes within the HTML source of a page in an attempt to rank well in search engines.[11] By 1997, search engine designers recognized that webmasters were making efforts to rank well in their search engine, and that some webmasters were even manipulating their rankings in search results by stuffing pages with excessive or irrelevant keywords. Early search engines, such as Altavista and Infoseek, adjusted their algorithms to prevent webmasters from manipulating rankings.[12]
Engagement – Google is increasingly weighting engagement and user experience metrics more heavily. You can impact this by making sure your content answers the questions searchers are asking so that they’re likely to stay on your page and engage with your content. Make sure your pages load quickly and don’t have design elements (such as overly aggressive ads above the content) that would be likely to turn searchers off and send them away.
QUOTE: “Starting April 21 (2015), we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results. Consequently, users will find it easier to get relevant, high-quality search results that are optimized for their devices”. GOOGLE
Google will INDEX perhaps 1000s of characters in a title… but I don’t think anyone knows exactly how many characters or words Google will count AS a TITLE TAG when determining RELEVANCE OF A DOCUMENT for ranking purposes. It is a very hard thing to try to isolate accurately with all the testing and obfuscation Google uses to hide it’s ‘secret sauce’. I have had ranking success with longer titles – much longer titles. Google certainly reads ALL the words in your page title (unless you are spamming it silly, of course).
However, you may encounter pages with a large amount of spammed forum discussions or spammed user comments. We’ll consider a comment or forum discussion to be “spammed” if someone posts unrelated comments which are not intended to help other users, but rather to advertise a product or create a link to a website. Frequently these comments are posted by a “bot” rather than a real person. Spammed comments are easy to recognize. They may include Ads, download, or other links, or sometimes just short strings of text unrelated to the topic, such as “Good,” “Hello,” “I’m new here,” “How are you today,” etc. Webmasters should find and remove this content because it is a bad user experience.
Sometimes I think if your titles are spammy, your keywords are spammy, and your meta description is spammy, Google might stop right there – even they probably will want to save bandwidth at some time. Putting a keyword in the description won’t take a crap site to number 1 or raise you 50 spots in a competitive niche – so why optimise for a search engine when you can optimise for a human? – I think that is much more valuable, especially if you are in the mix already – that is – on page one for your keyword.
Let's say, for example, you're researching the keyword "how to start a blog" for an article you want to create. "Blog" can mean a blog post or the blog website itself, and what a searcher's intent is behind that keyword will influence the direction of your article. Does the searcher want to learn how to start an individual blog post? Or do they want to know how to actually launch a website domain for the purposes of blogging? If your content strategy is only targeting people interested in the latter, you'll need to make sure of the keyword's intent before committing to it.
Google states, “News articles, Wikipedia articles, blog posts, magazine articles, forum discussions, and ratings from independent organizations can all be sources of reputation information” but they also state specifically boasts about a lot of internet traffic, for example, should not influence the quality rating of a web page. What should influence the reputation of a page is WHO has shared it on social media etc. rather than just raw numbers of shares. CONSIDER CREATING A PAGE with nofollow links to good reviews on other websites as proof of excellence.
SEM search placements include an “Ad” designation. SEO does not. Search results that appear as a result of SEM or SEO look different on SERPs. Paid ads that receive placement through SEM tactics are often identified as an ad (e.g., by an icon appearing next to the placement), whereas the search results that appear as a result of organic SEO are not marked in such manner.
Yes, you need to build links to your site to acquire more PageRank, or Google ‘juice’ – or what we now call domain authority or trust. Google is a link-based search engine – it does not quite understand ‘good’ or ‘quality’ content – but it does understand ‘popular’ content. It can also usually identify poor, or THIN CONTENT – and it penalises your site for that – or – at least – it takes away the traffic you once had with an algorithm change. Google doesn’t like calling actions the take a ‘penalty’ – it doesn’t look good. They blame your ranking drops on their engineers getting better at identifying quality content or links, or the inverse – low-quality content and unnatural links. If they do take action your site for paid links – they call this a ‘Manual Action’ and you will get notified about it in Webmaster Tools if you sign up.
SEO is also about making your search engine result relevant to the user's search query so more people click the result when it is shown in search. In this process, snippets of text and meta data are optimized to ensure your snippet of information is appealing in the context of the search query to obtain a high CTR (click through rate) from search results.
Forget whether or not to put your keyword in it, make it relevant to a searcher and write it for humans, not search engines. If you want to have this 20-word meta description which accurately describes the page you have optimised (for one or two keyword phrases) when people use Google to search, make sure the keyword is in there. There is more likelihood it will be used by Google as your snippet description in SERPs.
QUOTE: ‘To make our results more useful, we’ve begun experiments to make our index mobile-first. Although our search index will continue to be a single index of websites and apps, our algorithms will eventually primarily use the mobile version of a site’s content to rank pages from that site, to understand structured data, and to show snippets from those pages in our results. Of course, while our index will be built from mobile documents, we’re going to continue to build a great search experience for all users, whether they come from mobile or desktop devices.
QUOTE: “Ultimately, you just want to have a really great site people love. I know it sounds like a cliché, but almost [all of] what we are looking for is surely what users are looking for. A site with content that users love – let’s say they interact with content in some way – that will help you in ranking in general, not with Panda. Pruning is not a good idea because with Panda, I don’t think it will ever help mainly because you are very likely to get Panda penalized – Pandalized – because of low-quality content…content that’s actually ranking shouldn’t perhaps rank that well. Let’s say you figure out if you put 10,000 times the word “pony” on your page, you rank better for all queries. What Panda does is disregard the advantage you figure out, so you fall back where you started. I don’t think you are removing content from the site with potential to rank – you have the potential to go further down if you remove that content. I would spend resources on improving content, or, if you don’t have the means to save that content, just leave it there. Ultimately people want good sites. They don’t want empty pages and crappy content. Ultimately that’s your goal – it’s created for your users.” Gary Illyes, Google 2017
QUOTE: “In place of a pop-up try a full-screen inline ad. It offers the same amount of screen real estate as pop-ups without covering up any content. Fixing the problem depends on the issue you have for example if it’s a pop-up you’ll need to remove all the pop-up ads from your site but if the issue is high ad density on a page you’ll need to reduce the number of ads” Google, 2017
Let's say, for example, you're researching the keyword "how to start a blog" for an article you want to create. "Blog" can mean a blog post or the blog website itself, and what a searcher's intent is behind that keyword will influence the direction of your article. Does the searcher want to learn how to start an individual blog post? Or do they want to know how to actually launch a website domain for the purposes of blogging? If your content strategy is only targeting people interested in the latter, you'll need to make sure of the keyword's intent before committing to it.
However, we do expect websites of large companies and organizations to put a great deal of effort into creating a good user experience on their website, including having helpful SC. For large websites, SC may be one of the primary ways that users explore the website and find MC, and a lack of helpful SC on large websites with a lot of content may be a reason for a Low rating.
Having a ‘keyword rich’ domain name may lead to closer scrutiny from Google. According to Moz, Google has “de-prioritized sites with keyword-rich domains that aren’t otherwise high-quality. Having a keyword in your domain can still be beneficial, but it can also lead to closer scrutiny and a possible negative ranking effect from search engines—so tread carefully.”
John Lincoln (MBA) is CEO of Ignite Visibility (a 2017, 2018 & 2019 Inc. 5000 company) a highly sought-after digital marketing strategist, industry speaker and winner of the coveted Search Engine Land "Search Marketer of the Year" award. With 16+ years of demanding experience, Lincoln has worked with over 1,000 online businesses including amazing clients such as Office Depot, Tony Robbins, Morgan Stanley, Fox, USA Today, COX and The Knot World Wide.
Kelly Wilhelme currently manages all of Weidert Group's marketing efforts. Through her past experience as an inbound marketing consultant on our client service team and, prior to that in financial services communication, she has a deep understanding of complex businesses and a desire to help them grow. Kelly has a passion for communication strategy, layout and design, as well as writing and content creation.
Webmasters and content providers began optimizing websites for search engines in the mid-1990s, as the first search engines were cataloging the early Web. Initially, all webmasters only needed to submit the address of a page, or URL, to the various engines which would send a "spider" to "crawl" that page, extract links to other pages from it, and return information found on the page to be indexed.[5] The process involves a search engine spider downloading a page and storing it on the search engine's own server. A second program, known as an indexer, extracts information about the page, such as the words it contains, where they are located, and any weight for specific words, as well as all links the page contains. All of this information is then placed into a scheduler for crawling at a later date.

In addition to processing the text content on your web pages, Google will also try to figure out what your images are about as well. Alt Text is a short description that you can customize for each image to let Google know what the image is about. Setting short, descriptive Alt Texts through our site builder will help Google better associate your web pages with the search terms you're trying to target.


This is why developing a list of keywords is one of the first and most important steps in any search engine optimization initiative. Keywords and SEO are directly connected when it comes to running a winning search marketing campaign. Because keywords are foundational for all your other SEO efforts, it's well worth the time and investment to ensure your SEO keywords are highly relevant to your audience and effectively organized for action.
Redirecting is the act of sending a user to a different URL than the one initially requested. There are many good reasons to redirect from one URL to another, for example, when a website moves to a new address. However, some redirects are designed to deceive search engines and users. These are a very poor user experience, and users may feel tricked or confused. We will call these “sneaky redirects.” Sneaky redirects are deceptive and should be rated Lowest.
You likely have a few keywords in mind that you would like to rank for. These will be things like your products, services, or other topics your website addresses, and they are great seed keywords for your research, so start there! You can enter those keywords into a keyword research tool to discover average monthly search volume and similar keywords. We’ll get into search volume in greater depth in the next section, but during the discovery phase, it can help you determine which variations of your keywords are most popular amongst searchers.
Because someone who is looking for something that specific is probably a much more qualified searcher for your product or service (presuming you're in the blogging space) than someone looking for something really generic. And because long-tail keywords tend to be more specific, it's usually easier to tell what people who search for those keywords are really looking for. Someone searching for the head term "blogging," on the other hand, could be searching it for a whole host of reasons unrelated to your business.
QUOTE: “If you want to stop spam, the most straight forward way to do it is to deny people money because they care about the money and that should be their end goal. But if you really want to stop spam, it is a little bit mean, but what you want to do, is sort of break their spirits. There are lots of Google algorithms specifically designed to frustrate spammers. Some of the things we do is give people a hint their site will drop and then a week or two later, their site actually does drop. So they get a little bit more frustrated. So hopefully, and we’ve seen this happen, people step away from the dark side and say, you know what, that was so much pain and anguish and frustration, let’s just stay on the high road from now on.” Matt Cutts, Google 2013
Provide full functionality on all devices. Mobile users expect the same functionality - such as commenting and check-out - and content on mobile as well as on all other devices that your website supports. In addition to textual content, make sure that all important images and videos are embedded and accessible on mobile devices. For search engines, provide all structured data and other metadata - such as titles, descriptions, link-elements, and other meta-tags - on all versions of the pages.
Heading tags are the title elements that you can use to separate your text content. These headlines give search engines a better understanding of what your page is about. Plus, people tend to go through the headings first to see if your content is what they're looking for before actually reading it. So, you want to use headings to your advantage and make sure they're descriptive and explain what your content is about.
QUOTE: “For the mostpart it should be fine I think the the tricky part that you need to be careful about is more around doorway pages in the sense that if all of these pages end up with the same business then that can look a lot like a doorway page but like just focusing on the content duplication part that’s something that for the most part is fine what will happen there is will index all of these pages separately because from  from a kind of holistic point of view these pages are unique they have unique content on them they might have like chunks of text on them which are duplicated but on their own these pages are unique so we’ll index them separately and in the search results when someone is searching for something generic and we don’t know which of these pages are the best ones we’ll pick one of these pages and show that to the user and filter out the other variations of that that page so for example if someone in Ireland is just looking for dental bridges and you have a bunch of different pages for different kind of clinics that offer the service and probably will pick one of those pages and show those in the search results and filter out the other ones.
Comparing your Google Analytics data side by side with the dates of official algorithm updates is useful in diagnosing a site health issue or traffic drop. In the above example, a new client thought it was a switch to HTTPS and server downtime that caused the drop when it was actually the May 6, 2015, Google Quality Algorithm (originally called Phantom 2 in some circles) that caused the sudden drop in organic traffic – and the problem was probably compounded by unnatural linking practices. (This client did eventually receive a penalty for unnatural links when they ignored our advice to clean up).
Your site’s URL structure can be important both from a tracking perspective (you can more easily segment data in reports using a segmented, logical URL structure), and a shareability standpoint (shorter, descriptive URLs are easier to copy and paste and tend to get mistakenly cut off less frequently). Again: don’t work to cram in as many keywords as possible; create a short, descriptive URL.
If you take money online, in any way, you NEED to have an accessible and satisfying ‘customer service’ type page. Google says, “Contact information and customer service information are extremely important for websites that handle money, such as stores, banks, credit card companies, etc. Users need a way to ask questions or get help when a problem occurs. For shopping websites, we’ll ask you to do some special checks. Look for contact information—including the store’s policies on payment, exchanges, and returns. “ Google urges quality raters to be a ‘detective’ in finding this information about you – so it must be important to them.
There used to be a time where you could add a lot of keywords to your pages and posts, do some old-fashioned keyword stuffing, and you’d rank in search engines. But a text with a lot of the same keywords in it is not a pleasant read. And because users find this kind of copy terrible to read, Google finds it terrible too. That’s why ranking in Google by doing keyword stuffing, fortunately, became hard to do.
In short, nobody is going to advise you to create a poor UX, on purpose, in light of Google’s algorithms and human quality raters who are showing an obvious interest in this stuff. Google is rating mobile sites on what it classes is frustrating UX – although on certain levels what Google classes as ‘UX’ might be quite far apart from what a UX professional is familiar with in the same ways as Google’s mobile rating tools differ from, for instance,  W3c Mobile testing tools.

OBSERVATION – You can have the content and the links – but if your site falls short on even a single user satisfaction signal (even if it is picked up by the algorithm, and not a human reviewer) then your rankings for particular terms could collapse – OR – rankings can be held back – IF Google thinks your organisation, with its resources, or ‘reputation, should be delivering a better user experience to users.

The length of a title tag that Google will show will vary (it’s based on pixels, not character counts) but in general 55-60 characters is a good rule of thumb here. If possible you want to work in your core keyword, and if you can do it in a natural and compelling way, add some related modifiers around that term as well. Keep in mind though: the title tag will frequently be what a searcher sees in search results for your page. It’s the “headline” in organic search results, so you also want to take how clickable your title tag is into account.
Google WILL classify your site when it crawls and indexes your site – and this classification can have a DRASTIC effect on your rankings. It’s important for Google to work out WHAT YOUR ULTIMATE INTENT IS – do you want to be classified as a thin affiliate site made ‘just for Google’, a domain holding page or a small business website with a real purpose? Ensure you don’t confuse Google in any way by being explicit with all the signals you can – to show on your website you are a real business, and your INTENT is genuine – and even more important today – FOCUSED ON SATISFYING A VISITOR.
Google has a LONG list of technical requirements it advises you meet, on top of all the things it tells you NOT to do to optimise your website. Meeting Google’s technical guidelines is no magic bullet to success – but failing to meet them can impact your rankings in the long run – and the odd technical issue can actually severely impact your entire site if rolled out across multiple pages.
Both require knowing your audience. To succeed at both strategies, you must have a good understanding of your audience and how they act. By using buyer personas and psychographic segmentation, you can get to know your audience, discover what their needs are, and what they are searching for. Then you can create valuable content that shows up when they go looking for solutions related to your brand.
Great guide Sharon! Thank you so much for sharing. I was wondering if off-page SEO is still worth it? Like using Personal Publishing Accounts or other social media where you can share your content. I’ve been trying for some months now to spread around content but still waiting for better results. I’ve read it needs diversity but I still haven’t figured it out yet.
A poor 404 page and user interaction with it, can only lead to a ‘poor user experience’ signal at Google’s end, for a number of reasons. I will highlight a poor 404 page in my audits and actually programmatically look for signs of this issue when I scan a site. I don’t know if Google looks at your site that way to rate it e.g. algorithmically determines if you have a good 404 page – or if it is a UX factor, something to be taken into consideration further down the line – or purely to get you thinking about 404 pages (in general) to help prevent Google wasting resources indexing crud pages and presenting poor results to searchers. I think rather that any rating would be a second order scoring including data from user activity on the SERPs – stuff we as SEO can’t see.
QUOTE: “Another problem we were having was an issue with quality and this was particularly bad (we think of it as around 2008 2009 to 2011) we were getting lots of complaints about low-quality content and they were right. We were seeing the same low-quality thing but our relevance metrics kept going up and that’s because the low-quality pages can be very relevant. This is basically the definition of a content farm in our in our vision of the world so we thought we were doing great our numbers were saying we were doing great and we were delivering a terrible user experience and turned out we weren’t measuring what we needed to so what we ended up doing was defining an explicit quality metric which got directly at the issue of quality it’s not the same as relevance …. and it enabled us to develop quality related signals separate from relevant signals and really improve them independently so when the metrics missed something what ranking engineers need to do is fix the rating guidelines… or develop new metrics.” SMX West 2016 – How Google Works: A Google Ranking Engineer’s Story (VIDEO)

Keywords are as much about your audience as they are about your content, because you might describe what you offer in a slightly different way than some people ask for it. To create content that ranks well organically and drives visitors to your site, you need to understand the needs of those visitors — the language they use and the type of content they seek. You can do this by talking to your customers, frequenting forums and community groups, and doing your own keyword research with a tool like Keyword Explorer.

However, we do expect websites of large companies and organizations to put a great deal of effort into creating a good user experience on their website, including having helpful SC. For large websites, SC may be one of the primary ways that users explore the website and find MC, and a lack of helpful SC on large websites with a lot of content may be a reason for a Low rating.
QUOTE: ‘To make our results more useful, we’ve begun experiments to make our index mobile-first. Although our search index will continue to be a single index of websites and apps, our algorithms will eventually primarily use the mobile version of a site’s content to rank pages from that site, to understand structured data, and to show snippets from those pages in our results. Of course, while our index will be built from mobile documents, we’re going to continue to build a great search experience for all users, whether they come from mobile or desktop devices.
Google WILL classify your site when it crawls and indexes your site – and this classification can have a DRASTIC effect on your rankings. It’s important for Google to work out WHAT YOUR ULTIMATE INTENT IS – do you want to be classified as a thin affiliate site made ‘just for Google’, a domain holding page or a small business website with a real purpose? Ensure you don’t confuse Google in any way by being explicit with all the signals you can – to show on your website you are a real business, and your INTENT is genuine – and even more important today – FOCUSED ON SATISFYING A VISITOR.
Think, that one day, your website will have to pass a manual review by ‘Google’ – the better rankings you get, or the more traffic you get, the more likely you are to be reviewed. Know that Google, at least classes even useful sites as spammy, according to leaked documents. If you want a site to rank high in Google – it better ‘do’ something other than exist only link to another site because of a paid commission. Know that to succeed, your website needs to be USEFUL, to a visitor that Google will send you – and a useful website is not just a website, with a sole commercial intent, of sending a visitor from Google to another site – or a ‘thin affiliate’ as Google CLASSIFIES it.
Provide full functionality on all devices. Mobile users expect the same functionality - such as commenting and check-out - and content on mobile as well as on all other devices that your website supports. In addition to textual content, make sure that all important images and videos are embedded and accessible on mobile devices. For search engines, provide all structured data and other metadata - such as titles, descriptions, link-elements, and other meta-tags - on all versions of the pages.
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