May 4, 2009
In Part 1 and Part 2 of How to Optimize for Google I discussed general website optimization, links, and Google webmaster tools. In Part 3 we will look at a number of other considerations which play a role in successful rankings in Google, and also touch on some tactics which are best avoided.
Completing Optimization: Other Considerations
If you need to use redirects on your site it is very important to use the correct one. If a page is moving to a new location, or being removed all together, it is very important to have this page redirected to either the new location or the next closest page using a Permanent 301 Redirect.
While rare, if a page is being moved to a new location for a short term, with the intent of it returning to the original location, then and only then, will you want to use a Temporary 302 redirect. For more information please see Redirects: Permanent 301 vs. Temporary 302
Non WWW Redirects
To help eliminate page rank split, and provide your site with a little extra value, implement a non-www redirect. What this redirect will do is change the URL to include the “www” whenever a URL is accessed that does not include it. This can help to consolidate links to the correct page and give your site some additional strength. For more help on Non WWW redirects please see: How to 301 Redirect Non-WWW to WWW URL’s
Check your page headers! If you have implemented any form of redirect on your site including mod rewrites, check your HTTP headers. You may be surprised at what you find. Some forms of redirects may use a 302 code where you really want a 301. By checking your headers you can ensure all is well, and troubleshoot problems. On our website we have added our own HTTP Header Checker for your convenience.
Home Page URL
Never have more than one URL for your home page. If your home page is available and displays on more than one URL, then utilize 301 redirects on all but the main URL you want to focus on – in most cases “http://www.xyzname.com/”. All your links pointing to the home page should direct to the exact same URL otherwise you will split the value of your home page into multiple duplicate URL’s.
Google sees “http://www.xyzname.com” and “http://www.xyzname.com/index.shtml” as different pages, but displaying the same content. This splits the overall value of your home page, and can decrease the chances of rankings. By keeping it consistent with a single URL, you remove this split and retain more of the strength.
In theory having your home page split like this could bring with it duplicate content penalties, however, I have yet to see this actually happen – that said, it is best to avoid the risk all together.
XML Sitemaps are great for ensuring that Google and the other engines are able to spider your entire site. While an XML sitemap will not directly impact your search rankings it can help as Google is more likely to see any SEO based changes more quickly, which in turn can have an impact.
This is the first file all search engines look for every time they visit your site. While placing a blank robots.txt file in your root folder will not help with search rankings, it will help reduce 404 errors appearing in your log files.
It is also highly recommended that if your site utilizes an XML sitemap, to include a call to this sitemap within the Robots.txt file. Simply add the following line to ensure that the major engines (including Google) can find your sitemap:
If you are finding that your site is simply not being indexed it is possible that you are blocking the spiders in one way or another.
Start with checking your main site navigation, if you are using Flash or some other fancy form of navigation that could be your problem right there. Next check your HTTP headers to ensure that your home page is returning a 2xx code which indicates that the clients’ request was successfully received. Finally take a look at your Google Webmaster Tools for any noted errors. If you are blocking Google, chances are you will be able to uncover the issue with these steps.
Duplicate content can be quite damaging to your rankings. Ensure that all content on your site is unique. Never steal or “borrow” content from another site, and never cut and paste large portions of text from one page of your site to the next. By keeping all pages of your site entirely original you stand the best chances of getting a thumps up from Google.
Fresh Content / Regular Updates
Update your content. In highly competitive markets, sites with old static content can often slip away. Keep your content fresh and updated to keep bringing Google back to your site. If they find new pages and updated pages with every visit, they will come back more often.
The age of your site can also have an effect on search engine rankings. While there is little you can do (short of keeping the same domain) to help on this matter, remember that the longer your site is online, the better its chances for success. It pays to select the perfect domain right from the start and not to change domains mid-stream. Older sites that stand the test of time add a level of authority in Google’s eyes. New sites seldom see rankings for competitive terms in their first year.
Note: Site Age is determined not by the date the domain was originally registered by rather by the date Google first discovered content on your site.
Load time can have an impact in your Google AdWords Quality Score but it is unknown for sure if it can also impact your organic search rankings. It is best to keep you load time to as little as possible. If it is not already a part of the Google Algorithm, it likely will be soon. Besides, it is also best in order to give your site visitors the best experience possible.
Server Up Time
This can be a rather significant issue. If you find that your web hosting company has a history of down time, change hosts. If Google comes to visit your site once and it is down, not to worry, they will come back, but if Google visits your site often only to find that it is unavailable, you can find yourself with drastically depleted rankings.
If you have a traditional brick and mortar store, consider submitting to Google Local. While this will not directly impact your regular organic rankings, you may find your site ranking above the organic results with a “local business results” map listing. This tends to be most common when your business is near the geographic center of a city, and when the search phrase uses a geographic modifier.
W3C Compliant Code
There is much speculation as to if W3C compliant code can have a positive impact on search rankings, and the majority believe “maybe” with some saying “yes”. Regardless, it is definitely a good idea to have your site be W3C Compliant if at all possible. Not only may it help you in terms of search rankings, but having compliant code can decrease load times, and help to ensure cross-browser compatibility, all of which are good things. If at all possible, it is recommended that sites be made to be compliant.
Many experts who took part in the SEOMoz “Google Search Engine Ranking Factors” lean towards it not being a big contributor, however, it may be an issue if Google has difficulties indexing a page properly.
A code validation service is available at validator.w3.org.
DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME
I want to stress that this section is about things you should NOT do. These issues could be damaging to your rankings. If your site is implementing any of these, it may be best to remove it.
This includes any text that you can simply not see when viewing the page. It may be text hidden in invisible div layers, text located below the fold with vertical scrolling disabled or even text on the same colored back ground (white text on a white background for instance). Whatever the case, hidden text can get your site into hot water and it is not recommended.
Don’t go over board in placing target phrases within your body text. Stuffing keywords everywhere possible just because you can, is not only unlikely to help you achieve rankings, it could very well have the opposite effect.
Large amounts of duplicated content or pages, as well as stealing or scraping content from other sites is one good way to get your site banned.
Creating multiple websites or pages with nearly identical, yet slightly different content for the purposes of trying to grab some Google rankings is a good way to get your site into trouble.
If you have created pages of this nature for PPC campaigns, make sure that they are blocked from the search engines as to not get you into any hot water.
Simple – Don’t Cloak. In a nutshell cloaking is when you display different information to the search engines than you do to your human visitors. Google frowns on this, and if they catch you, watch out!
Websites that are entirely flash based will not get you into trouble. The reason I have included it here however, is that they won’t do you many favors either. Sites that are all Flash, have little to no content for Google to digest and thus, drastically reduce your chance of rankings. If you must keep your “All Flash” site, it is recommended that you also create a secondary HTML version for the search engines and for those visitors who simply prefer it.
Frames (including iFrames)
Frames are also one of those things that won’t get you into trouble, but do significantly reduce your chances of rankings. If you want any chance of ranking in Google using a Frames site, be sure to copy your relevant content from each page into your ‘noframes’ tag. While this is far from ideal it may help you salvage some listings.
When it comes to including content through the use of an iFrame, remember, Google can not see any of this content located within the frame. It will be of no use to your rankings. If you rely on this content to help your listings, find another method such as a server side include.
In this article I mention a few items which can be made much easier with the help of available online tools. Here are some to help you on your way:
HTTP Header Checker
The StepForth HTTP Header Checker
XML Sitemaps, Search Engine Bot Simulator
Page Size and Load Time
1-Hit Load Time Analyzer
Google’s Cached Text Version
Click on “cached” next to your listing in Google, then click “Cached Text Version” at the top of the page. This is Google’s Cached Text version of your page. Substituting www.domain.com with your website will also bring up the cached version:
To see a larger selection of tools visit our SEO Tools page at the StepForth website.
There are a lot of little pieces to getting a site to the top of the rankings in Google that I didn’t have time to mention here. In most cases not all items noted in this 3 part Google optimization series need to be in place to achieve top rankings, however, the more you can implement the better. Links, optimization, and content all play a significant role in Google rankings and the more competitive the term, the bigger the role they play.
If you have a site in a competitive market it is best to ensure that the site is entirely Google friendly and well optimized, while working on increasing links, and expanding on relevant content.
Patience is important and Google rankings are possible, but they do take time and effort. In nearly all cases it can take several months before you start to see significant results, although in cases where a site is just missing one or two pieces of the puzzle and those are put into place, rankings can come much quicker. If you have any questions about optimizing for Google try sending them to us here at StepForth and we will get to them as soon as our workload permits.
Scott Van Achte is the Senior SEO at StepForth Web Marketing Inc.; based in Victoria, BC, Canada and founded in 1997. You can read more of Scott’s articles and those of the veteran StepForth team at http://news.stepforth.com or contact us at http://www.stepforth.com