It's time to learn what Google themselves say in their guidelines. Google Quality Guidelines AKA Google Webmaster Guidelines are the most fundamental set of rules that every SEO should follow. Even though they're sometimes not extremely specific, they will give you great insight into Google's DOs and DON'Ts for site owners, designers, SEO specialists, developers and administrators.
Google has a set of guidelines outlining the best practices for webmasters to improve their website’s search presence and appear in the search results. Following these regulations will ultimately help you create a “Google-friendly” website. The guidelines also feature regulations on webspam as well as the consequences that webmasters can expect if and when they violate these guidelines.
Google has divided its guidelines into two core sections: General guidelines and quality guidelines.
Google breaks these guidelines into three sections: crawlability, indexability and usability.
In the crawling section, Google provides helpful tips on how you can make it easier for Google to find the pages on your website. For example, one of the recommendations Google gives is to ensure that all of the pages on your website can be reached by a link from another page. Considering that Google’s crawl bot uses links to find and discover new pages, this should come as no surprise. At the same time, Google recommends limiting the number of links on a given page to a reasonable number – “a few thousand at most”.
In the indexing section, Google details measures that webmasters should take in order to ensure that Google is able to understand their pages better. For instance, Google recommends using descriptive, specific and accurate page titles. Google also puts emphasis on creating a useful and “information-rich” website with “pages that clearly and accurately describe your content” and follow a sensible hierarchy.
In the final section, Google focuses on usability i.e. helping visitors use your website.
This includes simple measures like making sure that your website appears correctly across all web browsers as well as more sophisticated recommendations on how to optimise your website for mobile users.
Google put a lot of emphasis on creating websites for humans instead of search engines – this is because the main goal for search engines is to provide users with the best possible experience. In their quality guidelines, Google is extremely clear when it comes to guiding webmasters in what they should and shouldn’t do when it comes to SEO.
The regulations cover the most common forms of deceptive and/or manipulative behaviour, but Google is very clear in indicating that other deceptive measures (which may not be included here) are still not approved. Google also explicitly states how you can go about reporting other websites that may be abusing their quality guidelines via a spam report.
Ultimately, this snippet from the guidelines brilliantly summarises Google’s ethos when it comes to quality:
“Webmasters who spend their energies upholding the spirit of the basic principles will provide a much better user experience and subsequently enjoy better ranking than those who spend their time looking for loopholes they can exploit”Google Webmaster Guidelines
In other words, design and create your website with the end-user in mind, and you should be just fine!
You can find the full list of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines here.
Violating Google’s Guidelines
If Google deems that you *or your SEOs) have violated their guidelines, either individual pages, a portion or the entire domain may be penalised. This effectively means that the ranking of your website will likely significantly worsen – your site’s visibility and by extension, traffic will drop. The penalty is usually temporary and can be solved by removing the webspam or violating elements – i.e. you can use Google’s disavow tool to devalue any unnatural or spammy incoming backlinks towards your website.
You should, therefore, avoid using the following techniques:
- Automatically generated content – this is where content has been generated programmatically rather than written by a human i.e. text that has been translated by an automated tool but has not been reviewed by a human before publishing.
- Participating in link schemes – Perhaps one of the most abused techniques, link schemes are any links that are created to manipulate Google’s PageRank algorithm or a site’s ranking.
- Creating pages with little or no original content.
- Cloaking – the practice of displaying different content to humans and search engines.
- Sneaky redirects – redirects are fine, however, Google doesn’t approve when it’s shown one type of content while users are redirected to something significantly different.
- Hidden text or links – Hiding text or links in your content to manipulate Google’s search rankings can be seen as deceptive i.e. using a white background to hide white text.
- Doorway pages – these are pages that are created to rank for specific search queries.
- Scraped content – scraped content is content taken from highly reputable sources and republished to your own website with the hope that it will rank well – unfortunately, that’s not the case!
- Participating in affiliate programs without adding sufficient value – if you have an affiliate website, you should ensure that the content you provide is unique and offers value to the end-user.
- Loading pages with irrelevant keywords – aka keyword stuffing, you should avoid adding as many keywords onto your page as possible.
- Creating pages with malicious behavior, such as phishing or installing viruses, trojans, or other badware.
- Abusing structured data markup – Google have published specific guidelines on how to use structured data and will not tolerate attempts to manipulate these.
- Sending automated queries to Google – unless given permission by Google, this should be avoided at all costs.