3.5 billion. That’s how many search queries Google processes each and every day. Put another way, that’s 144 million every hour, 2.4 million every minute or 40,000 every second.
The reason Google dominates the search engine market (with a share of just over 90%) is that they’re very good at matching what users are looking for with relevant results.
Over the years, a whole digital industry has grown around the process of ‘search engine optimisation’ (SEO). This practice involves adjusting both the coding of a website and its online marketing to encourage Google to rank it higher for particular search terms.
In recent years, Google has carried out increasing numbers of algorithm changes to try and keep results relevant (partly because so many websites have attempted to manipulate the algorithm!). While it’s as important as ever to optimise your website for search results, the SEO landscape has moved on from keyword stuffing and other ‘black hat’ methods and so it should come as no surprise that in 2019 the best approach to making your website perform better is genuinely making the website better and providing useful, relevant content or services to users.
So here goes, the top 10 tweaks you can make to get your website into Google’s good books.
1.Valid HTML Structure
Hyper Text Markup Language (HTML) is the language of your website and includes the ‘building blocks’ of a page, such as headings, images, videos, buttons, links, lists and many more.
Even though Google doesn’t base your website’s ranking entirely on your underlying code, having well-structured semantic HTML helps users find relevant information and also assists with web accessibility. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) provides a helpful online tool for checking if HTML is valid: validator.w3.org.
Meta tags are invisible properties within HTML that describe the content of a page. The most common meta tags are the title, which as you’d expect is the title of the page, and the description, which is a more detailed summary of the content.
For example, this article’s title is “Top ten Google tweaks 2019” and its description is “PDMS design manager Jim Rawson and front end developer Nick Collins provides some best practice tips for improving web pages with Google in mind.”
Having well written titles and descriptions for all pages on your website is not only best practice – it’s also free marketing as Google will usually present these verbatim in search results for particular pages.
There are a number of other meta tags which can be used to help improve the way content is shared on social media such as Twitter and Facebook.
No website is complete without the use of imagery. Images add colour and impact, tell stories, increase user engagement and sell products. On the downside, they can be hefty in file size if not prepared carefully.
One of the most significant issues leading to a slow-loading (and therefore poorly ranked) website can be file size, and one of the key culprits is one or more images that are not sized and optimised for the web.
Website owners should aim to keep page load times below three seconds as the majority of visitors will move on if your site takes longer than this to load. Ask your web developer for advice on optimising images, and also consider using ‘responsive’ image techniques which allow smaller images to be served up to smaller devices such as tablets and mobiles.
Another crucial part of image optimisation is to make sure all images on your site have alternative text attributes (alt text).
The official purpose of alt text is to provide an informative description of an image for blind or partially sighted users who can’t see the image and may be using a text-to-speech software or a speech-enabled browser.
Google and other search engines also consider the presence of alt text when deciding where to place images in the image search results and combined with the use of an image sitemap can improve the position of an image in search results.
4. Structured data
Structured data is a series of standardised formats for providing information about a page in a way which Google can easily store and serve up. It is often associated with ‘rich snippets’ in Google results. When searching for events, people, products, places, flights, recipes or books you may have come across rich snippet results which present additional vital information in an enhanced way, when compared to a standard result.
Your web developer can help add structured data to relevant pages on your website, and Google itself also provides tools such as the data highlighter within Google Search Console for website owners to mark up their own structured data.
5. User Experience (UX)
What used to be called ‘web design’ has now evolved into UX design, due to the evolution of new technologies such as smartphones, tablets, touchscreens, smartwatches and other internet-enabled devices.
When a user visits your website on a smartphone they should see a version optimised for mobile but the look and feel should be broadly the same as other versions of the site. Some other UX factors to check for on your site include:
- site speed – a load time of more than 3 seconds could mean you lose visitors;
- tap target sizes – ensure all of your buttons and links are easily clickable without zooming in; and
- appropriate ordering of content – due to reduced screen size on mobile it might be worth showing call to action links further up the page.
Google has openly stated that they are rewarding mobile-friendly websites and giving less prominence to sites that are not easy to use across devices.
6. What is robots.txt?
A robots.txt is a simple text file containing suggestions for web ‘robots’ about which areas or pages of a website you would like them to ‘crawl’ – or not. It can be used to good effect when there are pages or areas you don’t want to appear in search results, for example.
You can find your robots.txt file by visiting: www.yourdomain.com/robots.txt.
7. Page Speed
No one likes a slow loading webpage. The recommended load time is 3 seconds so if your page is still loading around 10 seconds you should take steps to reduce the size of that page. There are many different things you can check to ensure a fast page load time:
- image optimisation – make sure images are not huge in file size. Ideally, make them as small as possible without compromising on quality, or reduce the number of images;
- only including resources that are really needed – this reduces the size of the files and therefore helps with the load time.
8. Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)
The AMP Project is an open source initiative run by Google that enables the creation and storage of pages that are consistently fast and high-performing across devices. Usually, AMP pages can be found on shared social media links or when browsing for news, and can be identified by the lightning symbol
HTTPS means all communications between your browser and the website are encrypted. Google prefers secure sites to non-secure sites, because security measures align with their current approach to favour high-quality, authentic websites.
This isn’t necessarily a tip to get into Google’s good books, but these are some useful tools you can use to check your website.
Google Page Speed Insights – for testing the speed of your web pages.
Google Mobile friendly Test – see how mobile friendly your website is.
Google Search Console – helps you monitor, maintain, and troubleshoot your site’s presence in Google Search results.
Site Improve – a browser extension for improving content quality, SEO and accessibility.
So, there you have it, some of the top 10 tweaks you can make to your website to be in Google’s good books. Oh, by the way, while you’ve been reading this article over 9 million Google searches happened.