Google's Own SEO Tips
If one were to point at a person who knows a few search engine optimization tricks, it wouldn’t be far off if that person was Matt Cutts, the head of Google’s webspam team. Matt’s job is to keep Google’s search results clean and thus he has intimate knowledge of how the search engine categorizes and rates different pages and sites.Matt recently spoke at WordCamp 2009 and previously at WordCamp 2007 about making your blog/website search engine friendly, with a focus on playing nice with Google. Each talk is about an hour long and touches on many of the concerns about optimization that webmasters commonly have. If you’re familiar with SEO and you watch these two talks, you can’t go wrong. You can find the videos and slideshow presentations on Matt’s own website, here:
For a quick overview and future reference, I’ve noted down all of the important points of Matt’s talks and combined them with the conclusions reached in the subsequent Q&A’s. If you have time, watch both of Matt’s talks first. If you’re then looking for a SEO cheat sheet, of sorts, this should be quite decent:
Code & Structure
- Google specifically looks at content in the title, URL and H1/H2/H3 sections.
- Dashes/hyphens are best in URL paths, underscores next best, and no spacing between words is the worst.
- Use ALT tags on images (3-4, maybe 5 relevant words) — it can yield a lot of alternative traffic.
- .php, .html, .cfm, none of the extensions matter, just don’t use .exe
- In general, TLD’s do not matter (.info, .biz, etc.), but try to go for .com
- When Google sees a hashmark (#) in a URL, it truncates at the hash (and the remainder of the URL is ignored).
- Dynamic URLs (with question marks) are treated exactly the same as static pages. Keep the number of parameters to 2 or 3. If you have e.g. 15, you risk having duplicate text in the URL, which can get penalized.
- Google does not check domain WHOIS information.
- Make sure your site is crawlable. Don’t use framesets, excessive Flash, etc. A good way of testing is to try browsing your site on your phone or in a text-mode browser like links or lynx — this is basically how Google sees your site.
- Putting date information in the URL is fine. Google does not care about the “depth” of a URL/the amount of slashes (keep in mind that /2007/ will count as a URL keyword, however).
- If it’s possible, use the same site for both regular browsers and phones, and make variations via stylesheets.
- Don’t put your blog at the root of your domain. People will link to your root domain and your blog, and you’ll be able to easily expand your site further on.
- Use ‘blog’ as your blog’s subdirectory, not e.g. ‘Wordpress’. This counts as a keyword — if you use ‘Wordpress’, you’re going to show up in results for Wordpress, even if you’re not talking about WordPress (and disappear from somewhere else).
- Try to use the rel canonical tag (newer Wordpress versions do this by default).
- WordPress specific: Change default permalink (domain.com/?p=48) to e.g. domain.com/blog/%postname%
- WordPress specific: Protect your /wp-admin/ folder, limit access with e.g. .htaccess
- Write in plain English, consider what people search for.
- Use Google’s Keyword Tool to find relevant keywords.
- Don’t use keywords more than 2, 3, or 4 times on a page (unless it makes sense). It doesn’t help to repeat a major keyword 50 or 100 times.
- Don’t hide keywords, absolutely don’t consciously mask keywords to artificially improve search engine rankings (this is called cloaking).
- If you know people are going to type in “fun”, “pictures”, “cats” or “kittens” when they search, there are completely natural ways to work this into your text without spamming. Use many different forms of your major keywords, for instance, have “change” in your URL, but “changing” in the title, “Firefox” but also “Mozilla”, “print server” and also “CUPS”, etc. — Synonyms, plurals, singular, etc.
- Use categories that are good keywords if they make sense.
- Use your keywords in the content of your post. Use the major ones inside and close to the title if possible.
- The Meta Keyword tag does not really matter.
- Google crawls roughly in order of PageRank. The more pagerank you have, the deeper and more often Googlebot will crawl your site.
- Pagerank is about the quality of the sites linking to you. 10 links from respected sites are better than 50 links from ‘random’ sites.
- If e.g. 100 sites link to you, and you link to two sites, each site gets roughly 50 pagerank.
- Don’t care about the amount of incoming links. Concentrate on being relevant and reputable.
- Write about something you care about.
- Don’t worry about small things, concentrate on writing more, good, unique content.
- Katamari; start out with a (really) small niche. Build, build, build and expand your niche gradually. Do original research.
- Make your post creation dates easy to find. Not so much for the search engine, but people want to know when a post was created.
- Don’t try to get search engines to like you to get noticed by the world. Get known, then worry about SEO. Do some whitehat linkbaiting — make some funny videos, iPhone apps, do tutorials, analysis, 13 reasons why something sucks or rocks, etc.
When Changing Hosts
- (Optional) Reduce your DNS time-to-live so your new IP will propagate a lot faster, e.g. in five minutes.
- Bring both sites up, so users will see your site at both the old and the new IP address.
- Change the domain settings to point to your new IP address.
- When you are receiving traffic from Googlebot and users (and your DNS time-to-live has passed) on the new site, take down the old site (try to keep the old site up for the duration of your TTL though). The default TTL is usually 1 hour.
When Moving to a New Domain
- Standard advice: Use a 301 (permanent) redirect.
- Even better: pick one subdirectory and move that first. If the traffic stays desired, move the rest of the site.
- Standardize your backlinks (e.g. enforce ‘www.’ or no ‘www’ on your server, and only link to one variation of your domain).
- Ask people who link to you to update their links.
- Don’t do paid posts/don’t sell or buy links. If you want to do affiliate linking, “nofollow” the links.
- Use Google’s Webmaster Tools — see what people are linking to, what Google can’t find, check your robots.txt, and so on. Also, indicate your ‘www.’ or no ‘www.’ preference.
- Use Google Analytics — having Google Analytics does not affect your search engine ratings.
- Use Feedburner and Feedburner MyBrand (host your feeds on e.g. feeds.patrickmylund.com).
- To show up in Google News, you generally need to be more than one person — be a “proper news outlet”.
- Report splogs with Google Webmaster Tools’ “Report spam in our index” feature, rather than filing a DMCA. Don’t think of it as a copyright violation, but as spam.
- Make great, viral content.