You should build a website to benefit your users, and any optimization should be geared toward making the user experience better. One of those users is a search engine, which helps other users discover your content. Search Engine Optimization is about helping search engines understand and present content. Your site may be smaller or larger than our example site and offer vastly different content, but the optimization topics we discuss below should apply to sites of all sizes and types. We hope our guide gives you some fresh ideas on how to improve your website, and we'd love to hear your questions, feedback, and success stories in the Google Webmaster Help Forum1.
SEO is the practice of optimizing websites to make them reach a high position in Google’s – or another search engine’s – search results. At Yoast, we believe that holistic SEO is the best way to rank your website because you focus on making every aspect of your site awesome. Don’t use any black-hat SEO tricks, because eventually, this will have negative consequences for your rankings. Instead, practice sustainable SEO, with your user in mind, and you will benefit in the long run.
QUOTE: “Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness: This is an important quality characteristic. …. Remember that the first step of PQ rating is to understand the true purpose of the page. Websites or pages without some sort of beneficial purpose, including pages that are created with no attempt to help users, or pages that potentially spread hate, cause harm, or misinform or deceive users, should receive the Lowest rating. For all other pages that have a beneficial purpose, the amount of expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (E-A-T) is very important..” Google Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines 2019
The last time I looked Google displayed as many characters as it can fit into a block element that’s about 600px wide and doesn’t exceed 1 line of text (on desktop). So – THERE IS NO BEST PRACTICE AMOUNT OF CHARACTERS any SEO could lay down as exact best practice to GUARANTEE a title will display, in full in Google, at least, as the search snippet title, on every device. Ultimately – only the characters and words you use will determine if your entire page title will be seen in a Google search snippet.
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.
By relying so much on factors such as keyword density which were exclusively within a webmaster's control, early search engines suffered from abuse and ranking manipulation. To provide better results to their users, search engines had to adapt to ensure their results pages showed the most relevant search results, rather than unrelated pages stuffed with numerous keywords by unscrupulous webmasters. This meant moving away from heavy reliance on term density to a more holistic process for scoring semantic signals. Since the success and popularity of a search engine is determined by its ability to produce the most relevant results to any given search, poor quality or irrelevant search results could lead users to find other search sources. Search engines responded by developing more complex ranking algorithms, taking into account additional factors that were more difficult for webmasters to manipulate. In 2005, an annual conference, AIRWeb (Adversarial Information Retrieval on the Web), was created to bring together practitioners and researchers concerned with search engine optimization and related topics.
Sometimes, Google turns up the dial on demands on ‘quality’, and if your site falls short, a website traffic crunch is assured. Some sites invite problems ignoring Google’s ‘rules’ and some sites inadvertently introduce technical problems to their site after the date of a major algorithm update and are then impacted negatively by later refreshes of the algorithm.
QUOTE: “Cleaning up these kinds of link issue can take considerable time to be reflected by our algorithms (we don’t have a specific time in mind, but the mentioned 6-12 months is probably on the safe side). In general, you won’t see a jump up in rankings afterwards because our algorithms attempt to ignore the links already, but it makes it easier for us to trust the site later on.” John Mueller, Google, 2018
What is Search Engine Optimization (also known as SEO)? A broad definition is that search engine optimization is the art and science of making web pages attractive to search engines. More narrowly, SEO seeks to tweak particular factors known to affect search engine standing to make certain pages more attractive to search engines than other web pages that are vying for the same keywords or keyword phrases.
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.
QUOTE: “Google Webmaster Tools notice of detected doorway pages on xxxxxxxx – Dear site owner or webmaster of xxxxxxxx, We’ve detected that some of your site’s pages may be using techniques that are outside Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Specifically, your site may have what we consider to be doorway pages – groups of “cookie cutter” or low-quality pages. Such pages are often of low value to users and are often optimized for single words or phrases in order to channel users to a single location. We believe that doorway pages typically create a frustrating user experience, and we encourage you to correct or remove any pages that violate our quality guidelines. Once you’ve made these changes, please submit your site for reconsideration in Google’s search results. If you have any questions about how to resolve this issue, please see our Webmaster Help Forum for support.” Google Search Quality Team, 2011
Don’t be a website Google won’t rank – What Google classifies your site as – is perhaps the NUMBER 1 Google ranking factor not often talked about – whether it Google determines this algorithmically or eventually, manually. That is – whether it is a MERCHANT, an AFFILIATE, a RESOURCE or DOORWAY PAGE, SPAM, or VITAL to a particular search – what do you think Google thinks about your website? Is your website better than the ones in the top ten of Google now? Or just the same? Ask, why should Google bother ranking your website if it is just the same, rather than why it would not because it is just the same…. how can you make yours different. Better.
QUOTE: “To summarize, a lack of helpful SC may be a reason for a Low quality rating, depending on the purpose of the page and the type of website. We have different standards for small websites which exist to serve their communities versus large websites with a large volume of webpages and content. For some types of “webpages,” such as PDFs and JPEG files, we expect no SC at all.” Google Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines 2015
Naturally, business owners want to rank for lots of keywords in organic listings with their website. The challenge for webmasters and SEO is that Google doesn’t want business owners to rank for lots of keywords using auto-generated content especially when that produces A LOT of pages on a website using (for instance) a list of keyword variations page-to-page.
QUOTE: “If an off-domain link is made by an anonymous or unauthenticated user, I’d use nofollow on that link. Once a user has done a certain number of posts/edits, or has been around for long enough to build up trust, then those nofollows could be removed and the links could be trusted. Anytime you have a user that you’d trust, there’s no need to use nofollow links.” Matt Cutts, Google 2006
QUOTE: “The quality of the MC is an important consideration for PQ rating. We will consider content to be Low quality if it is created without adequate time, effort, expertise, or talent/skill. Pages with low quality MC do not achieve their purpose well…. Important: The Low rating should be used if the page has Low quality MC. ” Google Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines, 2019
QUOTE: “Medium pages achieve their purpose and have neither high nor low expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness. However, Medium pages lack the characteristics that would support a higher quality rating. Occasionally, you will find a page with a mix of high and low quality characteristics. In those cases, the best page quality rating may be Medium.” Google Quality Evaluator Guidelines, 2017
QUOTE: “The purpose of a page is the reason or reasons why the page was created. Every page on the Internet is created for a purpose, or for multiple purposes. Most pages are created to be helpful for users, thus having a beneficial purpose. Some pages are created merely to make money, with little or no effort to help users. Some pages are even created to cause harm to users. The first step in understanding a page is figuring out its purpose.” Google Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines 2019
This helpful tool scans your backlink profile and turns up a list of contact information for the links and domains you'll need to reach out to for removal. Alternatively, the tool also allows you to export the list if you wish to disavow them using Google's tool. (Essentially, this tool tells Google not to take these links into account when crawling your site.)
If Google finds two identical pieces of content, whether on your own site, or on another you’re not even aware of, it will only index one of those pages. You should be aware of scraper sites, stealing your content automatically and republishing as your own. Here’s Graham Charlton’s thorough investigation on what to if your content ends up working better for somebody else.
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.
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.
QUOTE: “Sitemaps are an easy way for webmasters to inform search engines about pages on their sites that are available for crawling. In its simplest form, a Sitemap is an XML file that lists URLs for a site along with additional metadata about each URL (when it was last updated, how often it usually changes, and how important it is, relative to other URLs in the site) so that search engines can more intelligently crawl the site.” Sitemaps.org, 2020
When using the Keyword Explorer, Ahrefs will also produce the "parent topic" of the keyword you looked up, as you can see in the screenshot above, underneath the Keyword Difficulty meter. A keyword's parent topic is a broader keyword with higher search volume than your intended keyword, but likely has the same audience and ranking potential -- giving you more a valuable SEO opportunity when optimizing a particular blog post or webpage.
I think the anchor text links in internal navigation is still valuable – but keep it natural. Google needs links to find and help categorise your pages. Don’t underestimate the value of a clever internal link keyword-rich architecture and be sure to understand for instance how many words Google counts in a link, but don’t overdo it. Too many links on a page could be seen as a poor user experience. Avoid lots of hidden links in your template navigation.
Structured data21 is code that you can add to your sites' pages to describe your content to search engines, so they can better understand what's on your pages. Search engines can use this understanding to display your content in useful (and eye-catching!) ways in search results. That, in turn, can help you attract just the right kind of customers for your business.
Search engines use complex mathematical algorithms to interpret which websites a user seeks. In this diagram, if each bubble represents a website, programs sometimes called spiders examine which sites link to which other sites, with arrows representing these links. Websites getting more inbound links, or stronger links, are presumed to be more important and what the user is searching for. In this example, since website B is the recipient of numerous inbound links, it ranks more highly in a web search. And the links "carry through", such that website C, even though it only has one inbound link, has an inbound link from a highly popular site (B) while site E does not. Note: Percentages are rounded.
QUOTE: “… it also includes things like the comments, includes the things like the unique and original content that you’re putting out on your site that is being added through user-generated content, all of that as well. So while I don’t really know exactly what our algorithms are looking at specifically with regards to your website, it’s something where sometimes you go through the articles and say well there is some useful information in this article that you’re sharing here, but there’s just lots of other stuff happening on the bottom of these blog posts. When our algorithms look at these pages, in an aggregated way across the whole page, then that’s something where they might say well, this is a lot of content that is unique to this page, but it’s not really high quality content that we want to promote in a very visible way. That’s something where I could imagine that maybe there’s something you could do, otherwise it’s really tricky I guess to look at specific changes you can do when it comes to our quality algorithms.” John Mueller, Google 2016
QUOTE: “The average duration metric for the particular group of resources can be a statistical measure computed from a data set of measurements of a length of time that elapses between a time that a given user clicks on a search result included in a search results web page that identifies a resource in the particular group of resources and a time that the given user navigates back to the search results web page. …Thus, the user experience can be improved because search results higher in the presentation order will better match the user’s informational needs.” High Quality Search Results based on Repeat Clicks and Visit Duration
Dig deep into everything you ever needed to know about links from anchor text to redirection. Read this series of pages to understand how and when to use nofollow and whether guest blogging is actually dead. If you're more into the link building side of things (working to improve the rankings on your site by earning links), go straight to the Beginner's Guide to Link Building.