Google Search Engine Optimization

My wife recently asked me to tell her everything I knew or think I knew about Google and how to rank better in Google search results. I thought about it for a few seconds and started telling her, but she said “put it in an email!”. I thought, why not put it in a public web page for everyone to (hopefully) benefit from. So here is my brain dump of Google Search Engine Optimization.

There are a number of factors which contribute to websites ranking highly in Google. In my experience I have found several very important factors that have led to getting a website promoted (or penalized) in Google rankings. Here are my Do’s and Don’t of Google:

Page Rank (DO)

Page Rank is a measure of how many high quality and high page rank sites link to you. If you want to read the technical details, read about Page Rank at Wikipedia. Sites that are popular and have lots of links to them (such as Wikipedia) have a high Page Rank. New sites or penalized sites typically have a Page Rank of 0. Google measures Page Rank from 0 to 10. From what I can tell, it is very hard to increase your Page Rank beyond a 3. Each increment after that is likely exponentially more difficult. Think of Page Rank as the ultimate web page ranking pyramid scheme.

Page Rank Pyramid

High Quality Original Content (DO)

The Internet is full of countless websites that simply copy other websites and post the information for their own. When done using proper attribution to the source website and when providing additional value this is great. But many sites just copy other sites completely wholesale without providing any indication that the content is from another site. Google has definitely struggled with weeding out who are the originators and who are the copiers. Back in 2010, a number of websites gained hundreds of thousands of daily visitors in a matter of weeks simply by copying sites such as Wikipedia. Google implemented a change to their ranking to prevent sites from getting big too fast, but this was more of a band-aid approach as Google still consistently has problems where the copying sites rank higher or near the original sites.

The bottom line is, you want your website to contain original content that is highly useful or entertaining to a visitor. Don’t simply copy other people’s websites (unless they allow it AND you provide attribution). Google is constantly making efforts to further weed out copying websites so you will only hurt yourself in the long run.

Your content should be high quality. Don’t hire a bunch of newbies to write about rocket science. You want experts to be writing about the content you care about. If that’s you, great. If not, hire or work with an expert to create your content. This leads me to my next Google point, the Google Bayesian Spam Filter for Websites.

Make Your Site for Humans, Not Search Engines (DO)

Google Mail (aka GMail) uses a technique to filter spam called a Bayesian Spam Filter. What this does is first ask a human “Hey, is this email you just got spam or is it from a real human being that you care about?”. If the user marks it as spam, Google analyzes the contents of the message and runs it through an algorithm and then places it in a spam bucket. If you marked the email as useful, they also run it through an algorithm and then place it in a useful bucket. Nowadays they do a similar process to detect “high priority” messages. As you mark more and more messages as spam, Google can analyze future messages to see if they are similar to the messages you have marked as spam. They can do the same thing and analyze the message and compare it to your useful messages. Between all that, they can with a high degree of certainty flag a message as spam.

Google uses this same process in marking websites as spam. Pages marked as spam are penalized or eliminated from Google rankings. Google hires a bunch of humans to look at thousands and thousands of web pages marking them as “copied”, “spam” or “not useful” or “harmful”. They also mark pages as “original”, “useful”, “trustworthy”, etc. Google applies a similar process as they use with GMail and applies it to all their indexed pages. If you web page is similar to a page marked as spam, that page will get penalized in Google rankings. If your pages are similar to a useful page as determined by a human, you will potentially get a boost to your Google ranking for that page.

The bottom line is, don’t make an ad filled page with gobs of links and popups with a ton of text that is not very useful. Make simple, informative and useful web pages that a human will get benefit from because that’s exactly how Google is analyzing your pages.

Growing Too Fast (DON’T)

Do you remember a few paragraphs back about how I said in 2010 that some websites gained hundreds of thousands of visitors in a matter of weeks? Well Google has put a limit on how fast a website can gain traffic. I know this from personal experience from our YouReview.net traffic. Several times our Google traffic has spiked and doubled and even tripled to over 1,000 visitors a day. Without fail, Google scales the traffic back a few days later and we are back to where we were before the spike. This is almost certainly due to the “safeties” Google has built into their ranking system to prevent sites from skyrocketing their traffic quickly.

Another problem we have had with YouReview is that we uploaded 17 million pages in a matter of days. Google used to not penalize sites for this but in the last few years they seem to have changed their stance on this. We have other sites with only a few thousand pages that are getting much more traffic than YouReview. If you have a lot of content that you have organized, enhanced and augmented, the sensible thing to do is upload it over the course of a few months or even a few years so you don’t get burned by this Google penalty. With YouReview, we should have uploaded maybe 10,000 pages a week or something instead of all at once.

Link Exchanges or Paid Links (Don’t – with one exception)

This is pretty self explanatory. If you exchange links or pay for links to your site and Google finds out, they will penalize your site. The ONLY exception to this rule is if you put a rel=”nofollow” on your tag in your html. So be very careful about this. Read more from Google about paid links.

Use Good HTML markup (DO)

Your HTLM Markup should have the most important content at the top of the page. You should use h1 and h2 HTML tags to denote the titles of your content. If your page starts gaining page rank, you will rank for searches containing keywords in those h1 and h2 tags more than the text in regular paragraphs on your page. You should also make sure your HTML is well formed, that way the Google HTML crawler does not get confused. You can validate your HTML with the W3C HTML Validator.

User Contributed Content – (DO)

If you can grow a community of users who regularly contribute content, you will almost certainly rank high in Google. Example sites are Wikipedia, Stackoverflow, Yelp, eBay, Facebook. This is easier said than done, but the bottom line is make your site engaging and user friendly and give users a reason to come back over and over again.

Make Your Website Load Fast – (DO)

Google gives some ranking boost to sites that load fast and don’t go down very often. Regardless of whether you want to rank high in Google, this is a good practice.

There are many resources that can be found with a Google search to learn more, I am by no means an all knowing resource for all things Google, these are just things from my experience. Also be sure to read Google’s own explanation about ranking in their search engine.

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