For many B2B and B2C businesses, their company’s website is how they are found Online.
As important as a company website can be, it holds almost no benefits if it doesn’t rank in Search Engines. Search engines, and Google primarily, is where consumers are doing their comparison shopping before considering to purchase a product or service. They usually start using generic keywords and as they move further down the purchase funnel they are more likely to use branded keywords in their research.
A company website gives businesses the opportunity to promote their brand to consumers accurately. But to do so effectively, it must be visible and occupy a prominent position by ranking at the top of the first page of a Search Engine Results Page (SERP).
There are specific guidelines to follow that fall under Google’s criteria for a high-ranking site, referred to as Webmaster Guidelines. These guidelines have evolved and grown substantially throughout the past 20 years, with certain ranking factors gaining or losing importance over time.
The latest iteration of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines emphasizes two critical areas of improvement, indicating that the search engine weighs these factors more than ever before. The most recent “major” update stressed the importance of 1) keeping up with the prominence of smartphones and mobile devices in user searching habits and 2) ensuring content meets expectations for expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (E-A-T).
As important as it is to follow Google’s technical website guidelines, effective branding and online reputation can also play a significant role in how a site is represented on search engine ranking pages (SERPs).
Optimizing a company’s website on Google’s SERPs will lead to better brand visibility, enhanced customer experience, and an uptick in sales. With so much at stake, businesses must take their websites seriously and ensure professional guidance is utilized to create and maintain this integral asset to their brand.
What Are Webmaster Guidelines?
Google’s Webmaster Guidelines include a set of general best practices that, when followed, make a site eligible to appear in search results. In addition, a set of quality guidelines outlines what may cause a site to be omitted from Google’s SERPs.
The general guidelines contain a list of technical considerations for making a website Google Search-friendly, such as keeping a simple URL structure and ensuring compatibility with all browsers.
Google’s quality guidelines also list the prohibited techniques that can get a site removed from search results, such as stuffing pages with keywords and paying for links from other sites.
Google created the Webmaster Guidelines to give site owners a level playing field to compete on using “organic” search engine optimization (SEO) techniques. Google gives more ranking authority to sites that don’t attempt to elevate their SERP rankings artificially.
To grasp the difference between organic and artificial SEO tactics, site owners should consider whether they would do something if someone from Google were looking over their shoulder.
It’s important to note that over the years, Google has expanded on its definition of “artificial” SEO, also referred to as “black-hat SEO.”
How Website Guidelines Have Changed Over Time
The early days of search engines (and, in turn, SEO) were like the wild West. Site owners could manipulate their rankings using any number of underhanded tactics. Often, these strategies worked because Google rewarded sites for serving basic ranking signals. Early on, Google had far less consideration for how those signals impacted the user experience compared to today.
At first, Google rewarded sites for publishing content but didn’t consider its quality or if it provided value to visitors. It was common to see the first page of search results littered with keyword-stuffed spam that didn’t satisfy users’ queries.
Also, inbound links from other websites carried a lot of weight with Google’s algorithms. But there was no concern for whether the links were built naturally. The lack of oversight led to companies buying links in bulk to rank ahead of competitors and engaging in link schemes that Google now considers black-hat SEO.
In 2021, Google continues to reward sites that regularly publish content and acquire inbound links. However, the quality of your site content and the authority of the sites that backlink to your pages are also ranking signals. Sites can no longer tick off boxes on an SEO checklist and expect to rank at the top of relevant SERPs. Websites now have to establish E-A-T by offering valuable resources to visitors.
Content plays a significant role in establishing E-A-T. Google sees content publishers as experts when they produce numerous articles around topics relevant to each other. Websites will have great difficulty gaining recognition as an authority on any single subject if they publish wildly different content.
For example, if a business wants to establish E-A-T in the field of personal finance, it shouldn’t publish articles that stray too far off-topic. While covering adjacent topics like the housing market could help them gain authority, going into home lifestyle topics (decor, gardening, etc.) wouldn’t bolster their reputation for financial expertise.
Also, as new technology develops, Google updates the Webmaster Guidelines to improve user experience. The guidelines now include best practices for ranking signals that didn’t exist just 10 years ago.
For example, mobile search volume surpassed desktop search volume back in 2015. In response, Google’s algorithms evolved to rank websites that offer a superior mobile experience.
If a website doesn’t meet Google’s standards for a quality user experience on mobile devices—or can’t compete with the mobile experience offered by competitors—they have little-to-no chance of cracking the top-10 SERP rankings for relevant queries.
Low rankings make it difficult for potential clients or customers to find you in the search results. Moreover, poor user experience (UX) contributes to high bounce rates.
Rapid technological advances have made consumers increasingly impatient, with expectations for an immediately responsive online experience. To align with ever-evolving user preferences, Google plans to roll out a new set of ranking signals.
Originally slated for May 2021, the upcoming Page Experience update will now begin to take effect in mid-June 2021. However, “page experience won’t play its full role as part of those systems until the end of August,” according to Google.
The update will implement ranking factors called the Core Web Vitals. The Core Web Vitals combine signals such as how fast a page loads, how quickly users can interact with a web page, and the degree to which elements shift around on a page while loading.
To avoid a drop in rankings when the update launches, webmasters should proactively improve UX elements on their site. Fortunately, Google provided details on how Core Web Vitals will be assessed.
Other Ranking Factors to Consider
For a company’s website to succeed in Google Search, it needs to follow the Webmaster Guidelines as closely as possible. However, adhering to the guidelines does not guarantee success on its own.
Following Google’s Webmaster Guidelines will get a site indexed in the SERPs, but getting to the top requires optimizing for other essential ranking factors. Even technically robust websites can be outranked by competing sites with more recognizable branding and better user experiences.
Google may even overlook a website’s technical shortcomings if it has generated strong reputation signals online. As described in section 2.6 of the Search Quality Rater Guidelines, Google assesses a company’s reputation by looking at what other people say about it online.
Google looks at customer reviews, forum posts, social media comments and blog posts from other websites to understand a company’s reputation. For a thorough explanation of reputation as a ranking factor, see this article on how a company’s reputation affects SEO.
Having a leading brand and maintaining its reputation online has as much, if not more, potential to improve search rankings as following Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Reputation management companies offer the unique ability to do both, bringing a company’s site up to par with Google’s guidelines while building and maintaining a positive reputation.
Keeping Up with Google Guidelines
Following Google’s Webmaster Guidelines allows companies to rank prominently in Google’s SERPs and maximize user experience for potential clients. Both will have a positive impact on sales.
However, Google doesn’t make it easy to adhere to its guidelines. SEO takes time and expertise. Businesses without experience in SEO or the resources to maintain a competitive website in-house should consider bringing in professionals to diagnose and fix existing issues.
Companies like Guaranteed Removals have professional web developers and SEO experts that can audit a site, identify weaknesses, and execute the necessary changes.
In addition to active SEO, sites have to maintain a positive reputation and online brand narrative—two critical factors for better performance in Google Search. As previously discussed, online reputation plays a critical role in determining SERP rankings.
Reputation management companies help businesses maintain positive brand awareness, detect threats, and take action against negative content designed to harm their reputation.
Furthermore, maintaining a recognizable brand with a positive reputation will do wonders for improving a site’s accessibility to consumers, which, in turn, will drive up sales.
Reputation and website usability may supersede technical SEO factors on their own. Ranking factors—including those that deal with reputation—always change. Site owners need to stay on top of the changes to preserve their position in search results.
Companies that specialize in reputation management offer expertise and guidance to optimize for Google’s ranking factors now and the ability to respond to any changes that may come up in the future.