A Guide to Google Search Essentials: The Replacement for Google Webmaster Guidelines

Google is rebranding its Webmaster Guidelines as Search Essentials — and it’s a welcomed move! Whenever a company rebrands a service or product, they look at more than its name. They review how the product/service has changed, how it is being used, and more.

The term Google Webmaster has been around since 2002. The word “webmaster”, however, however, comes from the early 90s. It’s not a term one uses to describe their job role or job duties, and in its original context, it didn’t cover other web creators (content writers, developers, site owners, etc.).

The much-too-narrow term needed a refresh — a rebranding. With this rebranding, Google aims to focus on the fundamentals of search engine optimization for all web creators. 

Although many former guidelines remain relevant, Google Search Essentials comes with new and updated policies that are equally important. Google has also updated the format, moving many former Google Webmaster Guidelines to specific sections. 

The new format will have three categories/sections:  

  • Technical Requirements.
  • Key Best Practices.
  • Spam Policies.

Considering a broader target audience, Google has also added clear terms and examples. It should make Google Search Essentials easy to understand for all web creators. 

Here’s everything you need to know about the new Google Search Essentials.

Technical Requirements of Google Search Essentials

According to Google, most web pages are eligible to be indexed by the search engine. So it’s relatively easy to get your website/webpage in search results. But there are a few technical requirements your website needs to follow:

Not Blocking the Googlebot 

Google will only index the pages accessible to the public and its Googlebot. Googlebot should be able to crawl your website/web pages. In other words, Google will not review and index private pages which require a login. 

Here’s what you should do. 

  • Publish content only in an indexable format.
  • Ensure the pages are accessible to Googlebot (not blocked by Robot.txt).

Ayokay Tip: Not using Google Search Console? Now’s the chance to start! GSC’s Index Coverage report and Crawl Stats report will help you determine which pages Google can’t access.

Pencil erasing the word "error" from parchment.

Ensuring The Page Is Functional (Error-Free)

Moreover, your webpage needs to be functional (or error-free) to get indexed by Google. In short, Google will not show pages with client-side or server-side errors. Think of HTTP errors like 500 (Internal Server Error), 403 (Forbidden), 404 (Not Found), and 400 (Bad Request), among others. 

So, make sure your webpage is functional. You can use the URL Inspection tool to check your web pages. 

Adding Only Indexable Content to the Page

As mentioned earlier, your webpage needs to have indexable content. In this regard, the two critical factors you must remember are: 

  • Add the text content in a file format supported by Google.
  • Make sure the content doesn’t violate Google’s Spam Policies. 

It’s important to note that adhering to these three technical requirements means your webpage can be indexed, but there’s no guarantee that it will. Moreover, getting your webpage to rank higher in search results takes a lot more work. To rank higher, you’ll need to invest in well-planned search engine optimization, social media, content marketing, link building, and a healthy dose of patience. Google Search Essentials does give us some tips for this though.

Here’s what Google recommends:

Best Practices for Higher Rankings

  • First and foremost, create informative, actionable, and relevant content focused on your target audience. The best way to improve search engine ranking is with content that focuses on quality over quantity. Make original content as much as possible — content that showcases your authority and proves your expertise in the subject matter.
  • Utilize the most relevant keywords that people use to search for your product/services. Place them in prominent areas, such as titles, headings, meta descriptions, and alt text*.
  • Make your links crawlable. This will make it easy for the Googlebot to find other pages on your site. 
  • Promote your website. Actively talk to people about your website, services, and products in online communities and on social media.
  • Always follow specific best practices for images, video, structured data, and JavaScript. This will help Googlebot to understand and index your content easily. 
  • Enable appropriate features to enhance the appearance of your website in the search results. Google recommends using structured data to improve search results and increase your chances of being featured in rich snippets.  
  • Use a suitable method to decide how your content appears in search results. For example, you can block the content from Google’s crawlers that you don’t want to end up in search results.

* Reminder: Alt-tags serve an actual purpose beyond optimizing a page for keywords. It’s an accessibility tool first and foremost, and it needs to describe an image to those who can’t see them, who might be using a screen reader.

Young girl giving the thumbs to SPAM

Spam Policies of Google Search Essentials

This section covers Spam Policies which define factors that can lead to your page getting ranked lower or deindexed from Google search results. These policies help Google prevent low-quality content from getting higher search rankings.

Here are Google’s Spam Policies. 

  1. Cloaking: Cloaking is the practice of showing content or information to users that is different from the one presented to crawlers. For example, the website presents itself as a travel blog to crawlers but offers online gambling to human users.
  2. Doorways: Creating Doorway pages is one of the oldest black hat SEO tactics. A doorway page is a page on your website created to rank for specific search queries. The most common example is creating multiple domain names, subdomains, subfolders, or URLs with slight variations to boost the search rankings. 
  3. Keyword Stuffing: This involves filling a webpage with too many keywords to manipulate the search results. In most cases, site owners repeat the keywords or phrases so much that it sounds unnatural. 
  4. Buying/Selling Links: Link building is critical for improving your search rankings. However, buying or selling links for ranking purposes can attract penalties from Google. You shouldn’t engage in excessive link exchanges or exchange money for links. 
  5. Hidden Text and Links: This is the practice of placing content on a webpage to manipulate search rankings, such as hiding text behind images or using white text on a white background. Google won’t take kindly to such tactics. 
  6. Machine Generated Traffic: This involves sneaky SEO practices like sending automated queries to Google. Website owners often use this tactic to boost search rankings. However, you should always use original, relevant, and sufficiently keyword-optimized content on your site. 
  7. Malicious Behavior: Google will also check your website to see if it hosts malware or unwarranted software. Every feature on your website, including applications and software, should improve user experience. As a result, any malicious behavior can lead to deindexing your website. 
  8. Scrapped Content: Scrapping content is copying legitimate content from a website and posting it on yours (or another site) – without the knowledge or permission of its owner. 
  9. Misleading Functionality: Misleading functionality includes tricking users into thinking they would enjoy better content or functionality. But in reality, they don’t. Google highly discourages such behavior as it leads to poor user experience. 
  10. Sneaky Redirects: This is the practice of sending users to a different URL than they initially requested. Although the purpose of sneaky redirects is to manipulate search result rankings, they are also used to trick users into clicking spam ads or installing cookies. 
  11. Auto-Generated Content: As the name suggests, this content gets created programmatically. So, it often lacks originality and value. The sole purpose of this content is to dupe search engines and users. The most common examples include text that makes no sense or content translated by automated tools without human editing. 
  12. Thin Affiliate Pages: Thin affiliate pages often leave users hungry for more. These are the pages with product descriptions and reviews directly from the original merchant. They lack additional value, making them useless to the readers.  
  13. User-Generated Spam: This includes content like spammy comments on blogs, manufactured product/service reviews, and fake customer testimonials.
  14. Other Spam Policies: Google also lists a few other spam policies. They include:
    – Copyright removal requests
    – Online harassment requests
    – Scam and fraud.

Following these policies is necessary to boost your search rankings. Not to mention, keep your website from getting penalized or even removed from search results entirely. In short, never indulge in SEO practices that may violate Google’s Spam Policies.

Need Help Achieving Higher Search Rankings?

As you can see, rebranding Webmaster Guidelines as Google Search Essentials comes with a few unique updates. These can help you get your web pages indexed by Google. You can even improve your search rankings considerably. Try to understand and implement these guidelines as soon as possible. Hopefully, this short post will help you take the first step.

Do you need help improving your search rankings? Our SEO experts can help you stay ahead of the curve. Give us a call to see how we can help.

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