Wouldn’t it be great if Google would tell you which changes will help with search results? Don’t you wish your site ranked better in the organic search engine results pages (SERPs)? Wouldn’t it be great if you could find out from Google (well, let’s not forget Bing, Yahoo! and the others, but after all, their share of the market is tiny compared to GOOG) whether or not certain changes will really make any difference?
You’re not alone! Most of us would like to know if some change, or some technique that we’ve heard about will actually make any difference. Recently five Google experts answered questions on the Digital Inspiration blog, covering such topics as page loading speed, duplicate content, sitemaps, and more. John Mueller (Webmaster Trends Analyst, Google Zurich), Matt Cutts (Webspam Engineer, Google California), Zareen Kazim (Strategist, Google India), Koteswara Ivaturi (Project Manager, Google Hyderabad) and Kaspar Szymanski (Strategist, Google Dublin) provided answers to questions common to most website owners.
If you manage your own web site, or just want to know the details, the 25-question interview is available at the link above, as well as a pdf file of the entire interview. We’ll summarize some of the interesting answers here (think of it as a short version, or executive summary).
Duplicate Content: Duplicate content on your site is generally not a problem. You should consolidate, where possible, to help the search engine (and users) know what is your preferred content. Google discusses different ways to handle duplicate content within a site and across domains. You do not need to worry about sites which scrape your info and republish it as being duplicate content. Google can tell which is the original source and takes care of potential negative effects caused by the scraping site.
Media-rich sites: In addition to using alt tags for images or media, and descriptive file names (these are a must to get a media-rich site indexed), providing textual context for the media can help Google understand the image and its relevance. Google now allows descriptive terms about images in XML sitemaps.
Sitemaps: HTML sitemaps (a page with links to the major sections of the site) are helpful for humans and also help the search engine to confirm they know about all the important pages. Your XML sitemap should include all the pages you want to have indexed by Google. If you don’t want a page indexed, you should include a “noindex” meta tag on the page.
…length of domain registration is not a ranking factor Domain expiration dates: It is often said that domains that have been purchased for years into the future will improve their ranking, when compared to domains on an annual renewal. This is not true, as domain registration length is not a ranking factor.
Paid links: Google’s policy is that paid links do not pass page rank. Thus “advertorials” – paid editorial advertisements – do not pass page rank. The link buyer doesn’t benefit and the link seller is considered untrusted by Google. Affiliate links (where a link in the text leads to another site where, if a purchase is made, the linking site receives a commission) are not inappropriate if they are relevant to the content of the site. To guard against possible violation of Google’s policies, these should be made “nofollow” links. Similarly, cross-linking two sites (setting both sites up to link to each other) with unrelated content is not seen as a paid link if you own both sites, but may not have value, unless it is something that is useful for the reader. Cross-linking large numbers of sites is not recommended.
Guest blogging, article submission sites: Links back to your site via guest blogging or by submitting articles to articles submission websites do not violate the paid links policy. However, Google is more impressed a site linking to your great content, than by you linking back to your own site from another article. In other words, high-quality content that others link to is more important that you linking to your own site from another article.
Ranking changes/Penalties: Changes in ranking in SERPs does not always mean your site has been penalized as Google is always making changes to its algorithms. Google will use its Webmaster Tools Message Center to communicate important information about the sites you manage.
Google Ads: Ads are entirely separate from “natural” search, so even if an ad is very popular and frequently clicked, it will not affect the natural search results. Ads on a page do not affect that page’s search ranking.
Google sees no major difference between subdomains and directories. Sub-domains vs. directories: Google sees no major difference between subdomains (http://blog.yourdomain.com) and directories (http://www.yourdomain.com/blog), but if you use Webmaster Tools the subdomain must be validated separately from your primary domain (http://www.yourdomain.com).
Publishing frequency: If you publish frequently, and Google updates results quickly, then you take a break, Google may not update your site while you are not publishing, but it will return when your publication frequency resumes.
Keywords on a page: As long as you can do it in a natural way, using different synonyms for important terms is appropriate and will be helpful to both the reader and the search engine. Keyword stuffing should be avoided.
Outbound links: Links out from your site do not directly affect your search rankings. However, linking to quality sites may help in how Google perceives your site.
Recommended reading: Due to the changing nature of the internet, the Google experts did not recommend any particular book on web search and SEO, but suggested their SEO page in the Webmaster Help Center, and the pdf file called the SEO Starter Guide.