Google has finally updated their Google Webmaster Guidelines. For a long time now, site owners and people who do SEO have been screaming for more detail about what Google wants from them, and Google listened … well, at least a little.
The new guidelines still leave much to be figured out on your own, but at least they offer a somewhat clearer starting point than we had before. Here are a few things I found interesting.
Blog Reviews — Right and Wrong?
There are thousands of niche blogs that have developed a solid level of authority, thanks to their dependably kickass content and healthy number of faithful subscribers. Nearly all of them enjoy an arrangement with various companies or product owners who give them free sample product so it can be reviewed on the blog. In return, the company usually gets a link from that blog post, which is a great way for it to get in touch with a tightly targeted audience.
For example, a beauty blog with a hefty number of subscribers who visit regularly is offered a new moisturizer from a skin care company in return for coverage in the blog. Seems legit and fair, right? It’s a classic marketing strategy, whether you’re used to the online or offline variety, to get new products and brands in front of your target audience.
But that’s not necessarily kosher, according to Google. The Google Webmaster Guidelines say that if you do this, then a link to the company had better not be included. If it is, you risk a slap on the hand for both your site and the company’s site.
Here’s the exact statement under “Link Schemes” where Google promises penalties:
Buying or selling links that pass PageRank. This includes exchanging money for links, or posts that contain links; exchanging goods or services for links; or sending someone a “free” product in exchange for them writing about it and including a link
Notice two things about this. First, it includes both buying and selling. So both parties are taking a risk here. Second, it’s only for links that can pass Page Rank — in other words, follow links.
Playing Fair with Rich Snippets
Rich Snippets make your listing in the search engine visually more appealing and give users a better idea what they’ll find on your site. If you haven’t dived into Rich Snippets, you should be forewarned that it will probably take some time to master. There are several ways to make your site ready for Rich Snippets, including the use of Microdata, RDFa, and Microformats. They don’t mention it, but Shema.org is a good one, too.
But be sure to do it right. You can test what you’re doing by using the Structured Data Testing Tool. Also, make sure you aren’t misleading the user in any way or otherwise appearing to abuse the Rich Snippet feature. If Google catches you at it, they can manually disable Rich Snippet for your site — and that means you’ve wasted time and money.
If your content is not evergreen then make sure your Rich Snippets display time-relevant information. If not, Google may decide not even to show it to users.
A New Breed of Doorway Pages?
Traditionally, doorway pages were single-page sites that offered little to no value and were designed specifically to direct traffic somewhere else. Webmasters would build these in bulk to drive visitors to their chosen site. Most of the time this was done by affiliate marketers, but hang on … didn’t Google just make a huge change to how a doorway gets labeled?
If you run a small business — let’s say in Cleveland — and you have several domains that target the area and direct users to your main site, you may need to rethink things. Google says this:
Having multiple domain names targeted at specific regions or cities that funnel users to one page
I can hear SEO’ers who focus on small business sites screeching to a halt to figure out what this means.
But wait, there’s more. Let’s say your Cleveland business delivers statewide. You have several pages on your site that target keyword phrases in other regions of Ohio. You too may also need to rethink things. From the horse’s mouth:
Multiple pages on your site with similar content designed to rank for specific queries like city or state names
This poses some potentially devastating effects for small-business sites. The second is more easily dealt with: Just ensure that each page is nothing like the others and offers unique value to visitors, and you should be okay.
Keeping Up with Google Webmaster Changes
A very interesting find is a tool created by Shaun Anderson. You can use this to see when updates have occurred to different sections of Google’s Webmaster Tool. It isn’t going to tell you what the changes are, but it will tell you which sections have been updated so you can go see what’s happening. You can find it here.
The rest appear to be things good SEO’ers have been saying for a while: Focus on the user. Create your site and each page with the user in mind, employing these on-site SEO tips, and don’t participate in link building that isn’t natural.
As Google says, if you would feel uneasy explaining your link building to them or to a competitor, then it’s probably not something you should be doing. Just a few of the things that (ironically) are stated by thousands of SEO’ers out there, which you should avoid:
If you’re at a loss about what to do, we can help! Studying SEO and following Google’s endless stream of updates is our livelihood and what we do every day. Simply contact us and we’ll get you headed in the right direction.