As technology changes and the behaviour of web users changes with it, Google is constantly refining and adapting how it understands, interprets and ranks content to provide the best possible user experience. In order to give marketers, SEO specialists and people who produce web content a bit of a helping hand, they continue to release documentation which points to their latest best practice guidelines and hint at how they go about ranking sites.
The most recent update to this has been Search Essentials. Let’s dig into those.
What is Google Search Essentials?
Google’s new Search Essentials guidelines replaced their Webmaster Guidelines in October 2022. The Webmaster Guidelines were first published in 2002, and while they had been updated, added to and revised over the years to reflect the changing web environment and Google’s approach to search, the core concept was in need of refresh. For starters, no one’s using the term “webmaster” any more.
The new Search Essentials simplify what was in the Webmaster Guidelines and explore three key themes:
- Technical requirements – the basic things you need to get right from a technical perspective in order to get your website to appear in Google Search
- Spam policies – the behaviours and tactics Google considers “spammy” – engagement with which will most likely lead to lower rankings or in worst cases, omission from the search results
- Key best practices – just some of the many things you can do from a content, technical and marketing perspective to improve your performance in Google’s search results
You can read the Search Essentials documentation in full here (if you’re into that sort of thing).
How Google’s standards impact your web content
Google is the world’s most popular search engine. As of October 2022, Google had 92.4% of the global search engine market share for the previous year. Performing well on Google means that more potential customers will find your content using search terms relevant to your services. So how do their various standards and quality frameworks impact this?
As we’ve already briefly covered in the previous section, Google’s various standards can directly impact how you perform on their search engine. This is because Google frequently update their algorithm (the method they use to decide how to rank content) to reflect their vision of creating an experience for users that provides them with useful, reliable and quality content. Every time a user inputs a search term, Google uses approximately 200 ranking “factors” or signals to determine the reliability of your website, the quality of experience and the relevance of the query to your content.
How to use Google Search Essentials
Documentation like Search Essentials is an opportunity to take a brief peek behind the curtain and consider your website from Google’s perspective. The SEO industry as a whole will use Google’s documentation updates to try and unpick how their algorithm works and shape the latest strategies, techniques and guidance on how to perform well.
Obviously, search engine optimisation (SEO) covers everything from content creation to backlinks, but we’re going to quickly explore how it relates to web development, and how you can set up your website for success on Google from the very beginning.
Google Search Essentials from a web development perspective
As of July 2019, Google predominantly uses the mobile version of a site’s content to determine indexing and ranking. Their stance is backed up by the behaviour of the market – 50.48% of web traffic comes from mobile devices. This means that the mobile browsing experience needs to be prioritised in order to ensure good search engine performance. And this in turn means that any new web projects should be built mobile-first.
Performance and speed
A slow loading website is frustrating – and a 2 second delay in load time can increase bounce rates by 103%. Google’s Core Web Vitals are a subset of their quality and ranking signals – focusing on how a website loads, and how this impacts experience, interaction and accessibility. How quickly your page loads content, and how it does this (where it calls resources from, how it renders text, how the code is structured) has a direct impact on your search performance.
To get a bit more specific, Google’s Core Web Vitals measure three things:
- Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) – how quickly your website loads content. More specifically, the metric looks at the render time of the largest image or text block visible within the viewport (the top of the browsing window). Their guidelines say this should occur within 2.5 seconds
- First Input Delay (FID) – how quickly your page responds to an interaction – i.e. clicking a link, tapping a button. This doesn’t mean how long it takes to load the new page or content, but how quickly the browser can begin to process that interaction. Google say this should be 100 milliseconds or less.
- Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) – measuring any unexpected shifts in the layout or position on the page during loading. You know when you load up an article and it all of a sudden shifts halfway down the page? That’s CLS. How Google measure it is a bit more complicated to go into here, but you should have a score of 0.1 or less for a “good” performance against this metric.
Every time it crawls your site, Google tries to understand the content of your page and the context of each bit of data in order to provide a result to show the user. Structured data allows you to give them some explicit clues by pointing at certain content and its context. For example, if you host events – you can use structured data on your event listing page templates to explicitly tell Google which content is the name of the event, the date and time and the location. This improves both the performance and visibility of your event on the Google SERP (search engine results page) when someone searches for a related keyword. It works for loads of other types of content too, including recipes, articles, FAQs, reviews, price comparisons… we could go on!
Site relaunches – redirects
If you’re launching a new website and URL structures are going to be changed, new pages introduced and old pages removed, in order to protect existing Google rankings you need to ensure these existing pages are mapped to new ones and proper redirects put in place. Error pages (e.g. 404s) are not indexed by Google, and therefore an abundance of them will cause you issues in the SERPs.
We’ve only just scratched the surface in this post around how the technical setup of your website can impact your search engine performance. Optimising your website from a technical perspective for SEO is an ongoing process that requires careful monitoring and ongoing refinement.
Want to understand more about developing and maintaining digital products for good search engine performance? Get in touch for a chat about your next project.