Monday, December 28, 2015

Google Webmaster Guidelines Change on January 28, 2016 at 09:58AM

Last week Google made the most significant change to their Guidelines that we’ve seen in several years. SEO’s across the world collectively dropped everything and freaked-out. Here’s what changed.

TL;DR: Google changed guidelines that help them read and evaluate your website, but didn’t change what might get your website into trouble. Websites must be readable by screen readers with important content that’s visible, be mobile friendly and use HTTPS. These are no longer optional if you want to be competitive in the SERPs.

Your Most Important Content Must Be Visible 

“Make your site's important content visible by default. Google is able to crawl HTML content hidden inside navigational elements such as tabs or expanding sections, however we consider this content less accessible to users, and believe that you should make your most important information visible in the default page view.” 
This might not be a new suggestion. You could consider this a combination of the old advice: don’t have too many internal links but structure your website in a hierarchical manner. This is also why Google asks you to allow it access to your scripts. Still, even if you follow these guidelines, you need to make sure your most-important content is front-and-center.

Too many designers approach websites as if they are print ads. They worry about “screen real estate” and being “above the fold” as if the page doesn’t scroll. This leads them to hide content behind tabs or accordion scrolls (yuk!).

Sometimes designers hate words. When their SEO tells them, “We need some words on the page” they melt down because it will “break their beautiful design.” Designers compromise by adding dynamic features to hide their content and keep the “beauty.”

If you really have to use these features, Google asks you not to hide your most important content in them. Also- stop thinking that good design doesn’t have words.

For an example, look at Google’s Guidelines page itself. They put the General Guidelines behind an accordion but the Quality Guidelines always exposed. I guess that means it’s more important for you to read how NOT to manipulate the search engine rankings than how to productively “rank” your site. Very interesting.

Multiple Device Compatibility (Mobile-Friendly) 

“Design your site for all device types and sizes, including desktops, tablets, and smartphones. Use the mobile friendly testing tool to test how well your pages work on mobile devices, and get feedback on what needs to be fixed.” 
Remember Mobilegeddon? Remember what a bust it was? It might not be any longer. Now, having a mobile website is a requirement- explicitly stated by the guidelines. You’ve had almost a year’s warning. What’s your excuse?

Secure Your Site with HTTPS 

“If possible, secure your site's connections with HTTPS. Encrypting interactions between the user and your website is a good practice for communication on the web.” 
There was talk, a while ago, about how everyone should move their site to HTTPS. Lots did it. Most people screwed it up. I did it with my site- and eventually reverted back to HTTP. At the New Year my SEO-senses told me that I should switch back to HTTPS. Good thing I did- now it’s an explicit part of Google’s recommendations. It’s no longer a rumor. Do it!

Readers with Visual Impairments 

“Ensure that your pages are useful for readers with visual impairments, for example, by testing usability with a screen-reader.” 
When trying to explain Googlebot’s ability to crawl and read website content I’ve always put it in terms of screen readers. If a screen reader can read a webpage, Google can too. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Google is explicitly adding this to their guidelines. Many websites are being built with JavaScript (I still don’t understand why). Google is reminding developers to consider the visually impaired. Sure, Google can read more JavaScript than ever before- but just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. If you do, make sure screen readers can read it, too- and you might help the Googlebot out, while you’re at it.

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