Google Guidelines (2015) for SEO – 11 Things You Need To Know As A Small Biz Owner

If you’re using content to build your relationship with your customers as well as drive new traffic to your site, then you need to make sure you’re using the most up-to-date SEO tactics to get noticed by Google and other search engines. (I am taking for granted that you already know that you need to write quality content for your site visitors.) Since the world holds its breath every time Google changes its algorithm you may have noticed that they recently released new guidelines (November 2015).

Before you go ahead and read this lengthy assessment – here is the good news. If you are following the core principles of inbound marketing then you’re already laser-focused on creating content that will educate, convert and delight your customers. THAT is exactly what Google is ultimately looking for. Although you’re not completely out of the woods, so it’s helpful to read their Guidelines (especially since it’s rare to have such a look under the hood).

Here are the key take-aways from the 160-page Google Search Quality Rater’s Guidelines in easily digestible chunks.

1) Serious Business? Serious Expectations (AKA YMYL pages – Your Money or Your Life) – If you’re in the business of providing products related to health or wealth (think insurance, investment advice, medical conditions, etc) then your site is held to Google’s highest quality standards. If one of the hundreds of “real human” quality raters look at your site and they don’t feel comfortable submitting their personal information, or they don’t feel that you answer their questions, then your pages will not rank well.

Here are the five categories that fall into YMYL:

1) Financial Information / Investment Advice
2) Legal Advice
3) Shopping Sites or pages that include Financial Transactions
4) Medical Information
5) The always helpful “Other” category – again, keeping in mind “health/wealth” this category includes family-related topics such as adoption, child safety, health insurance, car insurance, etc.

2) Page Design – Not only do you need to make sure your website isn’t hurting your business because of poor conversion-focused design, you need to keep in mind that Google is also watching. Again – they have hundreds of real humans looking at your pages, and they can make assessments as to whether your content is “front and center”, if there are too many distracting ads, etc. Make sure your content is “above the fold” (or close to the top of the page since “fold” varies by device). If you have ads on your pages, that’s fine, just make sure content comes first, and you don’t try to disguise your ads since it will hurt your rankings.

3) E-A-T (Expertise / Authoritativeness / Trustworthiness) – Basically – do you know what you’re talking about? Are you – or your contributors – writing good, solid content about topics that you have either the education or experience to talk about? Are you writing content that the Google Raters feel is trustworthy? Again, just like anything developed under the core principles of marketing, meeting the EAT Guidelines should be easy – your working to educate, convert and delight your customers, and writing false, misleading and just plain bad content is not going to help you in the long run anyway.

4) All About You – Make sure your site as an “About” and “Contact” page – especially if you fall in any of the YMYL categories. Again, this is “Best Practices” in general, but it’s also important for your Google rankings.

5) Google You – Beyond your site, what is your online Reputation? Google asks its Raters to “Google You” and see where else you’re writing or developing authority. For example, if you’re providing Financial Advice, make sure you have your bio set up on other industry-related sites that are easy to find. Professional membership sites, LinkedIn, guest blogging – all of these are opportunities for you to not only look good in the eyes of Google, but they’re another great way to establish authority and reputation for yourself – even if Google wasn’t watching.

6) Affiliate with Caution – while there’s nothing wrong with having affiliate links out from your site, make sure you’re not only about redirecting visitors away from your site to your affiliate offers. Also, doorway pages, multiple redirects, etc will also get your page knocked down.

7) Keyword Stuffing – While these has been a no-no (and ineffective) for a while, some sites still use this tactic. If anyone tells you this is the right thing to do… run. Make sure you’re writing your content to be read – don’t “stuff” a keyword in because you want to mention something one more time. Google gets what you’re trying to say – and they’re getting better at it every day.

8) Copied Content – just don’t do it. Google’s Raters are instructed to see if the content adds value, and if you’re just trying to bulk up your site’s content by stealing for someone else, it’s only going to hurt you. Also, if you’re guest blogging, make sure the content you write for other posts are not just duplicates of what you have on your site. Original content is key. The topics can be similar, but take the time to write fresh articles.

Google Snippet Example
9) “Know” and “Simple Know” – Some of this may be getting a bit “into the weeds” if you’re not a SEO expert, but it’s still important to keep it in mind. “Featured Snippets” is a Google feature that attempts to answer questions quickly by showing the answers (rather than just links to a variety of pages that MIGHT have the answer) in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Page).  These are considered a “Simple Know” – questions that can be answered in one sentence (see example). Competition is high for these spots on the SERPs because users don’t need to click through to get their answer, but if you’re providing the answer your site is the featured author. Ranking for the “Know” is a bit more complicated, but it really comes down to answering the searcher’s questions accurately and precisely.

10) Be Mobile – This has been a requirement for some time, but if you’ve been putting off making sure your site is mobile ready, it’s time to bite the bullet and start designing for mobile devices. Not only does it make good sense for your business, Google is going to penalized hard-to-use sites that aren’t mobile friendly. Also, keep in mind, if your site isn’t mobile-friendly, it will immediately fail the next category and get a “Fails to Meet”.

11) Meet the Need – This is a big category, but basically it’s comprised of several sections including:

1) Titles + Keywords need to match the content and you need to fully answer a searcher’s question. Again, quality content will win the day.
2) Clean Up Your Local Techniques (if you need to). If you’ve been using spammy techniques to rank well in Google Local Business, your days are numbered. You need to answer the searcher’s question/query, not just through tricks
3) Keep the content focused – don’t be too broad in your posts, answer the questions, and speak with authority.
4) Product Pages – if you’re selling products, make sure you descriptions are focused and helpful, include reviews if you can, and all of the information needed to make your site visitors feel comfortable handing their credit card over to you.

Overall, if you’ve been on top of your site, creating content that will both inform, convert and delight your customers (and potential customers) you won’t have too much to worry about. But there are likely a few things in the list above that need some work. Now is the time to get your team together, create a plan to address the issues and get started! Nothing in Google’s list is harmful to your ability to help your customers – and it’s great when Google’s goals and YOUR goals are aligned.