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Google's Webmaster Guidelines: Quality Guidelines – Basic Principles

Google has valuable resources available for webmasters and SEOs alike. Knowing and following these guidelines when building and marketing your web site ensures that you will keep your site out of any potential danger of being banned by the search engines. For many, these guidelines are obvious, but I’m always amazed at the number of questions posted on forums and message boards asking about the validity of optimization strategies that violate these simple guidelines.

Guidelines as posted on Google are in bold with my comments below each.

Make pages for users, not for search engines. Don’t deceive your users, or present different content to search engines than you display to users.

Search engines have been telling this to us for years, yet I’m still asked almost weekly from a potential client if we can “hide” their optimized content. The answer to that is “no”. Under no circumstances do search engines want you to provide different content to them than what you are presenting to the visitor. Hiding text, links, or anything else does just that.

The goal here is to treat a search engine as you treat your visitors. No matter what you know you can’t please all users so don’t worry so much about trying to make something work for search engines here and users there, simply try to create a workable site that gives users and search engines the valuable content that they both want.

Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings. A good rule of thumb is whether you’d feel comfortable explaining what you’ve done to a website that competes with you. Another useful test is to ask, “Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?”

The keyword here is “tricks”. Questions about this trick or that trick are often asked in forums, and each time I cringe. I understand that the questioner is usually just seeking good SEO knowledge, but the word trick implies something deceptive. Search engines hate deception.

Good optimization does not use any “tricks” but is a combination of knowledge, skill and common sense. Those with the most knowledge and skill can implement common sense solutions that ultimately will work to improve your rankings.

I’m not so sure about Google’s “comfortable” question as a guideline, as many people can be comfortable with just about anything that produces results without getting their site banned. But the next question about benefiting users is crucial. Any SEO technique made to improve rankings should almost always logically help the visitor as well.

As for the last question, well, Google should know better. Many sites are designed strictly for the user but have to be adapted to accommodate the search engines as well. To NOT do something on the basis that you wouldn’t if SEs didn’t exist is to ignore good marketing practices. Its like asking, “would you write a press release if no news organizations existed?” Of course not, but press releases are a good form of marketing, as is building a search engine friendly site.

Simply put, you need to make sure your site accommodates all users, including the search engines.

Don’t participate in link schemes designed to increase your site’s ranking or PageRank. In particular, avoid links to web spammers or “bad neighborhoods” on the web as your own ranking may be affected adversely by those links.

The line between legitimate link building and “link schemes” is often blurred. Many good and well intended people unfairly lump quality link building practices into the “link scheme” category. When building links, first consider your ultimate goal, is it to get visitors or to improve one particular search engine metric? Still not sure? Let’s put it this way; would you be happier with lots of sales and no PageRank, or high PageRank and no sales?

Linking can improve PageRank but that in itself won’t necessarily translate into top rankings or improved traffic. Don’t get me wrong, links are important, but as with most things, quality trumps quality. Link to benefit the users and the search engines will reward you accordingly, the same can’t be said in reverse.

Don’t use unauthorized computer programs to submit pages, check rankings, etc. Such programs consume computing resources and violate our terms of service. Google does not recommend the use of products such as WebPosition Gold™ that send automatic or programmatic queries to Google.

Well, here WebPosition Gold earns the distinction of being the only software specifically mentioned by Google in a negative way. It is not, however, the only program used to automatically check rankings, just the most popular.

Google’s insistence of not using these programs is due solely for the reason of conserving their resources. Again, following the guidelines is always a good idea, however it is virtually impossible for Google to punish a web site because the site owner uses automatic rank checking software. Google simple cannot know which web site owner is running the automated searches, therefore would not know which site to punish. The exception to this is if the same IP address you use to access the internet is also the IP address used to host your web site.

Worst case scenario, Google bans your IP address from performing searches on Google at all. I’ve seen this happen to some who have a dedicated IP address, however such banning is rare. I recommend that you do your best be be nice and not use up Google’s computing recourses for a bunch of useless automated searches that can just as easily be trimmed down and performed by hand.

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