Google may be blind, but it is not stupid
For as long as Google has existed there have been articles about how to manipulate Google for better rankings. But is it possible to create a visually well design page and have it rank effectively?
What Google wants for Christmas?
Before you can code an html page to work well with Google, it’s important to understand how Google ranks pages and the general factors that are important.
The first point to remember is no matter how technically correct our page is, Google weights in-bound links. Although at first glance this would not seem to be useful, in fact the reverse is true. In other words we can have any design of page or site and know that by building a decent inbound link portfolio we can compensate and still dominate the SERP’s.
The second is that Google is now partially sighted. A few years ago Google was blind and could only rely on the text it could see in the source code. This is now changing, with Google’s AI now able to start understanding images on a page. Although currently not a massive factor, as part of an overall strategy it can make the difference between two competing sites. So although it might be tempting to alt text SEO phrases, unless the images are a good match its time to drop these bad habits.
How does Google decide if you have been naughty or nice?
With on page, Google trusts the most what it can see, and this breaks down to elements like title tags, H tags and body copy. Google does look at over two hundred different ranking factors but a page with these optimised will do well.
But simply having SEO key phrases in the source code is not enough. Google give more weight to content closer to the beginning of the source. in other words if your H1 appears straight after your body tag, Google will consider this as more important than a H2 tag just before the closing body tag.
Up until recently Google only looked at the source code so people wanting an advantage could use CSS to bend the order of the page. Google recently started rendering output and this is no longer completely the truth.
If you want your source code to rank the best it can now, your rendered content order needs to match the output. If you think about it, all Google is doing is making an educated guess on whether you are being honest or not…
Since Google started rendering webpages, it’s also looked at which content is above the fold on given platforms. In other words, for you to rank effectively it wants to see your search phrases above the fold and near the top of the rendered content.
This can impact on design drastically. No longer can you stuff your keywords in a box at the end of the page.
But it does not stop there either, Google now understand variations, no longer do we need exact matches for our target key phrases. They can be important, but only in the sense that if you have two competing pages both coded and linked to the same standard, Google may see an exact match for a search phrase as the deal maker.
Web design resolutions
For the designer who wants to rank well on Google, forget the tips of the past, from 2017 the rules are changing. You need to firstly decide if SEO or visual design is your primary goal.
You can rank well for a visual design lead site, but you do this in the knowledge that off page factors become more important.
For any designer wanting to rank well on Google, it’s time to be honest with your coding. Forget CSS tricks and simply code with the most important elements of the design being at the top or your source code and rendered view.
If you don’t like the results, then it’s time to give hard SEO the push.