Search Engine Optimisation and the workings of Google are one of the great mysteries of our time. Here at the SitePoint forums we get thousands of questions every year on some aspect of the subject. Frustratingly, most of those questions have already been asked and answered.
Please take the time to read this thread carefully. If it doesn't answer your question, search the SEO tag and the Marketing forum. If you're still stuck, feel free to create a new topic.
First up, here is a great infographic explaining the search process from start to finish.
And now, for the rest of the answers to the meaning of life.
Everything you think you need to know about PageRank (PR)
For years now, PageRank has been touted as the be all and end all of SEO. It is important to note that PageRank is just one of approximately 200 metrics that Google uses in it's algorithmic formula. It is no longer as important as you may think, and you'd be better off focusing your efforts into a more holistic strategy.
But just so you understand the basics:
PR stands for PageRank.
As explained by Wikipedia:
Summary: PageRank is your page's (NOT website's) popularity on the Web.
PageRank != Page's Rank. They are two very different things.
How do I find out what my PR is?
There are many free tools out there that will do this. What's My PR? is a good one.
Don't forget that every page on your site may have a different score. Don't just test your homepage.
How often does Google update their PR?
In short, no one really knows. Matt Cutts has publicly indicated that the Toolbar PageRank will be updated 'every few months' with a view to it disappearing altogether.
However, PR is updated at Google daily (or close to daily). New links are factored into the equation and they are applied to a page's PR. You just cannot see this this PR until Google does its next public PR update.
How do I increase my PR?
Since PageRank is an indicator of a page's link popularity, the key is to get more good quality incoming links.
If PR isn't everything, what else should I focus on?
Some of the most important metrics for good search result positioning besides PageRank are:
- Facebook shares and likes
- Twitter retweets
- Google+ shares and likes
- Domain authority
- The amount of content on the page
- Traffic of the website
- Page load speed
- Bounce rate
A good content strategy paired with a strong social strategy are key indicators that you have the kind of site that Google wants to support. This article explains more about how to leverage those strategies.
How do I position well in Google search results?
There are over 200 factors to take into account. Some are proven, some are controversial. Listed below are just a few of those factors. For a full explanation of them and the exhaustive list, read this post.
- Avoid duplicate content
- Optimise your images
- Keep your content up to date and fresh
- The number and quality of internal links pointing to a page
- Limit out bound links
- Have a good Contact Us page (matching your WhoIs data)
- Have a well thought out site architecture
- Include a sitemap
- Have an SSL certificate
- User alt tags for images
- Links from competitors are valuable
- User contextual links
- Domain age (the older the better)
- Include your primary keyword in your domain name (not as important as it used to be, but still a factor)
- Domain history (the more changes, the less strong the domain is likely to be)
- Exact Match Domains (ie keyword only domain names) may give you a slight edge
- Make sure your Whois is public
- Having a country TLD extension will help you position better in that country
- Use keywords in your title tag, as close to the start as possible
- User keywords in your description and H1 tags
- Using keywords more frequently than other words in your content acts as a relevancy signal
- Have plenty of keyword rich content
What is the Google Panda Update?
Introduced in 2011, Google’s Panda Update is a filter meant to stop sites with poor quality content from working their way into Google’s top search results. It is updated from time to time and when this happens, sites previously hit may escape, if they’ve made the right changes. Panda may also catch sites that escaped before. A refresh also means “false positives” might get released.
What is the Google Penguin Update?
Released in April 2012, Penguin 1.0 targeted sites that featured questionable link profiles, low quality backlinks, and anchor text that was too keyword rich or overly optimized for a single term. In other words, sites that tried too hard. This article explains the update (and how to escape a Penguin penalty) in more detail.
Google Search Shortcuts
site:www.example.com/ - Indexed pages in your site
allinurl:www.example.com/ - Pages that refer to your site's URL
link:www.example.com/ - Pages that link to your site
cache:www.example.com/ - The current cache of your site
info:www.example.com/ - Information Google has about your site
related:www.example.com/ - Pages that are similar to your site
Here is a great cheat sheet with lots of other tips and tricks for searching with Google.
Google Sitemaps is an easy way for you to submit all your URLs to the Google index and get detailed reports about the visibility of your pages on Google. With Google Sitemaps you can automatically keep them informed of all your web pages, and when you make changes to these pages to help improve your coverage in the Google crawl.
The Google Sitemap is an XML file in a specific format that tells Google the information it needs to find the pages of your website. Find more information on how to create a Google Sitemap here.
What is Googlebombing?
Googlebombing (or Google Washing) is the practice of using off topic or unrelated links to cause a web page to rank highly in search engines. It is generally used for either business or humorous reasons. Google's algorithm will rank a page higher for a particular search term if enough other pages linked to it use similar anchor text. A famous example of googlebombing caused a search for the term "miserable failure" to return George Bush's page first. That has since been foiled by Google and now lists pages referring to the Google bomb itself.
How do I stop search engines from indexing some of pages?
You can use a robots.txt file to tell search engines (and other bots, too) where they can and cannot go. An excellent tutorial can be found at http://www.robotstxt.org/wc/robots.html.
Buying or Selling Links
Don't do it. It's not ok. If you want to know why, read this.
What is "rel=nofollow"?
In early 2005, Google implemented a new attribute, rel="nofollow", for the HTML link element, so that website builders and bloggers can make links that Google will not follow for the purposes of PageRank— they are links that no longer constitute a "vote" in the PageRank system. The nofollow attribute was added in an attempt to help combat comment spam.
Why doesn't Google index all of my site's pages?
1) Your site is new. Be patient, the internet is big and it takes a while.
2) Your site has low PR. Consensus indicates that Google will crawl sites that have higher PR deeper then sites with low PR. They figure the more popular your site is (PR is a popularity contest, remember?) the better a resource it must be.
If a site has high PR and updates its content frequently, Google will index its pages more frequently (usually every few days or even sooner) then low PR sites that do not update frequently.
How do I get listed in Google?
For a more detailed explanation, read this article.
How do I check to see if I am banned from Google?
Type the following into Google search bar:
site:yourdomain.com (Use your real domain)
If your site is over six months old and nothing appears you may be banned.
If your site is less then six months old and nothing appears then you may be banned or Google may not be aware of you yet. If you haven't submitted your site you should do so right away (see How do I get listed in Google?). Also get some incoming links to point to your website.
If your site does come up, even if it is only one page, then you are not banned.
How do I optimize an image for Google image search?
1) Use the keyword in the ALT attribute
2) Name the image with the keyword
3) Put the image in a directory containing the keyword
4) Put the image on a page about the keyword
5) Link to a page using that image with the keyword in the URL
Does using a Google Sitemap help me in the SERPs?
No. Google Sitemaps are just there to assist Google in discovering your pages. It does not help you improve your position in Google's SERPs.
What weight does the age of a site and the amount of time a domain is registered for have on it's search placement?
In the majority of cases, it actually doesn't matter--we want to return the best information, not just the oldest information. Especially if you're a mom/pop site, we try to find ways to rank your site even if your site is newer or doesn't have many links. I think it is fair for Google to use that as a signal in some circumstances, and I try never to rule a signal out completely, but I wouldn't obsess about it.
Do inbound links from other sites owned by the same company help or hurt rank?
I find that inbound links from the same company tend to break down into two camps. You'll find mom/pops that have a very few sites in one camp, and that can make sense if those sites are linked; in the other camp, I've see SEOs have 1000 or 2000 different domains and cross-link them. I definitely would not recommend that.
I think a lot of the litmus test in my mind is whether it makes sense to a regular person for those domains to be interlinked. If you look at a product like Coke, people aren't surprised to see that they have coca-cola.co.nz and several other domains. If you go to coke.com, it's perfectly reasonable to ask users which country they're coming from, and then send them to one of a bunch of domains. But if a regular user lands on example.com and finds 20 or 30 cross-links at the bottom of the page and they look like off-topic or cookie-cutter or spammy domains, that's going to look bad to almost anyone.
Are .gov and .edu back links still considered more "link juice" than the common back link?
This is a common misconception--you don't get any PageRank boost from having an .edu link or .gov link automatically. Hah John, I beat you to it! If you get an .edu link and no one is linking to that .edu page, you're not going to get any PageRank at all because that .edu page doesn't have any PageRank.