If you currently underestimate the value and importance of SEO compliance, now is your time to think it over again. With its two most recent algorithm updates, Google – the world’s search engine giant – has put the focus on compliance. It has started to crack down on violations and wants everyone to know it takes its rules and regulations quite seriously. For those white hat SEOs following the rules, this comes as good news. It means the fugitives are being searched for, and the good guys will rise to the top. For black hat violators, this is a serious wake-up call to clean up or get out.
What is SEO Compliance?
Essentially, SEO compliance is every bit of what it sounds like. Google requires websites to follow certain standards regarding content, links, accessibility, relevance, visibility, and design. Follow the rules and you end up in the good graces of the almighty Google; break their rules and beg for mercy. While that makes light of the situation a bit, it really is important. Because Google can control which results they show and which they don’t, violators risk losing online visibility if they don’t respect the rules.
How to Become SEO Compliant
Staying SEO compliant requires knowledge of what Google deems permissible and what is against their guidelines. Here is a quick guide to becoming (more or less) SEO compliant in a matter of minutes.
- Content. It’s a good idea to occasionally perform a quick read-through of your site’s content to make sure it matches up with keywords and links. The search engines don’t look fondly on pages in which the content does not sync with the links pointing to it. One of Google’s newest algorithm updates, Hummingbird, has placed a focus on long, quality content over short, keyword-heavy content. Ensure that blog posts contain 500+ words, semantically pleasing content, original and valuable information.
- Check URLs. One of the simplest things you can do is analyze and review your site’s URLs. Using your site’s navigation, check the URL of each page. You are looking for a couple of things in particular: (1) How many forward slashes (/) do you have per URL? It’s best if you have no more than two, and it is preferable to have only one. (2) Look for bad URLs that don’t contain relevant keywords or content revolving around the main theme of the page. Additionally, there should be less than five words appearing after the forward slash.
- Meta Description. While your meta description may not directly affect your site’s SEO, it does have an indirect effect on click through rate. You can find your meta description by reviewing each page’s source code. It will start with the following code: <meta name=“description”. Check to see if the meta description is under 150-160 characters and does not contain duplicative content. If you do not provide any content, Google will scan and select a meta description of its own.
- Heading Tags. While the meta description is only mildly important, the heading tag is crucial. These are what the search engines use to identify the theme or subject of a page. Sized and coded as H1-H6 (with H1 being the most important), heading tags should be relevant and useful. Search engines can actually penalize a page for having misleading heading tags. You should also double check to make sure your page has only one H1 tag.
- Text. While it doesn’t appear to be a crucial factor, many people believe the excessive use of bold, italics, and underlined words are a small part of negative ranking factors. If you want to be extra careful, keep this in mind.
- Title Tag. While visitors usually don’t view the page title tag, search engines definitely do. They use it as a factor in their algorithm ranking and reference it when populating the title of an organic listing. When checking your SEO compliance, spend some time with your title tags by viewing each page’s source code. The title tag should be at or near the top of the page and not exceed 50-60 characters in length or 512-pixels. Keywords should be towards the front of the title, while company name should come at the end. When working with title tags, brevity is appreciated. Search engines are frustrated by long title tags and will dilute the importance of keywords as a result. By all means, avoid duplicate title tags.
- Credible Links. While each of Google’s new algorithm updates tries to discount the value of backlinks, the truth is they still matter. Just be careful how you acquire them and make sure they are natural and valuable. The key here is to go for credible links and to avoid obvious malpractice. This means no link spamming, link farming, paid links, link schemes, link exchanging, etc.
The Advantages of Being SEO Compliant
In addition to having the peace of mind that you follow the rules, being SEO compliant allows you to enjoy some significant benefits. Among these are increased accessibility, better relevance, and more visibility.
From an accessibility point of view, compliance makes sure the search engines can identify which special parameters to apply to your site. For example, some searchers are looking for video results, while others want long-form content. Being SEO compliant allows your pages to be indexed more accurately, resulting in better ease of use.
One of the main goals of Google and other search engines is to find, retrieve, and display relevant content. The more accurate your SEO is, the more likely it is the search engines will be able to display relevant content to viewers.
Visibility is a no brainer. If you want your site’s content to be of any use, it has to be visible. SEO compliant sites are able to be ranked and indexed properly, which means better (and more) traffic.
SEO Mistakes to Avoid
Just as there are plenty of do’s, there are also a number of don’ts. Avoid the following violations at all costs:
- False Pages. Don’t try to fool Google by creating multiple pages, all pointing to a single company website. Search engines want transparency, and that starts with having one webpage.
- Spamming. Everyone hates spammers, including Google. If you have questionable links leading to or from your website, Google’s algorithm is going to raise some red flags and their spam team is going to look into it. Make sure you are linked up with relevant sites and avoid suspicious ones.
- Useless Content. While actual humans may hate them even more, search engines don’t enjoy nonsensical pages of text either. Knockoff pages (pages which exist for the sole purpose of affecting search results) are sure to land you in the bad graces of search engines.
- Plagiarism. Also known as counterfeit pages, plagiarism is not taken lightly by search engines. If you don’t have the time or resources to create fresh, original content, hire someone to do it. If you can’t afford to hire someone, you may need to think twice about whether you’re in the right business. By no means is it okay to rip off other’s work and spin it as your own. Search engines have ways of finding out where the content originated, and who is an imposter.
Google’s Most Wanted
Staying compliant is about more than just performing well in search results, though. It’s also about staying ‘above-board’ in the eyes of the search engines. Don’t let poor attention to detail or blatant disregard land you on the Google’s Most Wanted list. Here are a few past violators:
- JC Penney. In 2011, they were exposed for using unrelated websites to point back to their main site. This link farming got them bad press and stiff penalties.
- Expedia. At the beginning of 2014, Google punished the internet travel site for trying to boost its search rankings through ‘unnatural’ links.
- eBay. Yes, even giants like eBay can end up at the mercy of Google. The online auction site apparently used illegal sub-category pages to boost their rankings; something Google was not fond of.
SEO Compliance Tools
If you are looking for tools that can automatically perform SEO compliance, you are in luck. There are a handful of effective tools on the marketplace that can do everything from check backlinks to analyze source code. Some tools worth mentioning, Raven Tools, Moz’s Crawl Test, WooRank Ahrefs and Mejestic SEO. While these tools can be effective, it is always best to do some occasional manual checks as well. After all, JC Penney claims they never knew about their bad links (whether you believe them or not).
Compliance is Important
As you can see, SEO compliance is important for a number of different reasons. Whether you’re looking to stay in Google’s good graces or need to improve your site’s visibility, compliance is a key ingredient in any successful marketing strategy. By staying on top of things and avoiding questionable practices, you will ensure your site is able to operate at its optimal capacity. The choice is yours; just make sure you are aware of both the positive and negative consequences of your actions.
How often do you examine your site’s compliance? And how do you actively pursue a healthy balance between remaining compliant and driving traffic?