You won’t find Google’s Webmaster Guidelines when browsing its Search Central platform anymore. In October 2022, Google replaced them with a new set of search engine optimization (SEO) rules and requirements known as Google Search Essentials. What are Search Essentials exactly, and how do they differ from the search engine’s previous Webmaster Guidelines?
Google Search Essentials Explained
Google Search Essentials are SEO rules and requirements. They consist of three parts: technical requirements, spam policies and best practices. They provide insight into how to optimize online content for Google rankings.
Google has always had rules and requirements for ranking in its search results. Just a few years after its inception, it released the Webmaster Guidelines to convey this SEO-related information. The internet, however, has changed a lot since then. In addition to webmasters, there are other types of publishers who want to rank on Google, such as influencers, journalists and even app developers. Google Search Essentials is a simplified, rebranded version of Webmaster Guidelines that caters to all types of publishers.
How to Access Google Search Essentials
You can access Search Essentials by visiting Google Search Essentials. You don’t need to sign into your Search Console account. Rather, Search Essentials are visible to the public.
1) Technical Requirements
The technical requirements section of Search Essentials explains how to ensure that Google can index and, therefore, rank a website. It lists the minimum requirements for indexing. For example, you must provide Google with access to your website to get it indexed. If you block Googlebot, the search engine’s crawler, Google won’t be able to index your website.
According to the technical requirements section, only pages that return a 200 status code are eligible for indexing. Pages that return an error-related status code like 404 or 500 won’t be indexed. The 200 status code indicates the visitor’s request was successfully received. Googlebot will check the status code of a page to determine whether it can be indexed.
Only pages with indexable content are eligible for indexing. Indexable content refers to search engine-readable text content that doesn’t violate Google’s spam policies. You can learn more about the minimum requirements to get your website indexed by Google by accessing Search Essentials.
2) Spam Policies
The spam policies section consists of spam-related rules. SEO processes that are designed to manipulate or trick Google into ranking a website higher are considered spam. In the spam policies section of Search Essentials, you’ll find a list of all SEO processes that Google classified as spam.
Cloaking is prohibited under Google’s spam policies. A form of spam, it involves serving different content to visitors and search engines. Visitors will see a page at a particular URL, whereas search engines will see another page with different content at the same URL.
Doorways pages are spam. You can’t create multiple versions of the same page with only minor modifications and expect them to rank. Google doesn’t allow keyword stuffing. Another form of spam, keyword stuffing involves the excessive and unnatural use of keywords with the goal of ranking for those keywords.
The spam policies section mentions hacked content. Any content that’s placed on a website without the webmaster’s permission and involves the exploitation of a security vulnerability is hacked content. If your website contains hacked content, you’ll need to remove it and fix the vulnerability that caused it. Otherwise, your website will violate Google’s spam policies.
Thin affiliate pages are against Google’s spam policies. Google still allows affiliate pages and affiliate websites. You can create a page or website to market an affiliate offer, but you can’t use duplicate content. Thin affiliate pages are characterized by duplicate content. They often contain the same content as the affiliate offers they promote.
There are other forms of spam that can hurt your ability to rank on Google, such as user-generated spam and sneaky redirects. You can find all of them listed in the spam policies section of the GoogleSearch Essentials.
Google may take action, either automatically or manually, if it believes your site has participated in spam. In the spam policies section, Google says it uses automated systems to detect spam policy violations. But Google also has a team of specialists whose job is to manually review websites for policy violations.
3) Best Practices
The best practices section consists of general SEO tips. Google says publishers should create helpful, visitor-focused content. Rather than creating content for Googlebot, for instance, you should create content for human visitors. If visitors enjoy reading and interacting with your content, Googlebot will notice. It is especially important to create more “content by people, for people” meaning, high quality, informative, and engaging content.
Google says publishers should make their links crawlable. Just because a visitor can click a link, there’s no guarantee that Googlebot can follow the link. And if the link points to an important page on your website, Google may not be able to index it.
When creating content, include keywords in prominent areas like titles, headings, link text and alt text. Google doesn’t allow keyword stuffing, but it encourages publishers to place keywords in prominent areas so that visitors will easily see them. Visitors will scan prominent areas while searching for important words or phrases.
Unlike the technical requirements and spam policies sections, the best practices section doesn’t necessarily reveal rules or requirements; it simply consists of SEO tips that, when implemented, will give your website a better shot at ranking high in Google’s search results.
Why Google Search Essentials Are Important
Search Essentials are important because they reveal what you should and shouldn’t do when performing SEO for Google. SEO is free. Google doesn’t charge publishers to rank their content in its search results. Whether you want to rank your website or any other piece of content, though, there are certain guidelines you must follow.
Google previously used the Webmaster Guidelines to convey these guidelines, but it now uses Search Essentials. Search Essentials include technical requirements, spam policies and best practices for Google SEO.
With Search Essentials, Google is shifting away from the notion that all publishers are webmasters. There are other types of publishers who aim to achieve high organic search rankings on Google. Google Search Essentials is a simplified version of Webmaster Guidelines that are designed for all types of publishers.
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