John Andrews is a Competitive Webmaster and Search Engine Optimization Consultant in Seattle, Washington. This is John Andrews blog on issues of interest to the SEO community and competitive webmasters. Want to know more?

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Google SEO Guidelines

Received via unsolicited email today:

“I noticed that your On-Page SEO is is missing a few factors, for one you do not use all three H tags in your post, also I notice that you are not using bold or italics properly in your SEO optimization. On-Page SEO means more now than ever since the new Google update: Panda. No longer are backlinks and simply pinging or sending out a RSS feed the key to getting Google PageRank or Alexa Rankings, You now NEED On-Page SEO. So what is good On-Page SEO?First your keyword must appear in the title.Then it must appear in the URL.You have to optimize your keyword and make sure that it has a nice keyword density of 3-5% in your article with relevant LSI (Latent Semantic Indexing). Then you should spread all H1,H2,H3 tags in your article.Your Keyword should appear in your first paragraph and in the last sentence of the page. You should have relevant usage of Bold and italics of your keyword.There should be one internal link to a page on your blog and you should have one image with an alt tag that has your keyword….wait there’s even more…”

Google has created an environment where scams like this can thrive, because web site owners don’t understand what does or doesn’t matter for SEO. Experts work hard to test, reverse-engineer and develop strategies for successful SEO, but real experts don’t write about specifics in public. Tool and service vendors write specifics in order to impress potential service clients. Scam artists write detailed guidelines like the above, which are half based in truth, but primarily designed to sell 1 year contracts while the client is still naive about SEO.
I wrote about this years ago in my Market for Lemons post.

It seems this is all about to change. What might Google do to bring this under control?

  • Require registration of SEO service providers- Google could create a “Trusted SEO” program, with service provider partners. Those looking to improve their success with Google would be encouraged to hire the Trusted SEOs, while all other SEO service providers would be monitored for compliance, with threat of penalties for clients and SEOs sans any two-way communications. We saw hints of this with the “pay to play in organic” inadvertently exposed briefly earlier in the year. Surely that was the smoke… and the fire must be burning somewhere.
  • Publish a specific list of allowed publishing tactics, with specifics of penalties, filters, and demotions. If complex enough, this would eliminate the market for legal “tricks”, and probably last a few years before truly stifling the 80%
  • Publish specific lists of “risk factors” associated with specific web sites, via Webmaster Console. Such an “SEO Score” could allow site owners to better understand and manage their risk, even when working with an SEO firm.
  • Make public a list of known SEO practitioners and their web sites / clients. This transparency would strengthen Google’s traditional one-sided control of the search marketplace, while removing much of the advantage SEO firms have over naive clients. It would also hurt serious SEO consultants working “all-in”  for certain industries. Such an exposure would restrict competition at the higher levels of SEO.
  • Publish a “Chilling Effects” style website about penalties, filters, and bans, using real-world examples, naming SEOs and SEO agencies, as well as domains.
  • Eliminate the viability of organic, non-paid listings altogether. Google could label approved organic listings as trusted, and hide true organic listings behind an option setting. Conduct a search, see only the organic listings Google prefers, which would include clients of the Trusted SEOs program. Desire more diversity? Click a link to see the rest. Using such an approach, Google could boost all known Quality metrics through the roof, reward partner agencies and clients, while still claiming to puplish algorithmic organic results sets. Not a pretty future, but possible.

Clearly Google is making big changes and we’ll have to wait to see the final specifics. These are some ideas of how it might go… to help stir discussions. What do you see in the near future from Google? How “bad” willit get for real SEOs, versus canned SEO service sellers, scam artists, and opportunity exploiters?

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11 Responses to “Google SEO Guidelines”

  1. Takeshi Says:

    “Clearly Google is making big changes and we’ll have to wait to see the final specifics.”

    How do you figure?

  2. Uncle Demotivator Says:

    Require registration of SEO service providers (…)

    Like Google doesn’t have enough control and data already… You really want them to became real Big Brother?

  3. Peter Says:

    I guess i am one of the stupid clients, weel not really cause we don’t have any SEO thing going on.

    But why do real experts not write about specifics in public.
    And yes i am impressed by your quote, it makes sense.

    What is it you do different?

  4. Florin Says:

    Although it could be a good step, I think this just daydreaming. Google has a long record of ignoring its paying customers and business partners (Adwords buyers, Adsense publishers, Google Apps customers)… do you really think there is anything on their mind other than FUD for the people they consider the scourge of the web?

    As for the last bullet point (”Eliminate the viability of organic, non-paid listings altogether. Google could label approved organic listings as trusted, and hide true organic listings behind an option setting.”), this is actually what I believe has a good chance of happening. Opt-in SERPs, bad for the searcher, bad for the little guy, good for big brands and deep pockets and, of course, Google.

  5. Dave Snyder Says:

    John -

    Thanks so much for this post. I think you are incredibly on the mark, and my main question is what kind of “SEO” would want in on such a Trusted SEO program? In my opinion, SEOs that are willing to put their own well being before the industry and their clients. Why do I say before their clients? Because it isn’t in Google’s best interest to have commercial companies getting big wins in organic, that money should be spent on paid advertising. It isn’t that white hat SEO doesn’t get wins, it’s that the rules that Google would hand down for a program like this would be to keep the status quo.

    And sadly I know of companies that would jump on the that train. There are SEOs today working with Google in the shadows to make sure their companies are safe from the search giants wrath, and funny enough these aren’t the staple white hat SEOs.

    The last 12 months in search have put a target on the back of every legitimate professional in the space. The pressure from this environment has turned into a Darwinistic pressure cooker. And while this is all going on many our industry outlets help feed the fire, and spin the news in a way to ensure group think.

    I am so happy we have posts like this, and places like SEO Book that are willing to poke the bear and just be opinionated.

  6. Russ Jones Says:

    I think the big one that Google will do is give webmasters who sell links the ability to mark links as sponsored or untrustworthy behind the scenes. Imagine being able to log into Google Webmaster Tools and disavow links going OUT from your site, not just in. Google could kill the paid link industry in a heart beat.

  7. john andrews Says:

    @Russ: yes we know the “link disavow” tool from Google is coming any day now. But that tool is not a big deal, until it is combined with more comprehensive exposure of Google’s knowledge of the seo industry. I would not expect Google to support a covert nofollow for published links, since that is so clearly deceptive to the user. I have been wrong about Google’s boldness in the past, however.

    @dave thanks and I agree about exploiting seo clients. That’s exactly what would happen in the long term, but the current players (including Google) seem to be all about the short term right now.I think if you look at those SEOs who would be in the “Trusted” program, they are already exploiting their clients to a large degree. I believe that’s a part of why the real SEO talent is currently working “all in” for select industries or clients or owned projects. “Where there is trust, there is an exploit” and it hurts to allow a third party to gain from those exploits… own it and monetize/or defend all angles.

  8. john andrews Says:

    “Peter Says: I guess i am one of the stupid clients, weel not really cause we don’t have any SEO thing going on.”

    @Peter maybe you haven’t done the math yet. Check your main search referrals, and your ranking position in Google for those terms. If you’re not #1 for those specific searches, there is potentially a lot more traffic available (search market share). How can you get it? Steal it via improved marketing (snippet, ppc, other properties) or increase your ranking position. Stepping up in rank position usually boosts search market share far more than other methods.

  9. Tyler Herman Says:

    Also forgot, the biggest problem behind SEO is the mystery.

    SEOs need to start being trasparent, especially the “white hats”.

    Show a case study of how your blog post when viral and sent 100,000 visitors to your clients site and built 150 new links in a single day.

    Tell clients exactly what you are doing. If the client wants to do the work themselves they can but ultimately if the links you build are hard to get, the content you create is awesome, people will pay you for your expertise.

  10. Brad Dalton Says:

    The problem is Google should never be allowed to control such a large percentage of the search market in the first place.

    Bing has a new tool to Disavow links which Google should also offer to support webmasters.

    Content should be created and indexed based on ones own personal experience and not simply content marketing based on research and rewritten ideas.

    Google could easily credit original content producers and should penalize domains creating content simply to produce links and traffic.

  11. Mark Nicholson Says:

    It seems the ratio of exact match anchors is something they’ve likely been sitting on for some time. With the data they pull or access, I think they’ve held off pulling the trigger on this one. Past updates have affected all niches the way this has.

    As they beef up measurable signals like social interactions and visitor actions, there aren’t many obvious signals left to police.

    The flux has increase too, so indexing has improved, but the weight and authority of a link is still one factor where I think we will see improvements.

    Keep in mind something Schmidt said;
    “brands are how we sort the cesspool”

    It’s deep now, autogen churn/burners have a shorter lifespan.
    Most black hats seem to be using income to create real businesses last few years too.

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