A poor 404 page and user interaction with it, can only lead to a ‘poor user experience’ signal at Google’s end, for a number of reasons. I will highlight a poor 404 page in my audits and actually programmatically look for signs of this issue when I scan a site. I don’t know if Google looks at your site that way to rate it e.g. algorithmically determines if you have a good 404 page – or if it is a UX factor, something to be taken into consideration further down the line – or purely to get you thinking about 404 pages (in general) to help prevent Google wasting resources indexing crud pages and presenting poor results to searchers. I think rather that any rating would be a second order scoring including data from user activity on the SERPs – stuff we as SEO can’t see.
Google and Bing use a crawler (Googlebot and Bingbot) that spiders the web looking for new links to find. These bots might find a link to your homepage somewhere on the web and then crawl and index the pages of your site if all your pages are linked together. If your website has an XML sitemap, for instance, Google will use that to include that content in its index. An XML sitemap is INCLUSIVE, not EXCLUSIVE.  Google will crawl and index every single page on your site – even pages out with an XML sitemap.

Comparing your Google Analytics data side by side with the dates of official algorithm updates is useful in diagnosing a site health issue or traffic drop. In the above example, a new client thought it was a switch to HTTPS and server downtime that caused the drop when it was actually the May 6, 2015, Google Quality Algorithm (originally called Phantom 2 in some circles) that caused the sudden drop in organic traffic – and the problem was probably compounded by unnatural linking practices. (This client did eventually receive a penalty for unnatural links when they ignored our advice to clean up).
SEO may generate an adequate return on investment. However, search engines are not paid for organic search traffic, their algorithms change, and there are no guarantees of continued referrals. Due to this lack of guarantees and certainty, a business that relies heavily on search engine traffic can suffer major losses if the search engines stop sending visitors.[61] Search engines can change their algorithms, impacting a website's placement, possibly resulting in a serious loss of traffic. According to Google's CEO, Eric Schmidt, in 2010, Google made over 500 algorithm changes – almost 1.5 per day.[62] It is considered a wise business practice for website operators to liberate themselves from dependence on search engine traffic.[63] In addition to accessibility in terms of web crawlers (addressed above), user web accessibility has become increasingly important for SEO.
However, we do expect websites of large companies and organizations to put a great deal of effort into creating a good user experience on their website, including having helpful SC. For large websites, SC may be one of the primary ways that users explore the website and find MC, and a lack of helpful SC on large websites with a lot of content may be a reason for a Low rating.
If you are just starting out, don’t think you can fool Google about everything all the time. Google has VERY probably seen your tactics before. So, it’s best to keep your plan simple. GET RELEVANT. GET REPUTABLE. Aim for a healthy, satisfying visitor experience. If you are just starting out – you may as well learn how to do it within Google’s Webmaster Guidelines first. Make a decision, early, if you are going to follow Google’s guidelines, or not, and stick to it. Don’t be caught in the middle with an important project. Do not always follow the herd.
Maintenance. Ongoing addition and modification of keywords and website con­tent are necessary to continually improve search engine rankings so growth doesn’t stall or decline from neglect. You also want to review your link strategy and ensure that your inbound and outbound links are relevant to your business. A blog can provide you the necessary structure and ease of content addition that you need. Your hosting company can typically help you with the setup/installation of a blog.
QUOTE: “The preferred domain is the one that you would liked used to index your site’s pages (sometimes this is referred to as the canonical domain). Links may point to your site using both the www and non-www versions of the URL (for instance, http://www.example.com and http://example.com). The preferred domain is the version that you want used for your site in the search results.” Google, 2018
By 2004, search engines had incorporated a wide range of undisclosed factors in their ranking algorithms to reduce the impact of link manipulation. In June 2007, The New York Times' Saul Hansell stated Google ranks sites using more than 200 different signals.[26] The leading search engines, Google, Bing, and Yahoo, do not disclose the algorithms they use to rank pages. Some SEO practitioners have studied different approaches to search engine optimization, and have shared their personal opinions.[27] Patents related to search engines can provide information to better understand search engines.[28] In 2005, Google began personalizing search results for each user. Depending on their history of previous searches, Google crafted results for logged in users.[29]
Link building is not JUST a numbers game, though. One link from a “trusted authority” site in Google could be all you need to rank high in your niche. Of course, the more “trusted” links you attract, the more Google will trust your site. It is evident you need MULTIPLE trusted links from MULTIPLE trusted websites to get the most from Google in 2019.
QUOTE: “Sitemaps are an easy way for webmasters to inform search engines about pages on their sites that are available for crawling. In its simplest form, a Sitemap is an XML file that lists URLs for a site along with additional metadata about each URL (when it was last updated, how often it usually changes, and how important it is, relative to other URLs in the site) so that search engines can more intelligently crawl the site.”
The leading search engines, such as Google, Bing and Yahoo!, use crawlers to find pages for their algorithmic search results. Pages that are linked from other search engine indexed pages do not need to be submitted because they are found automatically. The Yahoo! Directory and DMOZ, two major directories which closed in 2014 and 2017 respectively, both required manual submission and human editorial review.[40] Google offers Google Search Console, for which an XML Sitemap feed can be created and submitted for free to ensure that all pages are found, especially pages that are not discoverable by automatically following links[41] in addition to their URL submission console.[42] Yahoo! formerly operated a paid submission service that guaranteed crawling for a cost per click;[43] however, this practice was discontinued in 2009.

Google and Bing use a crawler (Googlebot and Bingbot) that spiders the web looking for new links to find. These bots might find a link to your homepage somewhere on the web and then crawl and index the pages of your site if all your pages are linked together. If your website has an XML sitemap, for instance, Google will use that to include that content in its index. An XML sitemap is INCLUSIVE, not EXCLUSIVE.  Google will crawl and index every single page on your site – even pages out with an XML sitemap.
Submit website to directories (limited use). Professional search marketers don’t sub­mit the URL to the major search engines, but it’s possible to do so. A better and faster way is to get links back to your site naturally. Links get your site indexed by the search engines. However, you should submit your URL to directories such as Yahoo! (paid), Business.com (paid) and DMOZ (free). Some may choose to include AdSense (google.com/adsense) scripts on a new site to get their Google Media bot to visit. It will likely get your pages indexed quickly.
Heading tags are the title elements that you can use to separate your text content. These headlines give search engines a better understanding of what your page is about. Plus, people tend to go through the headings first to see if your content is what they're looking for before actually reading it. So, you want to use headings to your advantage and make sure they're descriptive and explain what your content is about.
Keyword analysis. From nomination, further identify a targeted list of key­words and phrases. Review competitive lists and other pertinent industry sources. Use your preliminary list to determine an indicative number of recent search engine queries and how many websites are competing for each key­word. Prioritize keywords and phrases, plurals, singulars and misspellings. (If search users commonly misspell a keyword, you should identify and use it). Please note that Google will try to correct the term when searching, so use this with care.
Black hat SEO attempts to improve rankings in ways that are disapproved of by the search engines, or involve deception. One black hat technique uses hidden text, either as text colored similar to the background, in an invisible div, or positioned off screen. Another method gives a different page depending on whether the page is being requested by a human visitor or a search engine, a technique known as cloaking. Another category sometimes used is grey hat SEO. This is in between black hat and white hat approaches, where the methods employed avoid the site being penalized but do not act in producing the best content for users. Grey hat SEO is entirely focused on improving search engine rankings.
Black hat SEO attempts to improve rankings in ways that are disapproved of by the search engines, or involve deception. One black hat technique uses hidden text, either as text colored similar to the background, in an invisible div, or positioned off screen. Another method gives a different page depending on whether the page is being requested by a human visitor or a search engine, a technique known as cloaking. Another category sometimes used is grey hat SEO. This is in between black hat and white hat approaches, where the methods employed avoid the site being penalized but do not act in producing the best content for users. Grey hat SEO is entirely focused on improving search engine rankings.
Another reason is that if you're using an image as a link, the alt text for that image will be treated similarly to the anchor text of a text link. However, we don't recommend using too many images for links in your site's navigation when text links could serve the same purpose. Lastly, optimizing your image filenames and alt text makes it easier for image search projects like Google Image Search to better understand your images.
For me, when SEO is more important than branding, the company name goes at the end of the tag, and I use a variety of dividers to separate as no one way performs best. If you have a recognisable brand – then there is an argument for putting this at the front of titles – although Google often will change your title dynamically – sometimes putting your brand at the front of your snippet link title itself. I often leave out branding. There is no one size fits all approach as the strategy will depend on the type of page you are working with.
Google is looking for a “website that is well cared for and maintained” so you need to keep content management systems updated, check for broken image links and HTML links. If you create a frustrating user experience through sloppy website maintenance – expect that to be reflected in some way with a lower quality rating. Google Panda October 2014 went for e-commerce pages that were optimised ‘the old way’ and are now classed as ‘thin content’.

Make it as easy as possible for users to go from general content to the more specific content they want on your site. Add navigation pages when it makes sense and effectively work these into your internal link structure. Make sure all of the pages on your site are reachable through links, and that they don't require an internal "search" functionality to be found. Link to related pages, where appropriate, to allow users to discover similar content.
Yes, you need to build links to your site to acquire more PageRank, or Google ‘juice’ – or what we now call domain authority or trust. Google is a link-based search engine – it does not quite understand ‘good’ or ‘quality’ content – but it does understand ‘popular’ content. It can also usually identify poor, or THIN CONTENT – and it penalises your site for that – or – at least – it takes away the traffic you once had with an algorithm change. Google doesn’t like calling actions the take a ‘penalty’ – it doesn’t look good. They blame your ranking drops on their engineers getting better at identifying quality content or links, or the inverse – low-quality content and unnatural links. If they do take action your site for paid links – they call this a ‘Manual Action’ and you will get notified about it in Webmaster Tools if you sign up.

QUOTE: “Duplicated content is often not manipulative and is commonplace on many websites and often free from malicious intent. Copied content can often be penalised algorithmically or manually. Duplicate content is not penalised, but this is often not an optimal set-up for pages, either. Be VERY careful ‘spinning’ ‘copied’ text to make it unique!” Shaun Anderson, Hobo, 2018
QUOTE: “The score is determined from quantities indicating user actions of seeking out and preferring particular sites and the resources found in particular sites. *****A site quality score for a particular site**** can be determined by computing a ratio of a numerator that represents user interest in the site as reflected in user queries directed to the site and a denominator that represents user interest in the resources found in the site as responses to queries of all kinds The site quality score for a site can be used as a signal to rank resources, or to rank search results that identify resources, that are found in one site relative to resources found in another site.” Navneet Panda, Google Patent
******” Quote from Google: One other specific piece of guidance we’ve offered is that low-quality content on some parts of a website can impact the whole site’s rankings, and thus removing low-quality pages, merging or improving the content of individual shallow pages into more useful pages, or moving low-quality pages to a different domain could eventually help the rankings of your higher-quality content. GOOGLE ******
Google decides which pages on your site are important or most relevant. You can help Google by linking to your important pages and ensuring at least one page is well optimised amongst the rest of your pages for your desired key phrase. Always remember Google does not want to rank ‘thin’ pages in results – any page you want to rank – should have all the things Google is looking for. That’s a lot these days!
QUOTE: “high quality content is something I’d focus on. I see lots and lots of SEO blogs talking about user experience, which I think is a great thing to focus on as well. Because that essentially kind of focuses on what we are trying to look at as well. We want to rank content that is useful for (Google users) and if your content is really useful for them, then we want to rank it.” John Mueller, Google 2016
QUOTE: “Supplementary Content contributes to a good user experience on the page, but does not directly help the page achieve its purpose. SC is created by Webmasters and is an important part of the user experience. One common type of SC is navigation links which allow users to visit other parts of the website. Note that in some cases, content behind tabs may be considered part of the SC of the page.” Google Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines 2017
Link text is the visible text inside a link. This text tells users and Google something about the page you're linking to. Links on your page may be internal—pointing to other pages on your site—or external—leading to content on other sites. In either of these cases, the better your anchor text is, the easier it is for users to navigate and for Google to understand what the page you're linking to is about.
Description meta tags are important because Google might use them as snippets for your pages. Note that we say "might" because Google may choose to use a relevant section of your page's visible text if it does a good job of matching up with a user's query. Adding description meta tags to each of your pages is always a good practice in case Google cannot find a good selection of text to use in the snippet. The Webmaster Central Blog has informative posts on improving snippets with better description meta tags18 and better snippets for your users19. We also have a handy Help Center article on how to create good titles and snippets20.
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