Official: Google’s New SEO Starter Guide – 63 SEO Practices to AVOID in 2018

Google has updated their SEO starter guide. Here is a list of the things to AVOID if you do SEO and want Google to rank your site over the longer term.

It’s interesting Google have gone the ‘in-depth-content’ route for this new 2017 guide, making it available online in one location – my own SEO starter guide is fairly in-depth, too. I created that because traditionally Google’s advice has been sprawling and spread across multiple sources and pages (and it still is).

Google specifically mentions something very important in the guide:

Creating compelling and useful content will likely influence your website more than any of the other factors discussed here.” Google

This starter guide is very useful for beginners to SEO.

I do not think there is anything in here that is really useful if you have been doing SEO since the last starter guide was published (2008). It also leaves out some of the more technical recommendations for larger sites.

I usually find it useful to keep an eye on what Google tells you to avoid in such documents, which are:

  1. AVOID: “Don’t let your internal search result pages be crawled by Google. Users dislike clicking a search engine result only to land on another search result page on your site.”

  2. AVOID: “Allowing URLs created as a result of proxy services to be crawled.”

  3. AVOID: “Choosing a title that has no relation to the content on the page.”

  4. AVOID: “Using default or vague titles like “Untitled” or “New Page 1″.”

  5. AVOID: “Using a single title across all of your site’s pages or a large group of pages.”

  6. AVOID: “Using extremely lengthy titles that are unhelpful to users.”

  7. AVOID: “Stuffing unneeded keywords in your title tags.”

  8. AVOID: “Writing a description meta tag that has no relation to the content on the page.”

  9. AVOID: “Using generic descriptions like “This is a web page” or “Page about baseball cards”.”

  10. AVOID: “Filling the description with only keywords.”

  11. AVOID: “Copying and pasting the entire content of the document into the description meta tag.”

  12. AVOID: “Using a single description meta tag across all of your site’s pages or a large group of pages.”

  13. AVOID: “Placing text in heading tags that wouldn’t be helpful in defining the structure of the page.”

  14. AVOID: “Using heading tags where other tags like <em> and <strong> may be more appropriate.”

  15. AVOID: “Erratically moving from one heading tag size to another.”

  16. AVOID: “Excessive use of heading tags on a page.”

  17. AVOID: “Very long headings.”

  18. AVOID: “Using heading tags only for styling text and not presenting structure.”

  19. AVOID: “Using invalid ‘Structured Data ‘markup.”

  20. AVOID: “Changing the source code of your site when you are unsure about implementing markup.”

  21. AVOID: “Adding markup data which is not visible to users.”

  22. AVOID: “Creating fake reviews or adding irrelevant markups.”

  23. AVOID: “Creating complex webs of navigation links, for example, linking every page on your site to every other page.”

  24. AVOID: “Going overboard with slicing and dicing your content (so that it takes twenty clicks to reach from the homepage).”

  25. AVOID: “Having a navigation based entirely on images, or animations.”

  26. AVOID: “Requiring script or plugin-based event-handling for navigation”

  27. AVOID: “Letting your navigational page become out of date with broken links.”

  28. AVOID: “Creating a navigational page that simply lists pages without organizing them, for example by subject.”

  29. AVOID: “Allowing your 404 pages to be indexed in search engines (make sure that your web server is configured to give a 404 HTTP status code or – in the case of JavaScript-based sites – include a noindex robots meta-tag when non-existent pages are requested).”

  30. AVOID: “Blocking 404 pages from being crawled through the robots.txt file.”

  31. AVOID: “Providing only a vague message like “Not found”, “404”, or no 404 page at all.”

  32. AVOID: “Using a design for your 404 pages that isn’t consistent with the rest of your site.”

  33. AVOID: “Using lengthy URLs with unnecessary parameters and session IDs.”

  34. AVOID: “Choosing generic page names like “page1.html”.”

  35. AVOID: “Using excessive keywords like “baseball-cards-baseball-cards-baseballcards.htm”.”

  36. AVOID: “Having deep nesting of subdirectories like “…/dir1/dir2/dir3/dir4/dir5/dir6/page.html”.”

  37. AVOID: “Using directory names that have no relation to the content in them.”

  38. AVOID: “Having pages from subdomains and the root directory access the same content, for example, “domain.com/page.html” and “sub.domain.com/page.html”.”

  39. AVOID: “Writing sloppy text with many spelling and grammatical mistakes.”

  40. AVOID: “Awkward or poorly written content.”

  41. AVOID: “Embedding text in images and videos for textual content: users may want to copy and paste the text and search engines can’t read it.”

  42. AVOID: “Dumping large amounts of text on varying topics onto a page without paragraph, subheading, or layout separation.”

  43. AVOID: “Rehashing (or even copying) existing content that will bring little extra value to users.”

  44. AVOID: “Having duplicate or near-duplicate versions of your content across your site.”

  45. AVOID: “Inserting numerous unnecessary keywords aimed at search engines but are annoying or nonsensical to users.”

  46. AVOID: “Having blocks of text like “frequent misspellings used to reach this page” that add little value for users.”

  47. AVOID: “Deceptively hiding text from users, but displaying it to search engines.”

  48. AVOID: “Writing generic anchor text like “page”, “article”, or “click here”.”

  49. AVOID: “Using text that is off-topic or has no relation to the content of the page linked to.”

  50. AVOID: “Using the page’s URL as the anchor text in most cases, although there are certainly legitimate uses of this, such as promoting or referencing a new website’s address.”

  51. AVOID: “Writing long anchor text, such as a lengthy sentence or short paragraph of text.”

  52. AVOID: “Using CSS or text styling that make links look just like regular text.”

  53. AVOID: “Using excessively keyword-filled or lengthy anchor text just for search engines.”

  54. AVOID: “Creating unnecessary links that don’t help with the user’s navigation of the site.”

  55. AVOID: “Using generic filenames like “image1.jpg”, “pic.gif”, “1.jpg” when possible—if your site has thousands of images you might want to consider automating the naming of the images.”

  56. AVOID: “Writing extremely lengthy filenames.”

  57. AVOID: “Stuffing keywords into alt text or copying and pasting entire sentences.”

  58. AVOID: “Writing excessively long alt text that would be considered spammy.”

  59. AVOID: “Using only image links for your site’s navigation”.

  60. AVOID: “Attempting to promote each new, small piece of content you create; go for big, interesting items.”

  61. AVOID: “Involving your site in schemes where your content is artificially promoted to the top of these services.”

  62. AVOID: “Spamming link requests out to all sites related to your topic area.”

  63. AVOID: “Purchasing links from another site with the aim of getting PageRank”

Further Tips

From my own SEO starter guide, here are some things I think it’s important to understand about modern SEO in 2018:

  • Don’t block your site
  • Don’t confuse or annoy a website visitor
  • Don’t block Google from crawling resources on your site or rendering specific elements on your page
  • Have a responsive design that works on mobile and desktop
  • Be local to your customer
  • Geotarget your site in Search Console AKA Google Webmaster Tools (unless you have a country specific domain)
  • Put your keyword phrase at least once in the Page Title Element
  • Put your keyword phrase at least once in the Main Content on the page (at least once in page copy (in Paragraph tags)
  • Avoid keyword stuffing main content
  • Optimise your meta description to have a clickable useful SERP snippet
  • Ensure the Main Content of the page is high-quality and written by a professional (MOST OF YOUR EFFORT GOES HERE – If your content is not being shared organically, you may have a content quality problem)
  • Ensure the keywords you want to rank for are present on your site. The quality of competition for these rankings will determine how much effort you need to put in
  • Use synonyms and common co-occurring words throughout your page copy
  • Add value to pages with ordered lists, images, videos and tables
  • Optimise for increased ‘user intent’ satisfaction (e.g. increased dwell times on a page or site)
  • Keep important content on the site updated a few times a year
  • Trim outdated content from your site
  • Avoid publishing and indexing content-poor pages (especially affiliate sites)
  • Aim for a good ratio of ‘useful’ user-centered text to affiliate links
  • Disclose page modification dates in a visible format
  • Do not push the main content down a page unnecessarily with ads etc
  • Link to related content on your site with useful and very relevant anchor text
  • Create pages to basic meet W3C recommendations on accessible HTML (W3c) (H1, ALT text etc)
  • Create pages to meet basic usability best practices (Nielsen) – Pay attention to what ‘annoys’ website visitors
  • Create pages where the main content of the page is given priority, and remove annoying ads and pop-ups (especially on mobile)
  • Develop websites that meet Google technical recommendations on (for example) canonicalization, internationalisation and pagination best practices
  • Ensure Fast delivery of web pages on mobile and desktop
  • Provide clear disclosure of affiliate ads and non-intrusive advertising. Clear disclosure of everything, in fact, if you are focused on quality in all areas.
  • Add high-quality and relevant external links (depending if the query is informational)
  • If you can, include the Keyword phrase in a short URL
  • Use the Keyword phrase in internal anchor text pointing to this page (at least once)
  • Use Headings, Lists and HTML Tables on pages if you show data
  • Ensure on average all ‘Main Content’ blocks of all pages on the site are high-quality
  • Ensure old SEO practices are cleaned up and removed from site
  • Avoid implementing old-school SEO practices in new campaigns (Google is better at detecting sites with little value-add)
  • Consider disavowing any obvious low-quality links from previous SEO efforts
  • Provide Clear website domain ownership, copyright and contact details on the site
  • Share your content on the major social networks when it is good enough
  • Get backlinks from real websites with real domain trust and authority
  • Convert visitors (whatever that ‘conversion’ may be)
  • Monitor VERY CAREFULLY any user-generated content on your site, because it is rated as part of your own site content
  • Pay attention to site security issues (implement https, for example)

What really matters in SEO in 2018 is what you prioritise today so that in 3-6 months you can see improvements in the quality of your organic traffic. You want your efforts to go into areas that Google will reward, not target negatively in future quality updates (which happen more and more often these days).

If you need help with any area of SEO, you can look at my SEO consultation package.

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