Podcast 51: Better Google Listings

Paul Boag

We all want better listings for our sites on Google, but search engine optimisation often appears to be a dark art and a morally murky area. In this show, we explore the issue and provide some practical advice.

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Google accounts for over 49% of all searches and has one of the most complex and closely guarded search algorithms. It is not surprising therefore that your website ranking on Google can be a subject of much pain and frustration.

Ranking criteria

The exact nature of how Google ranks websites is largely unknown. However, it is generally accepted that the following items are a major contributing factor:

  • The age of your domain name
  • The amount of content available to the search engines
  • The amount of websites linking to your website and their popularity
  • The information architecture of your website
  • The quality of a page build
  • The relevancy to the end user

Page Ranking

A broad-brush indication of your rating is Google’s Page Rank. This numerical value provides some idea of your success in search rankings. There are numerous ways of viewing your page ranking but probably the simplest is to install the Google Toolbar.

Page Indexing

Another important factor in ranking your site is the accessibility of your content to Google. Google can only list your pages if it can access them. You can easily find out how much of your site is indexed by typing the following into Google:


This won’t return every page as it will consider some pages duplicates. To see all pages click on the link at the bottom of the results.

Of course probably the most significant factor in your page ranking, is still inbound links. The quantity and quality of links are crucial in how well your site is rated. You can view how many sites link to you by entering the following into Google:


What does Google look at?

So when Google visits your site, what exactly is it looking for? Well, Google pays particular attention to the following elements on your pages:

  • The page title
  • The body content
  • Your meta tags
  • Headings
  • The naming and destination of links

Of course Google cannot index everything. It struggles with some content and cannot access others at all. Below is a list of the more troublesome elements. Although these elements can be used on a site you should not rely on a search engine being able to fully index them:

  • Images
  • PDF documents
  • Flash
  • Multimedia content

SEO Good Practice

Understanding how Google works is one thing, improving your listing is quite another. Below are is a list of good practices I have picked up while researching the show. These should go a long way to helping you improve your sites placement. However, ultimately search engine is a specialist area and you may wish to consider outsourcing this work if you are able.

  • Identify a list of keywords to focus on. Keep it short and specific. Trying to ranking highly on lots of broad phrases will prove impossible.
  • Endeavour to include keywords in your page URLs. Look at the address for this page. Notice that it repeats the title of the article. Does your site do this or does it have incomprehensible URLs?
  • Use Heading Tags and keeping the H1 tag for the page title rather than the title of the site.
  • Make sure that every page has real content rather than lists of links. I recommend at least 50 words per page.
  • Wherever possible using keywords in your links (both in the body of the page and within navigation).
  • Use breadcrumbs through the site.
  • Try to keep keyword density at around the 5% mark.
  • Separate your content from your design by using CSS based layout.
  • Make sure any Javascript you use is unobtrusive and degrades nicely.
  • Ensure that meta data (keywords and descriptions) is unique to each page and not generic across the whole site.
  • Remember that content only accessible after submitting a form is invisible to Google.
  • Wherever possible, link to other content within your own site using consistent link descriptions.
  • Ensure all images have an alt attribute (alt tag).
  • Make sure your site has a sitemap.
  • Look at your competition and analysis what SEO steps they are taking.


Improving your ranking on Google can be a slow and frustrating experience. It is not unusual for a website to take 4 months to be fully listed and even longer if it is a new domain. Even more frustrating is the fact that Google keeps much of its algorithm a closely guarded secret, which means that much of what we know about improving rankings is educated guesswork. Despite that, we cannot ignore Google. They are a dominant force in the marketplace and search engine listings are a vital component of any online marketing strategy.

Also in this show…

Also in this week’s show we review CSS – The Missing Manual, take a look at a standalone version of IE 7 and check out a new automated testing suit. In the news we also see @media go global and have a look at the latest Web standards advice from A List Apart.