Need answers to your burning Google and SEO questions? John Mueller, Google Search Advocate, provides clear answers for webmasters, SEOs, business owners, and marketers who want to understand the nuances of Google and search engine optimization (SEO).
We have been participating in Mueller’s Google Search Central Office Hours for some time now. We do so to keep up-to-date on ever-changing SEO and web best practices. Below are some of the questions that Mueller has answered during office hours, other Google forums, and more.
SEO Questions About Updating Websites, URLs and Content
Q. If I update URLs to shorter, smarter URLs will this impact rankings?
A. Yes. Generally, anytime you make bigger changes on your site, it will take some time for rankings to settle down again. (If it’s just one URL with a redirect, Google can figure it out pretty quickly.)
On a broader scale, if you’re cleaning up URLs, Google essentially needs to re-process the whole website to understand the relationships between all the pages. It will take a couple of weeks to several months to recover rankings.
Q. Should I combine multiple related pages that have similar content with a similar keyword focus into one big page?
A. If you combine multiple pages into one page, it will take time to rank again. Still, Mueller recommends this long-term strategy. It makes sense to have one stronger page that focuses on the keyword rather than multiple pages with “thin” content.
SEO Definition and Background
SEO or optimizing for getting found on the internet, concerns getting your website crawled, indexed, and ranked so people can find you and your products or services when they “Google” information about your company. Additionally, local businesses can get found on other Google products such as Google My Business (GMB).
As you may know, Google changes its algorithm about six times a day. (The algorithm is the formula Google uses for your business to be found in Google search engine return pages (SERPs).) For this reason, it’s it’s important to keep up with the latest Google news.
“Generally, anytime you make bigger changes on your site, it will take some time for rankings to settle down again….It will take a couple of weeks to several months to recover rankings.”
More SEO Questions About Ranking and Content
Q. If a company’s Brand A needs to be merged to the same content management system (CMS) as Brand B, will this impact Brand A’s rankings?
A. Yes. A redesign of a website, new URL structure, new links, and new layout, will take a significant amount of time to “settle down.”
Be really careful with migration. Track and redirect all old URLs to new URLs. If you are merging and splitting pages, track all of that separately.
Google needs to understand the new site structure—especially if you are considering an enterprise site with a lot of content. This could take three to six months.
Q. In the above scenario, if the new URL structure and page design will be similar, will the two sites be at risk of duplicate website content?
A. It depends how similar the page content is. If the content on both sites mostly matches, Google will look at the equivalent content. For each page of similar content, Google will choose one as the canonical URL. In this case, you might consider having just one website.
If one brand is targeted to one audience and one to another, it might make sense to keep both sites separate. But then content should be distinct. If content is different, but URL structure is same, that’s not a problem. If content is the same, that’s a problem.
Q. Will having duplicate content result in penalty or a manual action against me?
A. No, if Google finds two pages with similar content, it will choose one to be the canonical (preferred page to show in search) page and simply exclude the noncanonical page from search.
Q. Can I have more than one H1 on a page?
A. Contrary to many SEO software packages and historical advice, you CAN use H1 tags as often as you like on a page. There is no upper or lower limit.
At the same time, H1s are a great way to give more structure to a page. This is helpful to users and to search engines to understand which parts of a page are under different headings. It’s completely normal and somewhat expected to have more than one H1 on the page if you have more than one topic on a page.
Other Google News
It’s all about the mobile user experience!
Do you use “stories” on Instagram or Facebook. Now Web Stories are here!
They are the size of mobile screens with magazine style layouts. They only have about 10 words or so per page with 4-30 pages.
You’ll soon be finding them in Google Search, Google Images, Google app, and Google Discover. They’re built on AMP (making them fast to load) with normal HTML (the language of websites).
What’s more there’s a WordPress plugin for it. That means your web designer doesn’t have to delve into complicated code to create them. The plugin is in beta with the warning, “Dragons beware!” The full tested plugin release should be within the next month or two.
Let us know if you’re interested in Web Stories for your website.
“It’s completely normal and somewhat expected to have more than one H1 on the page if you have more than one topic on a page.”
Crawling, Indexing and Ranking Questions
Q. What type of linking is natural?
A. You and your customer can link to each other. That type of linking is perfectly natural. This is not something to worry about. When multiple sites link to other multiple sites, Google is pretty good at picking up these linking schemes.
As we reported earlier this year, linking schemes are one of the 25 Worst SEO Mistakes to Avoid.
Q. Does linking to other websites help or hurt SEO?
A. If you’re offering additional value for your users, linking to other websites is an awesome practice for providing value to your users. Useful content is just one way that your business can add value for your customers.
But if you’re involved in a linking arrangement with another company, linking to an advertisement, or linking from comments, it’s better to use the rel=”no follow” link attribute.
Q. Is it ok to have similar content across social media channels, blogs, and sites?
A. All of these pages will collect signals and rank. However, you’ll be competing with yourself to rank, which will be more challenging. In a competitive niche, this could be detrimental.
Google recommends having one source that’s really strong for your content. Your content’s “primary residence.” Concentrate on one platform. It’s ok to reach out on other platforms—just have one that’s primary.
Q. Does Google index audio files?
A. Google typically doesn’t index audio files with the exception of podcasts. Adding audio files to your page wouldn’t help or detract from your rankings. On the other hand, videos and images can rank independently of other content.
Q. I noticed many of my pages aren’t appearing in the SERPs. Why is this?
A. Most websites only have indexing for a small percentages of the pages on their website. It really depends. If you want to have your pages indexed, figure out a system to improve the quality of your pages. (Google offers search quality guidelines.)
Q. What if my brand guidelines require me to use a different term than the one people are searching?
A. At times, Google understands that Harley-Davidson with a hyphen (proper branding for its trademark rules) is the same as Harley Davidson (what users search). Google recognizes these are synonyms.
However, in many cases, it’s important to have content that uses terms that people use. For example, if you have a pharmaceutical product with a “fancy” medical name and a name that people actually call it, you’ll want to mention what people are actually searching. Whether or not you have trademark rules, if you don’t use the words people use, it’s going to be trickier to rank. Take into account what people are actually searching.
When writing for the web, avoid jargon and fancy words.
Q. How can I get a category page on my ecommerce site to rank higher on the search engine return page (SERP) instead of a specific product page?
A. First, you want to make sure that your category page is being indexed. (You can see this in Google Search Console.)
Second, make sure your category page is well linked within your website (internal linking). For example, ensure that the products within that category link to the category page.
Third, don’t overuse your keywords on your category page—or it looks “fishy” to Google. If it looks like keyword stuffing, Google will be skeptical. Language should be natural.
Assume that it will not be a quick fix. In the short term, help users on the product page to find their way to the category page.
Q. When I’m launching a new domain, should I use 301 redirects from the old domain pages to the new?
A. Yes, this is the correct approach. Be sure to redirect your image URL and AMP pages, too, when launching a new domain.
Google Communications: Webmasters Podcast and SEO Mythbusting
Bored on your pandemic walks? Now you can listen to Google’s new podcast. It’s a “behind-the-scenes” look at Google’s decisions, called Search Off the Record.
You may also want to check out Google’s SEO Mythbusting. For example, you’ll learn that page speed is not a “major” ranking factor. Good content is what matters.
Q. If I bring in reviews from my Google My Business listing and place them on my website, will that improve my ranking?
A. No. If you use the markup for those review pages, Google will not show those review stars.
If there’s content in the review that is not otherwise on the page that might be something where it could rank. For example, the review might mention a service that is not otherwise on the page. This could potentially rank. But just by having a review on your page, doesn’t make it rank or not. In other words, if it’s a review about your business that’s hosted on your business, Google will not show that in the search engine return page (SERP).
However, if it’s a review about your product that’s on your product page, that’s fine.
Note: A Google My Business (GMB) page is one way to get your company on Google. It is a Google listing for your local business. It includes a map, reviews, and your NAP (name, address, and phone number).
Q. What’s most critical when it comes to crawling my site?
A. Server response time matters more than crawl budget. If Google deems your content to be useful, it will crawl it more often. Read about E-A-T for content.
Q. What’s the best way to disseminate my content? Should I use PBNs? Should I disavow spammy links?
A. Do not use PBNs. It’s against our webmaster guidelines and we’ll discount it.
Furthermore, don’t only focus on the number or links or the number of URLs. Instead, look at it diffirently.
For example, guide Google in better understanding your site. Use internal links to help Google understand which parts of your site are most important. This includes clean titles and headings, more general information on a page to describe it.
No you don’t need to disavow spammy links. You can do it if it makes you feel better. But you don’t really need to worry about them. Google understands what’s relevant and what’s not.
Q. How can a news site get breaking news indexed as soon as possible?
A. Make sure you have hub pages on your website with different categories that list different articles. Google crawls those home pages and category pages as quickly as possible. That means the search engine can find new articles extremely quickly.
Sitemaps and RSS feeds with last modification dates are helpful, too. When Googlebot crawls a new date in the sitemap file, it can see that it’s something that is new. The algorithm recognizes that it is something that needs to be picked up as quickly as possible.
At the same time, news websites need to be easy to crawl quickly so that Google can index them quickly. Be sure Google can quickly access your server and that pages load quickly. To learn more, read Gary Illyes from Google’s article on crawl budget.
Q. How should I handle infinite scroll?
A. Use pagination links. Learn more about infinite scrolling from Google.
Q. If I have a pop-up on my page after 30 seconds, does Google crawl it?
A. Maybe. Google renders a page, and according to Mueller, it gives the page “a little time to settle down.” The pop-up may or may not be crawled.
Structured Data and Rich Snippets
Q. With the new structured data requirements, if I have the wrong or invalid structured data on my website, will it impact my rankings?
A. No, new structured data requirements won’t affect the ranking. However, your pages may not appear in the rich results. This may impact how many users clicks to your site. This, in turn, may impact your traffic. Mueller believes it worthwhile to get these fixed. You may need to contact the creator of the (now out-of-date) plug-in for rich snippets to appear.
How Does Structured Data Impact Your Search Rankings?
Structured data won’t directly impact how Google crawls and indexes your pages. What’s more, Google may not choose to feature your content as a rich snippet.
Google will try to give the user the best and most specific result possible, which may not be what you had planned! The results might even contain content from somewhere in the middle of one of your web pages.
However, the structured markup helps Google to “understand” what your page is about.
Here’s how structured data can indirectly impact your rankings. Suppose Google shows a rich snippet for your content. This may result in users engaging more with your content—clicking through and staying on your page. This will be a signal to RankBrain, Google’s machine learning, that you have great content. That CAN enhance your rankings.
No Rich Snippet
This first search engine result includes only the title tag, URL, date, and meta description. It is NOT a rich snippet.
This second search engine result is a rich snippet for a recipe. It includes a photo, rating, preparation time, calories, title tag, URL, meta description, and more.
Google Snippets and Structured Data Updates
For the growing number of snippets changes in Google, read Barry Schwartz’s listicle in Search Engine Land, Google: Rich Snippets.
Google’s Structured Data Testing Tools
We’ve discussed how structured data may indirectly impact your SEO. the Rich Results Test (RRT) is now out of beta and available for use. It’s specifically used to diagnose what is shown in search results. Read more about RRT.
Google was originally going to “deprecate”it’s Structured Data testing tool. However, the SEO community provided feedback, and Google is simply going to move the original tool.
Additionally, special announcements, licensable images, and AMP article markup have been added to the rich results you may now find on Google.
In Search Console, Google has added recipe and recipe markup reports.
What’s a Google Snippet?
In Anatomy of a Google Snippet, Stephen Spencer wrote, “Google defines a snippet as ‘a description of or an excerpt from the webpage.”
Simply put, the snippet refers to the description portion of a Google search listing.
Rich snippets display additional data beyond normal Google search results. This is possible due to structured data which is pulled from a page’s html code. The words at the bottom of the snippet in the example—about, services, testimonials, and case studies—are rich snippets.
Three Benefits of Rich Snippets
Rich snippets offer three advantages:
- They take up more real estate on the page—blocking out competitors.
- Probably most important, rich snippets tend to improve click through rates (CTR). In other words, more people will visit your website, blog, or content. In 9 Tips for Ranking in Google’s Featured Snippets, Neil Patel noted that research has shown content with featured snippets gets twice the normal CTR. Imagine doubling traffic to your site!
- The structured data that webmasters use to create rich snippets helps give you more control over how your website’s search results appear.
Commonly Used Rich Snippets
There are many options for rich snippets, but some common features that use structured data include:
- Recipes (name of item and photo at a minimum)
- Video (video, thumbnail)
- FAQ (question, answer, full text of question and answer)
- Product markup (eg, price, size, color, product images
- Reviews (multiple types)
- Job Postings
See Google’s complete list of features that use structured data.
Other snippets can include logos, articles, books, movies, job postings and more. Backlinko has more examples of rich snippets.