Category Archives: Google Webmaster Central

Live page SEO auditing available from Google

Google has now built a web page analysis tool into the Chrome web browser. Found under “View” > “Developer Tools” > “Audit”, the “Lighthouse” tool runs a whole bunch of tests which I know you’ll find fascinating. It looks to me like there’s even more available through a Chrome extension (free to install, just go to “Window” > “Extensions” and add “Lighthouse”). This includes an SEO audit which has got a few professionals talking, mainly because of the aspects of the page it chooses to analyse. Are these particularly significant ones? Google isn’t saying, as it never does.

If you’re looking for ideas about what to work on next to improve your site, this is one report which is well worth getting. More information here.

Another reason to think ‘mobile first’

I’ve talked in the past about designing websites from a ‘mobile first’ perspective. This means that instead of thinking about how their layouts should collapse to appear clearly on small, narrow screens, maybe designers should begin by just thinking about the mobile layout, and move on to ensure that their design also expands to look good on larger displays.

This is not just an exercise to ensure they haven’t forgotten to make the site legible on small screens. If we begin by considering a more limited display, we’re encouraged to keep the content simple. We don’t immediately get into an overcomplex, multi-columnar way of thinking, but instead we prioritise what matters.

And there’s another reason to think ‘mobile first’. It replicates what Google is now doing. This low-key Google blog post from last November announced a massive change in the way the search engine looks at our sites. It says: “Although our search index will continue to be a single index of websites and apps, our algorithms will eventually primarily use the mobile version of a site’s content to rank pages from that site, to understand structured data, and to show snippets from those pages in our results.”

If your site is fully responsive and serves up the same information to every device, just in a different layout, this shouldn’t be an issue. But if the content of your pages changes across devices, it could well be something that you need to address.

23 ways in which Google can detect a quality article

Here’s an article from Google which has just celebrated its fourth birthday, but which is more relevant than ever. More guidance on building high-quality sites gives us 23 questions to ask ourselves about articles which are going on our websites. “These are the kinds of questions we ask ourselves as we write algorithms that attempt to assess site quality”, they say. And trust me, if you’re thinking: “a machine can’t assess quality, can it?”, then you’re seriously underestimating the brainpower at Google.

What the search engine is trying to do is to promote content which ticks all of these boxes. Don’t forget, one way of doing that is to demote content which it reckons does not meet the criteria. When you ask yourself: “Why am I not top of the Google results for a search on ‘blue widgets’?”, see if your site has anything on it about blue widgets which clearly passes most – or all – of the 23 questions listed.

More guidance on building high-quality sites at the Google Webmaster Central Blog.

Website URLs continue to fade away slowly

Website addresses (“URLs”) have been on the way out for many years. It’s now almost hard to believe there was a time when people quoted “http://” in front of their website address. Then the “www” started to be dropped. Some organisations have become confident enough just to say “search for” instead.

What’s more, even if people see your website address, hardly any of them type it into their browsers. There’s not really much point in putting “” at the bottom of your advert, because anyone who sees the advert and wants to visit your website will just search for “Blue Widget Company” in Google.

Now the URLs are even starting to disappear from the Google results. Last week Google announced that it’s going to move to using a “breadcrumb trail” in its mobile results instead of quoting the URL, which is often truncated anyway. I expect desktop search to follow fully in due course – some sites have been shown in this way for several years.

There’s a markup scheme quoted in the article, and you might want to draw the attention of your website manager or designer to this. Using it should help the site appear the way you’d like it to. Surprisingly, the “little green URL line” has quite an impact on the Google results we choose to click.


Changing to secure “https” – a major nudge from Google

When you’re browsing the web, you’re not transferring any specific personal data to and from the websites you visit. The method of data transfer between your computer and the websites, known as “http”, is technically insecure, in that someone could intercept the data you’re being sent by the website and understand it. But the data is just the content of a public website, so this is hardly important, right?

Things change, however, when you fill in a form or otherwise send personal data across the internet. For this, the “http” method of data transfer is not secure, and so an encrypted version was developed, called “https”. Changing from one to the other is all seamless to web users, so you may never have even known or thought about this before. But if you ever see a web page starting with “https”, you’ll know that any data you send is “secure”.

Google, however, has joined a growing call for all web browsing and data transfer to be secured in this way. If you’re interested, there’s a whole presentation about it here. Proponents say that if the whole web worked on “https”, you could be sure that you’re communicating with who you think you are, that the data has not been tampered with, and that the “conversation” has been thoroughly encrypted anyway. Sites like appear to be https by default already, and Google would like to encourage the whole web to be this way. The reason is not so much that it’s dangerous for someone to find out how one visitor has interacted with one website, but the consequences of huge amounts of eavesdropped data being collected, and the pictures that might paint.

So, realising that everyone needs a nudge, Google has dropped a bombshell with this statement: “Over the past few months we’ve been running tests taking into account whether sites use secure, encrypted connections as a signal in our search ranking algorithms. We’ve seen positive results, so we’re starting to use https as a ranking signal.”

Let’s just think about that. They’ve realised (and it’s hardly surprising) that secure sites are likely to be the type of “good” sites which should rank more highly in searches. And that’s exactly why they’re going take that into account. “For now it’s only a very lightweight signal”, they say, but you can rest assured that it’ll become more significant in the future. Change to https and – even if it’s only slowly at first – your site will start to rank more highly in the Google search results.

So the question we should all be asking is: “Should I make my website https?”, followed closely by “…and how do I do that?” This is where it’s advantageous to have a good in-house IT department, or to work with independent web developers/hosts. There is a cost involved outside of their time, but it’s not major. If you’ve got someone to turn to, I would get their opinion on converting your site to https today.

For the rest of us who just use off-the-shelf hosting with “problem only” support, things are a lot more difficult. Unless you know a good website back-end developer who’s not already snowed under with work, you might have to wait until this becomes a standard offering from web hosts and you have a proper website rebuild. That could be a long time. But if you are planning a website rebuild any time soon, I’d advise you to make sure that a change to https is in the specification unless there’s a very good reason not to do so.