Q. How does Google actually “see” my website? What can I do to make sure Google sees my most important information and that I rank high for the right things?
The answer to your questions all rests with an advanced search parameter called cache (pronounced cash). So that Google doesn’t have to revisit your site every time a user calls it up, Google makes a cache –or copy–of your web site. Google will automatically store a copy of your site and then occasionally check back to make sure its version is up-to-date.
How to view it
In order to see what–and when–Google saw any web page on the Internet, simply copy the URL and paste it into a Google search box following the word ‘cache:’ (no quotes, no space). When it pulls up, you’ll want to click on the ‘text only’ link towards the upper right corner of the page.
Here’s an example of what 435 Digital’s cached text only home page looks like.
What to look for
1. Did you get an error message like this one? If so, your webmaster may be using a robots directive to block Google from making a cached copy of the page. Is that a problem? No. Even NYTimes.com utilizes this practice. It’s helpful at times, especially for media sites that don’t want cached copies of stories available on the Internet. It does make it tougher to view what the search engines see, though. For that reason alone, I continue to recommend to the Tribune network of sites to allow Google to make a cached copy of our content (435 Digital is a Tribune Company).
2.Do you see any text? It may seem like a silly question, but on some websites Google may not even see any text. Alternatively, Google may see only very limited text. This is usually because the webpage is built in a technology that makes it difficult for search engines to decipher the content on the page (i.e. flash, video).
3.What does Google see first on the page? If it’s a long, long list of navigation, you may be better off if you were to move the most powerful text to the top. How? Simply move the code that contains your content and put it right after the opening body tag of your page. So that the site looks right to humans, you will have to use CSS positioning to code it properly.
4.Are there large blocks of relevant text? Relevant text being the emphasis. Most websites will have their footer text or navigation appearing, but what about the quality, relevant content? If the search engines can’t see that powerful content, it’s going to be really difficult to show up in the search engines for the terms in that content.
5.Can you tell what the page is supposed to be about by scanning the text version of the page? Are the phrases you want to show up for in the search engines showing in larger font, bold text, italics? If they aren’t, you may be confusing the search engines. Help Google and the other search engines figure out the emphasis of the page by utilizing H1, H2, H3 tags on the important content. Be sure not to overuse them though. I like to use only a single H1 tag on the page and only a couple of H2 tags. H3 tags you can use more often but realize they may not have as much weight. The goal is to lay out your page as if it were a table of contents. Again, sprinkle in bold and italics text on the important content.
6.How many links do you have on the page? Compare the number of links you see on the page to the amount of text. Are there too many links? Are there too few? You’ll want a well-balanced page. Think of the experience the human being sees on your site versus what the search engine is seeing. How much of a disparity is there between the two experiences? Try to minimize the disparity.
7.Is there content appearing on the page that you didn’t even know was on your site? If so, dig into the code and remove it. Especially, if the are links to unknown locations or spammy text. I’ve seen both occur on major websites without the webmaster’s knowledge. Spammers are tricky. Coders care about how the page looks more than what is in the HTML. If the page “looks fine'”they may not remove code that is still visible to search engines.
8. Remember, it’s going to take a while for Google to see your changes. Once you make the changes you need, it will take a few weeks for Google (even longer for the other search engines) to notice the changes. Be patient and check the text-only cached copy of the page about once per week. Then take a look at your web analytics within a few days of the cached version showing the changes. Chances are high that your SEO is noticeably better and you’re getting more traffic from the search engines.
Have a question about SEO? Tweet us your question at @435Digital. Every Monday, we’ll answer a new question about all things SEO. Additional questions include Best SEO tips for small businesses and Creating your own online brand before you quit.