You know its bad when you take time from your holidays to come into work to attend a conference call. But that’s what I did a few weeks ago. You see I had to because I was going to have the opportunity to ask some Google employees specific questions on things that I’d been pretty sure about, but wanted to hear it right from the horses mouth.
The call lasted less than an hour, but in that time I found that there were many things I figured were indeed true. So lets start with the most obvious:
Is PageRank still important?
The short answer is yes – PageRank has always been important to Google. Naturally they couldn’t go into details but it is as I suspected. Google still uses the algorithm to help determine rankings. Where it falls in the algo mix, though, is up for speculation. My feeling however is that they’ve simply moved where the PageRank value is applied in the grand scheme of things. If you want to know what I think, be sure to read this article.
Are dynamic URLs bad?
Google says that a dynamic URL with 2 parameters “should” get indexed. When we pressed a bit on the issue we also found that URLs themselves don’t contribute too much to the overall ranking algorithms. In other words, a page named Page1.asp will likely perform as well as Keyword.asp.
The whole variable thing shouldn’t come as a surprise. It is true that Google will indeed index dynamic URLs and I’ve seen sites with as many as 4 variables get indexed. The difference however is that in almost all cases I’ve seen the static URLs outrank the dynamic URLs especially in highly competitive or even moderately competitive keyword spaces.
Is URL rewriting OK in Google’s eyes?
Again, the answer is yes, provided the URLs aren’t too long. While the length of the URL isn’t necessarily an issue, if they get extremely long they can cause problems.
In my experience, long rewritten URLs perform just fine. The important thing is the content on the page.
Do you need to use the Google Sitemap tool?
If your site is already getting crawled effectively by Google you do not need to use the Google sitemap submission tool.
The sitemap submission tool was created by Google to provide a way for sites which normally do not get crawled effectively to now become indexed by Google.
My feeling here is that if you MUST use the Google sitemap to get your site indexed then you have some serious architectural issues to solve.
In other words, just because your pages get indexed via the sitemap doesn’t mean they will rank. In fact I’d bet you that they won’t rank because of those technical issues I mentioned above.
Here I’d recommend getting a free tool like Xenu and spider your site yourself. If Xenu has problems then you can almost be assured of Googlebot crawling problems. The nice thing with Xenu is that it can help you find those problems, such as broken links, so that you can fix them.
Once your site becomes fully crawlable by Xenu I can almost guarantee you that it will be crawlable and indexable by the major search engine spiders.
Does clean code make that much of a difference?
Again, the answer is yes. By externalizing any code you can and cleaning up things like tables you can greatly improve your site.
Similarly, minimizing the use of tables also helps reduce the HTML to text ratio, making the text that much more important.
Also, as a tip, your visible text should appear as close to the top of your HTML code as possible. Sometimes this is difficult, however, as elements like top and left navigation appear first in the HTML. If this is the case, consider using CSS to reposition the text and those elements appropriately.
Do Keywords in the domain name harm or help you?
The short answer is neither. However too many keywords in a domain can set off flags for review. In other words blue-widgets.com won’t hurt you but discount-and-cheap-blue-and-red-widgets.com will likely raise flags and trigger a review.
Page naming follows similar rules – while you can use keywords as page names, it doesn’t necessarily help (as I mentioned above) further, long names can cause reviews which will delay indexing.
How many links should you have on your sitemap?
Google recommends 100 links per page.
While I’ve seen pages with more links get indexed, it appears that it takes much longer. In other words, the first 100 links will get indexed right away, however it can take a few more months for Google to identify and follow any links greater than 100.
If your site is larger than 100 pages (as many are today) consider splitting up your sitemap into multiple pages which interlink with each other, or create a directory structure within your sitemap. This way you can have multiple sitemaps that are logically organized and will allow for complete indexing of your site.
Overall, while I didn’t learn anything earth shattering, it was good to get validation “from the horses mouth” so to speak.
I guess it just goes to show you that there is enough information out there on the forums and blogs. The question becomes determine which of that information is valid and which isn’t. But that, I’m afraid, usually comes with time and experience.