SEO Lessons From Google’s John Mueller

Learning from Google is definitely learning from the masters. Google dictates the tune as far as Search Engine Optimization, SEO, is concerned and so when Google speaks in favour of anything all SEO efforts favour that thing.

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In a thread in an online forum, a user complained about being listed last for keywords she once listed highly for. Google’s John Mueller answered her and here is what Mueller had to say:

1. Website migration takes time

The webmaster made a lot of changes on the website. John Mueller said that a clean website migration takes time, and that you should aim for the final result. All changes should be consistent.

“You’ve made considerable changes with the collection of sites, some of the domains redirect, not all of them do though. This kind of site-merging will always take time, but you make it significantly harder by not doing the merge consistently or cleanly. Redirect them all, set canonicals, crawl all of your old domain URLs to check, etc. A clean migration takes time, a hacky migration with an attempt to get short-term advantages will just take much longer. Aim for the final result.

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In effect John Mueller is saying that you must be patient to see the effect of the changes you make to your website. He is also saying that frequent changes to certain portion of your website including title and description changes, redesign and redirects can have profound effect of website performance on search engines. We have experienced this on Todhost website with frequent changes to metatags and redesigning which eventually turned counter productive. John Mueller is recommending that you give time for SEO changes to impact on site performance. A few notes are worth our emphasis here:

  • .Redirect them all - When merging sites, John Mueller recommends you redirect them all. This is a definitive guide and clears what has appeared to create some confussion even for SEOs.
  •     Set canonicals -- we have delved significantly into how to set cannonical URLs in this article on Useful URL structuring that can help ranking gains. Here is a summary of what we wrote about canonicalization:

Except you have real good reason to allow the duplicate, you will need canonicalize urls that serve similar content by using either a 301 redirect or a rel=canonical (if you want to maintain slightly different versions for some visitors, e.g. a printer-friendly page).

Duplicate content isn't really a search engine problem and will not result in a penalty (at least, not until/unless you start duplicating at very large scales), but it can cause a split of ranking signals that can harm your search traffic potential. If a Page has some quantity of ranking ability and its duplicate, another Page has a similar quantity of ranking ability, by canonicalizing them, the page where the content is directed to can have a better chance to rank and earn visits.

2. Benefit from low-hanging fruits

John Mueller recommended that you take advantage of low-hanging fruits. For example, you should use headings in text rather than in images. These are his exact words:

“There are almost certainly low-hanging fruits to work on with your website. I don’t know if it would be enough to get it to rank competitively, but simple things like putting headings in text rather than in images can really help. The community here is great at spotting these kinds of items, get their input on that. Individually, most of these things won’t have a visible effect — but collectively they can be pretty big.”

Heading tags serve very useful purpose on web pages. Header tags or heading tags can make a text stand out and gain extra notice. It is used to place emphasis on your content. This improves user experience and help rankings because Google takes user experience seriously as a ranking factor. Let's take some more detailed look at using the headings in web content.

This clear statement can help reduce bounce rates, which in turn helps with SEO and ranking. H1 tags are valuable for SEO purposes and can help improve your website ranking because of its valuable influence in helping users understand your website content and layout.

By effectively using the header tags on your pages, you’re helping your website rank better. It may not be the strongest ranking signal to give attention to for search engine optimization, but header tags are still very important for SEO because they tell both search engines and website visitors what the content of pages are about.

Here are some recommendations on how best to optimize your Header tags for search engines and users alike:

    Use a H1 on each and every page. This will usually be the header or title of the page. Without this cachy and bold introduction, readers may get confused about what your page is all about.
    Try to make all of your header tags unique. Duplicate content, no matter how small, is never a good practice and Google frowns at it. So make your headers unique.
    Use accurate, descriptive keywords. Just saying things like "about us" isn't enough. But when you say "about our web hosting services" provides better description.
    Avoid keyword-stuffing—Do not use repeated words to achieve keyword advantage. Gone are the days when having plenty of a keyword on a particular page gave ranking advantage. Now Google only uses keywords in content to understand what the page is about. Just mentioning a keyword in a content tells Google what your page is focused on. So, avoid mentioning a keyword over and over again if you are trying to do that to achieve ranking gains.
    Do not make your H1 tags too big. Let your header not occupy too much of the page. It is unnecessary to do that.
    Be creative! Write for people not search engines. So let your headers be user friendly and not just written to achieve ranking gains.

Using Multiple Header Tags on a Page

You can use multiple header tags on a single page but it is advisable to use only one H1 tag. Using multiple H1 does not have SEO effect. Instead, it could affect our visitors negatively, create confusion and therefore hurt user experience. Our recommendation is that you can use other header tags like H2, H3, H4, etc. These are typically smaller, and are used to introduce different pieces of content in the body of the page.

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3. It’s not easy in competitive niches

“The niche you’re in is competitive, there are big players who have spent a lot of time & effort on this. It won’t be easy even with a clean website. One piece of advice I tend to give people is to aim for a niche within your niche where you can be the best by a long stretch. Find something where people explicitly seek YOU out, not just “cheap X” (where even if you rank, chances are they’ll click around to other sites anyway).”

We have tried to explain what Mueller is saying here in this post on The keys to high rankings in Google's local results Worrying with a very competitive niche is not easy. Your keywords must be very specific and you will need to narrow down even further, sort of create a niche from within your niche so that you can stand our clearly and get regular clicks. This will also help your website compete for the more generic keyword within your niche.

Why Focusing on a Niche is Important

Many factors come to play and determine SEO success. Having a site that is attractive with good content, user friendliness, mobile friendliness of the site, site speed, site security and trust, being able to generate inbound links from our content as well as having content that addresses customer issues so they do not need to go elsewhere to find solutions(lower bounce rate) etc.

But when dealing with very competitive keywords, focusing on a niche is the key to search engine performance. Our experience in SEO has revealed that having to focus on a small segment of the market tend to reduce the amount of big players to contend with and therefore increase the changes of ranking higher in search engine result pages (SERPs). By focusing on a single niche, they aim at being great at one thing rather just being good at many different things.

Focusing on a niche comes with a clear focus for the website. It also tends to build a clear keyword focused content helping search engines to clearly define website focus.

There are also very successful sites like Jumia that sells just anything. But these sites have come brand recognition derived from heavy investment in advertising, The site have also been launched when competition had been less and running generic product sites was less of a challenge. Other such sites include Amazon and Alibay. Notwithstanding the success of these sites, it is better to focus on one thing you can be best at.

We strongly recommend niche marketing because we have also been successful using this approach. All businesses need to take this approach with their website. Focusing on one niche helps you quickly build trust and credibility around that market which will result in better SEO successes.

Focusing on a niche also help you with building a focused keyword website. Because keywords in content is still a major component of SEO as it primarily help search engines understand what your website is all about, when you focus on many keywords, some of which are not related, it also makes it difficult for you to achieve SEO success in the different areas. Therefore, for you to easily succeed in SEO, it’s recommended that you focus on one area of expertise and “make it yours”.

4. Disavowing links can work

John Mueller gave an insight that removing the link target page might also be an option to disavow links, but he also noted that it won’t work in all cases. Here are his exact words:

“The disavow file works fine, for links to your site that you want to take out of consideration by our algorithms. Removing the link target page is also an option in some cases, but not in all (for example, you can’t really 404 your homepage).”

Generally speaking you need to be careful when you disavow links. Only disavow links if you are sure that these links are spam. Here is a quick guide on disavowing links:

        Google ignores nofollow backlinks. So your focus should be only on dofollow links.
        Disavow links from websites that are of very low quality and have very thin content, such as: social bookmarking websites, auto approved comments, backlinks from websites with duplicate content, links from irrelevant and low quality pages, and directories. Having links from poor quality websites can also affect your ranking negatively just as hiving links from high quality websites can boost your ranking. Generally, the more difficult it is to get a link to a website, the better and greater value Google attaches to the link.
        Look for websites with high external backlinks
        Disavow links from websites with very few social media shares.
        Look for links coming from irrelevant domain extensions.
        If you have suffered a Google penalty, check for the backlinks that use your over optimized anchor texts.

5. Google needs time to reflect the changes

You must be patient with Google. Do not expect your changes to immediately produce results. As John Mueller remarks, it can take considerable time until Google reflects the changes in the algorithms. According to Mueller:

“Cleaning up these kinds of link issue can take considerable time to be reflected by our algorithms (we don’t have a specific time in mind, but the mentioned 6-12 months is probably on the safe side). In general, you won’t see a jump up in rankings afterwards because our algorithms attempt to ignore the links already, but it makes it easier for us to trust the site later on.”

No matter your effort to implement the best SEO recommendations on your website, you must also give it time to take effect. Not being patient could lead you to making frequent adjustment to key elements of your websites, such as changing titles and descriptions which as we have noted earlier will affect your site ranking negatively.

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