Google seems to have guidelines for everything, and Web site design is no exception. Google’s Webmaster Guidelines are the de facto guidelines for how any Web site associated with Google should be designed.Google is certainly one of the most visible companies in the world. The number of people who watch Google in hopes that it will one day screw up is shadowed only by the number of people who are watching Microsoft hoping for the same. And because Google is such a target, the company needs to ensure that anyone who’s even very remotely associated with it meets certain guidelines to help avoid the ire of an offended public.
The Google Webmaster Guidelines are only one step in the requirements that Google has for people, but the guidelines are an important step — and it’ll benefit you to understand them completely. Here’s a quick overview, but take the time to read the complete guidelines at www.google.com/webmasters as the ideas underpinning them are valuable for Web design even if you’re not planning to use AdSense or any of Google’s other applications:
- Make your site easy to navigate by creating a consistent navigational structure across your site and by making that navigational structure obvious to visitors. Nothing’s worse than getting stuck on a Web page without a link to the home page or another way off the page without using your back button or closing your browser completely.
- Include relevant links to other Web sites.
- Use a site map (a text document that links to every page on the site) and submit it to Google. To submit your site map, you have to be a member of Google’s Webmaster Central, but signing up for that is as easy as signing up for any other Google account. After you sign up,submit your site map by using the form. (You can find links to the forms as well as other pertinent info at www.google.com/webmasters/start.)
- Include clear, relevant content.
- Make sure the HTML that makes up your site is written correctly.
- Repair broken links as soon as they’re noticed.
- Allow crawlers access to your Web site by including a robots.txt file in the design of your site. The robots.txt file has two lines: User agent: * >Disallow: /
- Create the file with a text editor, such as Notepad, save it using robots.txt, and then when you upload your Web site to a server, be sure to also upload this file. The file tells Web site crawlers that they’re welcome to look at all the pages on your Web site.
- Design your pages for users, not for search engines. Users come to your site because they need something. Design your site so that the visitors you’re targeting get exactly what they need information and products that they’re searching for. By designing your site with your visitors in mind, you’ll automatically hit most of the requirements that search engines have for ranking you in search results. A good rule of thumb is the more useful your site is to real people, the better crawlers will rank the site.
- Avoid any kind of underhanded Web site design, such as using hidden pages or hidden text that’s only meant to be seen by Web crawlers.Believe it or not, crawlers recognize this kind of sneaky design, and you’ll be penalized in search rankings for it.
- Use only relevant keywords in the titles, headings, and text of your Web site.
Many more guidelines are in here, but these basics are a good place to start. And one in particular really sums up the whole concept of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines: Build your site for people, not for search engines. If you do that, the chances that you’ll end up in trouble with Google (or AdSense) are very slim.