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10 ways to make your website Google friendly: Tips from Google’s chief technology advocate

feature-google-puzzle-200Making your business Google friendly so it gets picked up by Google’s search engines is “pretty easy actually”, according to Google’s chief technology advocate Michael Jones.

Jones was previously chief technologist of Google Maps, Earth, and Local Search, the teams responsible for providing location intelligence and information in global context to users worldwide.

Now as the search engine’s chief technology advocate, Jones is constantly travelling the world meeting and speaking with governments, businesses, partners and customers about Google’s mission and technology.

Jones spoke to SmartCompany from the United States ahead of his upcoming visit to Australia for the Ci2012 conference.

Here are Jones’ 10 tips to make your business Google friendly:

1. Create popular content

Despite all the advice that is out there about search engine optimisation, Jones says “the real advice is to be popular”.

According to Jones you need to ask yourself a few simple questions about your business’ website.

“Why would somebody come to your website? Why would they spend time there? Why would they recommend it to their friends? Why would they bookmark it?”

“The way you get ranked more highly is to have a genuine interest in other people,” he says.

For example, Jones says if a florist wanted to be ranked higher than other florists, the florist should have a section on its website’s front page that showed a new floristry tip every day.

“That would certainly cause your relevance to shoot up in Google without any strange or unnecessary activities, you'd just be more popular, and people would come to your site more often,” he says.

2. Don’t bother so much about using key words

As Google and other search engines get smarter Jones say they are getting closer and closer to being able to tell what a website is about without being told through key words.

“It seems you can say that this science of trying to optimise the webpage so we'll notice you – we will notice you, so will everybody else that searches websites,” he says.

“The question is how good are we at understanding what you're saying?”

Jones admits “we're not perfect” and says, “I do think sometimes there are subtleties in websites that are hard for search engines to understand.”

But he says Google is getting better at recognising things like pictures on websites without having to be told what the pictures are about through key words.

“All the ongoing upgrades to Google Panda mean that in designing a website and trying to figure out what we want to see, it has less effect,” he says.

“So the truth is it's more important to just make your website a good one.”

3. The need for speed

A business website has to be easy to find but it also has to be easy to load, according to Jones.

“We've started punishing websites a little bit on ranking if they're slow to load,” he says.

“So if you have an underpowered computer and you own a website, you might want to upgrade your computer server so it responds quickly to users.

4. Use localised cues

With more and more users accessing the internet through mobile devices, Jones says localised information is going to become increasingly important on business websites.

“If you use Google Maps on a smartphone the map not only knows all about Australia, but it also knows about the businesses in Australia where you are,” says Jones.

“So you might find that we could give you information you would not otherwise find, or we would not be able to tell you if we weren't there with you.”

He gives the example of typing in “Where is the best restaurant?” when you are standing in Darling Harbour and the question could be the best in Australia or in Darling  Harbour, but because Google can tell you are in Darling Harbour it can give more guidance.

“There are a lot of things like that, so the use of location to guide searching, the use of patterns or time of day to guide searches are a lot more intelligent in the search process,” says Jones.

He says Google is going to continue taking users behaviour into account when searching. So if a user is at the Sydney Opera House walking towards a water taxi, in the future, Google could presume that you are thinking about taking a water taxi and will show you the water taxi schedule.

“Maybe you don't have to search for it,” he says.

“Maybe when a person is walking toward the ferry, maybe we should tell them about the ferry schedule.

“If they stop on a street corner maybe we should tell them where the nearest taxi stand is.

“It's reasonable, I think, to have us guess at what you might want to know, and right now we try to guess at the best answer to what you could ask for.”

Jones says there is a difference between those two concepts but he thinks the difference will be met through mobile search.

5. Pay attention to what users are saying online about your business

There’s an increasing trend by Google to integrate information posted by users online into its listings, evident in Google’s acquisition of restaurant listing business Zagat and travel listing business Frommer’s.

“The big news in local searching is trying to get information from customers about businesses and guide future customers about those same businesses,” says Jones.

This means that when you perform a search on a restaurant you have something to guide your selection criteria. That includes the Google web ranking, which Jones says is not about the pages that Google likes, it's about the pages that Google has found from internet users across the world.

“So a way to get access to that data is a way to help Google Maps users that contribute to that data, and whatever our users discover adds to that, for everybody's convenience,” he says.

He gives the example of a user hiking in New Zealand and Google using information from Frommer’s to give details of a side trip to go and see a waterfall.

“Those aren't always things that Google has any way to find out, other than to have Google users tell us so that we can tell you,” Jones says.

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Cara Waters

SmartCompany editor

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Cara Waters is the editor of SmartCompany. Previously, Cara was a senior reporter at the Financial Times website FT Adviser in London and she also worked for The Sunday Times in London.
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