Google offers search optimization advice for Webmasters

They're not guaranteeing users the coveted top spots on search results, but Google's got a free guide for those looking to make their Web pages as tasty as possible to the search giant's robot spiders.

Posted Wednesday, the Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide (PDF available here) explains for SEO novices how to structure your pages so search engines -- any search engine, not just Google -- can best find and parse them.

Some of the advice is specific to designers and those charged with planning a site's overall functionality: use relevant titles, structure your directories and URLs clearly (and using relevant words, not random-looking numbers or the generic "page1," "page2," and so on); don't forget to include alt tags and meta descriptions. But a remarkable amount is applicable to even those who only write for the Web, and a lot of it boils down to, "Do a good job and stay focused."

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Not bad advice, and the document as a whole is a fine compilation of the SEO basics, according to Conductor Inc.'s Dan Rosenbaum: "It's a great primer for execs and people who aren't in the business; it's certainly something that an SEO or a Web guy could give an executive to explain what SEO is about." Rosenbaum is SEO Strategist for Conductor, a New York-based search analytics firm.

And there are a few interesting choices that SEO vets such as Rosenbaum can spot in even a quick read of the 21-page PDF. For instance, he notes, though the document delves into meta descriptions and why it's good practice to do them properly.

He said it "kind of elides the apparent fact that Descriptions don't actually have any SEO weight. They're critically important because they're the tout that gets people to click on the link once they're shown the link, but Google says it doesn't take Descriptions into account when building [its] search results pages."

The guide is mainly tips-and-tricks fare -- think Martha Stewart Living, not This Old House. For those who regard site optimization finagling as just another way of succumbing to the priorities of searchbots, the guide reminds readers repeatedly that they should be writing for humans, not algorithms. Pandering to the machines can fall flat or even backfire. And, cautions Rosenbaum, "Any SEO professional who relies on this document and only this document will not have a good result. There's miles of spaces between the lines in [it], and some notable simplifications."

In related news, Google this week also released new functionality for Google Site Search clients who just can't wait to have the spiders crawling through their pages. Users can now use On-Demand Indexing to ensure that their on-site results are as up-to-date as possible.

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