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When creating content to help your SEO, many people believe they should aim for an “ideal” word count. The perfect number has ranged from 300 to 1,500 words per post depending on when and who you ask. There’s just one problem – Google’s leading experts say there is no perfect word count.

Why Do Word Counts Seem Important?

Since Google is relatively tight-lipped about the exact recipe they use to rank sites on its search engine, SEO experts have traditionally had to rely on their own data to understand the inner-workings of the search engine.

Sometimes, this information is later confirmed. Marketing experts had long believed that site speed was an important ranking signal for Google before the company confirmed its impact.

The problem is this approach relies strongly on correlation – which can be unreliable or lead to incorrect conclusions.

This is also why the “ideal” word counts recommended by “experts” tends to vary so wildly. When we have to rely on relatively limited data (at least, compared to Google’s data), it can skew the conclusions taken from the data.

This is where Google’s John Mueller comes in.

What Google Has To Say

The company’s leading experts have repeatedly denied that they consider word counts to be an important ranking signal. Some have suggested it is lightly considered, but the impact is negligible compared to other factors like keyword relevance or backlinks to the page.

The latest Googler to speak out about the issue is John Mueller, Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google.

In a recent tweet, Mueller used a simple analogy to explain why focusing on word counts is the wrong approach.

Simply put, focusing on how long each piece of content is puts the attention on the wrong area. If you write long posts, simply for the point of hitting a total number of words, there is a high risk of drifting off-topic or including irrelevant details.

The better approach is to create content with the goal of answering a specific question or responding to a specific need. Then, write until you’ve provided all the relevant information – whether it takes 300 or 1,500 words to do so.

In the latest episode of Google’s “Search for Beginners” series, the company focused on 5 things everyone should consider for their website.

While it is relatively straight and to the point, the video shares insight into the process of ranking your site on Google and ensuring smooth performance for users across a wide range of devices and platforms.

Specifically, Google’s video recommends:

  1. Check if your site is indexed: Perform a search on Google for “site:[yourwebsite.com]” to ensure your site is being properly indexed and included in search results. If your site isn’t showing up, it means there is an error keeping your site from being crawled or indexed.
  2. Provide high quality content: Content is essential for informing users AND search engines about your site. Following the official webmaster guidelines and best practice documents will help your site rank better and improve overall traffic.
  3. Maximize performance across all devices: Most searches are now occurring on mobile devices, so it is important that your site loads quickly on all devices. You can check to ensure your site is mobile friendly using Google’s online tool here.
  4. Secure your website: Upgrading from HTTP to HTTPS helps protect your users information and limit the chance of bad actors manipulating your site.
  5. Hire an SEO professional: With the increasingly competitive search results and fast-changing results pages, Google recommends hiring an outside professional to assist you.

The video actually implies that hiring an SEO professional is so important they will be devoting significantly more time to it in the future. Here’s what the presenter had to say:

“Are you looking for someone to work on [your website] on your behalf? Hiring a search engine optimizer, or “SEO,” might be an option. SEOs are professionals who can help improve the visibility and ranking of your website. We’ll talk more about hiring an SEO in future episodes.”

This month, Google announced that more than half of all web pages in its search results around the globe are being pulled from its mobile-first index.

That means that the majority of pages being shown in Google’s search results were crawled, indexed, and ranked based on the mobile version of that page. As such, it marks a huge turning point for the increasing mobile-emphasis in web design and optimization.

What exactly is mobile-first indexing?

Over the past two years, Google has established a second, distinct index which prioritizes mobile pages and search results. This came as more than half of all search results were originating from mobile devices, rather than desktop computers.

Gradually, Google has expanded this index with the intent of eventually making it the primary search index.

With the launch of this index, Google also changed how it approached website indexing. Rather than defaulting to the desktop version of a page to assess its optimization and search value, the search engine began indexing mobile pages over their desktop counterpart. Thus, Google began its process of “mobile-first indexing.”

Is your site in Google’s mobile index?

If your site has been added to Google’s mobile-first index, you will likely have been notified within Google Search Console. Simply check your messages to see if your site has been migrated over.

If your site has not been migrated over, there is a chance that Google is having issues viewing the mobile version of your site, has found significant discrepancies between the mobile and desktop versions of your site, or has decided your mobile version is not up to snuff.

You should probably take the time to review the mobile version of your site to ensure it is properly optimized and laid out for Google’s search crawlers. You should also ensure that both versions of your site are largely similar, as Google prefers websites with parity across devices.

While Google is never going to reveal their “secret recipe” that is used to rank the billions and billions of web pages around, the company still wants to help you ensure your site is performing as well as possible.

To help with this, Google has launched a new tool designed to evaluate your website and rate how it follows the company’s SEO best practices and guidelines.

The tool is currently in open beta, but is available to all webmasters at web.dev.

According to the search engine, the tool is the end result of more than 10 years of learning and iteration.

“As the bar for high-quality experience continues to rise, users are quickly disappointed in a web experience that doesn’t deliver. And then they’re gone.

“We believe, however, the web now has the capabilities to overcome that challenge—to give all users the best possible experience wherever they are.”

The most useful part of the tool for most webmasters will be its SEO assessment, but it also includes audits for performance, accessibility, and more.

Specifically, web.dev can evaluate a website’s:

  • Performance: Audits for metrics like first paint and time to interactive to determine lag.
  • PWA: Assesses your page against the baseline Progressive Web App Checklist.
  • Best Practices: Looks for everything from HTTPS usage to correct image aspect ratios.
  • SEO: Checks for best practices to ensure your site is discoverable.
  • Accessibility: Checks for common issues that may prevent users from accessing your content.

All you have to do to evaluate your own site is enter the URL.

Along with some simple images rating your site’s performance, you will also be given a list of recommended improvements you can make, listed in order of how important they are. The recommendations at the top of the list will have the biggest impact on your site, while those at the bottom as more minute changes that will have little effect on your ranking – though they may improve your site’s overall performance.

Web.dev also provides detailed downloadable reports which can be printed or digitally shared with site owners, providing an easy-to-understand breakdown of your site’s performance on Google.

The tool generates an up-to-date report on a daily basis, so you can also quickly see how any changes you make affect your site’s performance.

Not long ago, it seemed like every business website had a “Testimonials” page filled with reviews and references from either past-customers or fellow members of their industry. If you have a keen eye, though, you might have noticed these pages are slowly falling out of use in favor of posting your Google, Yelp, and other online reviews on your site.

The practice has led to some confusion, as many experts claimed putting your own online reviews from across the web on your site could be potentially dangerous for search engine optimization. There have even been suggestions it could lead to Google penalties.

Now, you can breathe easy and share your online reviews with pride, as Google webmaster trends analyst John Mueller has confirmed that it is totally fine to highlight your reviews on your company website – with one exception.

While posting your reviews on your website is acceptable, Mueller warns that you can not use review structured data on these reviews.

As Mueller explained on Twitter:

“From a Google SEO point of view, I don’t see a problem with that. I imagine the original is more likely to rank for that text, but if you use that to provide context, that’s fine (it shouldn’t be marked up with structured data though).”

Mueller then went on to explain that review structured data is intended for reviews “directly produced by your site” and using them on third-party reviews on your own site would go against Google’s guidelines.

Google Algorithm

After much ado, Google has rolled out its latest big algorithm update, called the “Speed Update.” And, once again, there has been little to no effect on the search results we see every day.

This is the latest in a pattern of big announcements of search algorithm updates that seem to fizzle out into nothing. It would be reasonable for many to stop caring and assume they don’t really need to worry about all these algorithm updates.

They would be wrong.

Why Google’s Algorithm Updates Matter

The other trend running through Google’s latest algorithm updates is that they have been almost universally focused on usability across devices. In other words, Google cares about how users perceive your website. Is it out of date? Slow? Impossible to read on a smartphone?

Of course, Google’s interest here isn’t entirely altruistic. They have made their name by delivering the best search results possible. If they allow low-quality sites to dominate the rankings, they wouldn’t be doing their job very well.

As a business, you also aren’t doing a very good job representing yourself if you aren’t living up to most of Google’s latest standards. People will be put off if your copy is outdated, or your site is too slow or buggy to use. This is the biggest reason you should really care. Google’s standards are (largely) the same as your potential customers’ standards.

Bringing It All Together

If you aren’t doing one of the things above, you might be able to get away with it. Some people may give you a pass for a sluggish website. It might not matter much if your copy is a year or two old if it is still relevant and accurate. Desktop users won’t even know if your site isn’t mobile-friendly. Taken together, though, it paints a really bad picture.

This is essentially how Google’s algorithm functions. There are literally hundreds of factors or signals that affect how sites are ranked. A single new search signal isn’t likely to have a big impact. Neglecting several search signals will likely have serious consequences for your rankings.

The best way to think of Google’s search algorithm is by comparing it to a test. Missing one or two answers is fine. But, the more questions you get wrong, the worse your score is. In the end, it is always best to strive to ensure your site isn’t just meeting basic standards, but is designed and optimized to perform as well as possible. This way, you’ll satisfy anyone who comes to your site, and you won’t have to worry about updating every time Google launches a new algorithm update.

After months of warnings, Google is officially rolling out its “Speed Update” for all users.

Google updated its original blog post to say the new ranking factor would be rolling out for all mobile search results throughout the day – though it is unclear exactly how long the Speed Update will take to fully go into effect.

What is Google’s Speed Update?

Essentially, Google’s Speed Update is just a mobile version of the speed-based algorithm used on desktop search results for years. Rather than rewarding the fastest sites, the update is better described as punishing the slowest sites online. This is particularly important for mobile-based search results because numerous studies have shown that people are likely to leave a webpage if it takes more than 3 seconds to load.

What this isn’t, is a large-scale algorithm shift. The majority of sites are likely to see little to no change after the roll-out. However, it is unclear just how harshly it will penalize the slowest sites out there.

Will you be affected?

Google refuses to give an exact estimate of just how many sites will be affected by the rollout, but they have said it will “only affect a small percentage of queries.”

Still, if your business’s website is notoriously slow, you may be at risk for a loss in search ranking and traffic. If you’re afraid you may be on the chopping block, you can see how your site stacks up using a number of Google’s tools, such as the Chrome User Experience report, the Lighthouse tool, or the Page Insights tool.

As always, it is recommended that you take steps to make your website as fast as possible. This can be done a number of ways, including reducing image file sizes, finding faster hosting, or reducing the number of widgets or the amount of content on a single page. Even if your site is safe from the Speed Update, you don’t want to risk losing potential customers while they wait for your page to load.

Google Lighthouse SEO Audit Tool

Google has announced a new set of tools for its Chrome Lighthouse developers extension that may finally make the tool relevant for both marketers and business owners

The Lighthouse extension is adding SEO audit metrics that make the tool an easy and fast way to see how Google perceives your website and what needs a tune-up.

The browser plugin already contains audits for things like performance, progressive web apps, accessibility, and Google best practices, but the inclusion of SEO metrics make it an all-in-one way to review your website’s performance.

A small (but revealing) look at your SEO

Of course, Google isn’t giving away everything with their tool. It only contains ten of the estimated hundreds of  ranking factors, which Google seems to view as most-essential for the average webmaster.

“The current list of SEO audits is not an exhaustive list, nor does it make any SEO guarantees for Google websearch or other search engines. The current list of audits was designed to validate and reflect the SEO basics that every site should get right, and provides detailed guidance to developers and SEO practitioners of all skill levels.”

Google notes that they expect to add more metrics in the future.

What is included?

The ten SEO ranking factors measured by Google Chrome’s lighthouse extension are:

  1. Meta Viewport Element
  2. Title Element
  3. Meta Description
  4. Page has successful HTTP status code
  5. Links have descriptive text
  6. Page isn’t blocked from indexing
  7. Document has a valid hreflang
  8. Document has a valid rel=canonical
  9. Document uses legible font sizes
  10. Document avoids browser plugins

Do you need it?

The Lighthouse extension’s SEO audit feature isn’t an elite-level tool that takes hours to learn and understand. It is a quick, brief overview of just a few of your site’s SEO signals that might reveal some of the basic things you’ve been overlooking or neglecting. If you haven’t used it, I strongly recommend giving it a try and checking out your site through Google’s eyes.

Well, it’s the time of year for wrap-up lists, yet again. For most industries, there aren’t too many big changes throughout a year. When discussing everything that happened in SEO however, there is certainly a lot to cover.

Tom Schmitz over at Search Engine Land has a detailed analysis of all of the important shift in Google SEO throughout 2012. There’s a lot there. Google has been very active in trying to fight webspam, and personalize search results for individuals. Panda alone has had 13 updates since November 18th, 2011.

If Google keeps this up, 2013 will be a busy year for SEO as well.