5 security and SEO changes Google needs you to make

Development By Peter Richman, 9th April 2015

The following five tips are measures you can take to help your business survive impending Google algorithm developments, and the sooner you can tick them off your to-do list, the better it will be for your page ranking.

Move to HTTPS

If you’re a business with a website, then this is going to be important because Google have publicly announced that it will affect your Google rankings, regardless of what you do.

The nutshell is that most of the Internet isn’t very secure, and there is a growing feeling across large tech companies that it’s in the interest of the public to make the Internet a safer place. HTTPS is a secure protocol, making your visitors safer, and will also go a long way to Google better validating your offline business by knowing an SSL company has checked you out in the real world.

Google have tried to play this down a bit, they say that the ‘ranking signal’ rewarding SSL on websites will only affect less than 1% of searches. According to my own Google Webmaster Tools account, 2,498 different keywords have resulted in my website appearing in no less than 128,308 search results pages in the last 30 days. So if moving to SSL is going to improve the most competitive 1% (since it is a weak signal) of my 2,498 search queries I could be looking at improvements to my positions and traffic if this moves some of them from page 2 to page 1 for example. This could improve my traffic by thousands of visitors per month.

In practical terms, moving from HTTP to HTTPS will involve you applying for an SSL certificate from a reputable vendor and correctly installing it on your website. There are lots of key issues around doing this, but the upshot is that you’re probably going to need to get your web company to do it for you. It can be a pain, and it can take time, and there are other SEO implications to consider – so, before you rush off and purchase a certificate, speak to someone who knows what they’re talking about.

The process of actually moving will change your URLs so it’s important that your web designers make use of 301 redirects, not only for Google’s benefit, but also for the benefit of users who may have bookmarked your pages or have clicked on old links to your website from 3rd party websites.

Plan of action:

  • Speak to your web design agency about upgrading to HTTPS.
  • Make sure they redirect users and Google with 301s.
  • Be patient – it can take time subject to SSL vendors and authorities, especially for EV ‘Extended Validation’ SSL certificates.

It’s probably best do this at a time when no other major things are happening with your website (which is why we’ve not done it yet, but it is planned for a few months time).

Keep your Open Source CMS secure

Security is the big Internet problem of today. Not content with SSL, let’s now talk about the Open Source problem… How do you keep your website secure when it’s built on a platform where everyone can download the blueprints to the bank vault?

Open Source literally means that anyone can download the code the software is comprised of. Unlike software where you can’t access the source code, having access to the source code makes hacking much easier. It’s a bit like one of those children’s puzzle books; the one where there’s a guy in a boat, with a number of tangled fishing lines and a fish on the end of one of them… Being able to see all of the source code enables a hacker to start at the fish and work backwards. Comparatively, not having access to the source code would be like not being able to see where the fishing lines are going. Make note, this isn’t a recommendation to go off and buy proprietary CMS, as this can be a disaster for lots of other reasons!

At Plug and Play, we look after almost 1,000 websites. This gives us a fair amount of aggregated intelligence on SME business’s security vulnerabilities, and the impact that having yours compromised can have.

Common reactions:

  • “I’m not a target because I’m small”This isn’t the case, most attacks are automated, and simply having a website on a platform like WordPress can make you a target for dodgy links to Viagra. Conversely, being small could mean that you haven’t updated your website security for a while.
  • “My website is still up, and works properly, so I can’t be hacked”Chances are that any hack is probably to host malware, link to dodgy websites or to send dodgy emails – all of which cause less suspicion if your website is up and working.
    Over the last 3 months we’ve spent a huge amount of resources securing our platforms and our customers’ websites. We now patch dozens of websites per day, and it’s a bit like painting the forth road bridge.

The fact is, having your website compromised by malware and dodgy links are great ways to disappear from Google and stop generating leads. Once dropped by Google, climbing back up can be expensive and time consuming.

Plan of action:

  • Make sure you’re on the latest version of any Open Source platform as new updates are released all the time – literally weekly in many cases.
  • Use ludicrously difficult usernames and passwords consisting of 20 random characters each – probably best to use a generator!
  • Host with a company that’s actually looking out for you, monitoring hack attempts and shutting them down. This will mean paying more, for instance, we start from £40 plus VAT pcm, which includes the management of security and upgrades.

If you’re version-locked because of heavy customisation, then you should consider re-implementing this functionality in a manner that enables you to upgrade the core application without anything exploding, or taking extra measures to secure your website.

Overall, it’s hugely important to ensure that your website is as secure as it can be. It’s going to have a huge impact on your rankings in Google, and your ability to drive new lead generation online.

De-duplicate your web pages

This is probably the biggest SEO ranking factor that most people don’t implement correctly. Making sure that your website doesn’t have duplicate content on the pages is actually really hard. At Plug and Play we have numerous offices across the country, all effectively trying to appear in Google for the same things, but in their respective areas. For example, /clapham and /guildford both want to appear in Google for ‘web design [Location Name]’.

To achieve our high positions in Google across these locations we’ve had to create new and unique content for every page, from scratch. This is particularly awkward when each location page is selling the same thing.

However, it is worth it. The broader geographic spread in our landing pages means that we’re casting our net further and not locking our business growth into one local market.

Plan of action:

  • Instruct your SEO specialist to conduct keyword research, recording which terms are working for you and those that aren’t.
  • Here’s the tiresome bit – create unique copy for each of your duplicate pages. Longer copy works best and it needs to make sense (don’t just stuff it with keywords!) hence it may be necessary to hire a professional copywriter for this task.

Use structured data

Structured data is effectively on-page tags that wrap certain content types and give them additional meaning for computers to use and understand. For example, they can tell Google that something is a review, or an address, or who the author of a particular article is. Why is this important? Because Google says it is.

You may have seen special snippets in Google for these before, where star ratings appear in the search results under a listing, or where products are highlighted from eCommerce websites, flight bookings and football results.

The upshot is that enhanced snippets get more clicks than the standard snippets they’re placed next to. So, if you want more click-throughs, think about how you can use structured data to enhance your page’s code (or have your web developer look at this for you).

Things every SME can benefit from with structured data:

  • Having their address in structured data can help Google ‘bind’ that website’s listed address with its Google Maps office listing.
  • Having a jazzy snippet on Google, for example with an authorship, will make your listing stand out from the crowd.
  • If you’re selling products or have reviews on your website then this is essential.
  • If you have a blog or news feed then this will enable Google to pull publish dates, authors, subjects and more from your website.

This is something that can be fairly simple to implement for most SME businesses, but will require a web developer who knows what they’re doing to implement it correctly.

Divide your target keywords across more pages

A common problem for SME businesses is that they don’t spread their target keywords across enough pages. For example, they often put all of their effort into having their homepage rank for everything they do.

This approach dilutes the specificity of the page, meaning that it becomes a page that’s not really focused on one particular thing. Google’s approach to ranking websites rewards web pages that are very specific about a particular subject, and when the keyword is competitive, it’s probably best you really only go for one per page.

An example might be an IT company that looks after your network, emails, support, and so on. If they focus their efforts in one location, lets say Leicester, then it would be best to only target ONE keyword, such as ‘IT company Leicester’ on their homepage, and nothing else.

That’s not to say they can’t have content on there with all the services, and links to those services, but in targeting that one keyword in the right on-page tags, they’ll be very specific for Google.

From here, they can then target ‘IT networking Leicester’, ‘IT support Leicester’ and so on for individual pages that target those keywords specifically. Not only will this mean that those pages will rank higher in Google for those keywords, it will also mean that when customers click on those pages in Google fewer of them will bounce, and more of them will convert. Win, win, win.

Plan of action:

  • This one is simple – have a serious review of the content on your website and ensure that your marketing team knows exactly which keywords you’re optimising for.

By putting these plans into action, you’ll build a secure website that is optimised for search engines to crawl, and if done well, this will push you higher up the page rankings.

Yes, it’s just a start, and as Google and audiences advance, there will be plenty more fine-tuning to do. Nevertheless, these measures are essential in building a solid foundation for your website – and it’s much better to be in the position where simple web design and development adjustments are all that are required when Google announce new updates, rather than having to commission an entire new website.