Rules for beating Google at SEO

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Some people believe Google has 200 rules for ranking websites. If you knew all of them you would be No. 1 for any search term you wanted, and you'd get rich really fast and buy an island somewhere and retire. We'd all like that, so over the last few months, members of the LinkedIn discussion group, SearchEngineLand, have been working to compile this "Magic 200 List." So far they're up to Rule 300, but there are duplicates, and a few silly ones (some of us doubt if Google really cares who you vote for), so here are the best 173.

I've split the list into a positive and a negative group. Positive factors will improve your rank, while negative factors will decrease it (or get your site blacklisted). Both groups are further divided into five categories: code, copy, site, links, and behavior. Code factors relate to how the site is coded, plus some aspects of server admin and ancillary files such as XML sitemaps. Copy factors are about the visible copy people read, but the most important rule is merely this: relevant content and lots of it! Site factors relate to the domain and hosting arrangements. For example, just like buying a car, do you know what people did with that domain name before you bought it? Does it come with a reputation? Link factors are for the link-building fraternity (internal link structures are in the code section). Finally, behavior is about how people react to your site (including Google staff, who are people too). Yes -- Google is watching, and how people react to your site affects your listings.

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There is no way of knowing how many of these factors really do matter, or if there are others. Personally, I think most are correct, and all of them are worth serious consideration. If you're in the SEO business, you might want to test how many of these are in your toolkit. Some of these factors are simple, such as having search terms in the <TITLE> tag, whereas others are really only the heading of an entire chapter of skills, such as having search terms in prominent locations in your copy. Space prevents going into detail on any factor, but you should be able to research anything that isn't self-explanatory. You are unlikely to agree with all of these, but hopefully there are a few tricks you haven't thought of.

One clear lesson emerges from this list, which has been compiled by people from all over the world in a variety of fields, not just SEO. The lesson is this: If your SEO people aren't talking to your coders or your writers (or better still, supervising them), you're in trouble.

Factors that improve search engine results:


1) Search terms in the <TITLE> tag
2) Search terms in <B> or <STRONG>
3) Search term in anchor text in links to a page
4) Search term in image names
5) Search term in image ALTs
6) Search terms the first or last words of the Title Tag
7) Search terms in the page name URL (e.g.
8) Use of hyphen ("-") or underscore ("_") in search terms in URL (for example, search-term.htm is better than searchterm.htm)
9) Search terms in the page folder URL (e.g.
10) Search terms in the first or last words in the H1 Tag
11) Search terms in other <H> tags
12) Search terms in the page's query parameters (e.g.
13) Search terms (and location) in the meta-description tag
14) XML sitemap
15) XML sitemap under 10k
16) Accuracy of XML sitemap
17) Sitemap folder geo-targeting
18) Index/follow meta tags
19) Robots.txt present
20) URL length
21) Title attribute of link
22) W3C-compliant html coding
23) Video header and descriptions
24) Video sitemap
25) Compression for size by eliminating white space, using shorthand notation, and combining multiple CSS files where appropriate. GZIP can be used
26) Use CSS sprites to help consolidate decorative images
27) No redirection to other URLS in the same server
28) <NOSCRIPT> tags (even though I don't know anyone who doesn't have JavaScript enabled)
29) Geo-meta tags if the business serves a targeted geographic area
30) Relevance of <TITLE> tag to page content
31) Relevance of <META DESCRIPTION> to page content
32) Code-to-text ratio
33) Canonical URL
34) Directory depth
35) Number of query-string parameters
36) Link attributes -- like rel=nofollow
37) Link structure
38) Microformats
39) Mobile accessibility
40) Page size
41) Page accessible
42) Page internal popularity (how many internal links it has)
43) ALT Image Meta Tags (this can be helpful for FLASH elements too)
44) Age of prominent / 2nd level pages


45) The most important rule of all: plain old simple quality relevant content
46) Keyword density
47) Keyword proximity -- number of words between search terms (less is better)
48) Keyword positions in page
49) Keyword prominence (start/end of paragraphs or sentences)
50) Words in page
51) Page category (or theme)
52) Relevance (to searched phrase)
53) Synonyms to query terms
54) Language
55) Linear distribution of search terms
56) Legality of content
57) Frequency of updates
58) Standard deviation of search terms in the population of pages containing search terms
59) Semantic relevance (synonym for matching term)
60) Rich snippets
61) Rich snippet UGC rating
62) Search term density through body copy (about 3-5 percent)
63) Search terms in internal link anchor text on the page
64) Search terms in external link anchor text on the page
65) Search terms in the first 50-100 words in HTML on the page


manish baliga
manish baliga January 25, 2011 at 11:27 AM

Our old hotel website was doing really well seeing a high conversion rate of over 5% whihc is impressive for a independent hotel capturing 25% of bookings. Late Dec, 2010, we replaced it with a new website. We have hence seen a substantial decline in direct bookings. Any suggestions if we should have anticipated this and what should we be focusing on to curtial this for now.

Larry Truitt
Larry Truitt January 11, 2011 at 10:42 AM

Good info here. But what happened to "rules" 66 - 124? We have a 12,000+ product site at Clarcorp Industrial Sales. How can we "cozy up" to # 47? We have many products on a page.

But I did learn quite a few new things. Thanks for a great article!!


Tim Vickery
Tim Vickery January 11, 2011 at 10:09 AM

It is not Google that has to be beaten -- it is competition within the SERPs for any particular search term. Google is the playing field and the referee -- not the competition.

The title of this article, again, positions within the wrong frame. Proper search optimization is NOT a gaming process where the search engine is beaten -- is it about building authority and engagement naturally.

Susan Rubinsky
Susan Rubinsky January 11, 2011 at 9:32 AM

Break Rule #1. Now. From a usability perspective, the more words there are in your page title, the less likely your page title will be clicked on by a user from a search results page.

Every usability study I've read and/or conducted in the last two years bears this out. Most often a user scans the page then clicks on the shortest page title. I advise creating short, relevant page titles, not titles with "important" keyword shoehorned in. It may take longer to get to the top this way but once you're there, it will be more meaningful.

Issa Qandil
Issa Qandil January 11, 2011 at 9:05 AM

Is it me or this article is missing the page that talks about points 66 - 124?

Jeff Dougherty
Jeff Dougherty January 11, 2011 at 8:57 AM

This is great but is anyone else going from number 65 to 125? where are 66 through 124?

A K January 11, 2011 at 8:53 AM

Too bad you dont "beat" Google at SEO. You SEO for Google - and Bing.

And you also fail to mention that even Google has a SEO best practice guide.

Frank Motola
Frank Motola January 11, 2011 at 8:40 AM

This is a beautiful thing. For SEO practitioners we know most of it, for business people - they will scan the list and quickly decide that they better hire a SEO practitioner!

Michael Hubbard
Michael Hubbard January 11, 2011 at 8:03 AM

Great recap - thanks! The irony to me is when I passed the page along to our designers for a quick read, the first thing I noticed was that you broke rule #7 already with a page name like :). Good recap none-the-less, thanks!