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Google is Rendering Your Site Differently: SEO Isn't Just About Text

Posted by drew on Nov. 4, 2014, 5 p.m.

If you are frequent user of Google Webmaster Tools, you have no doubt noticed that the “Fetch as Google” tool has seen some updates this year. In May, Google announced that the Fetch as Google tool would also include a rendering option, to give webmasters a sense of how Google sees their site on desktops, mobile phones, etc.

The dawn of this tool signaled that Google’s indexing system could now understand web pages beyond the text on the page. What does this mean for SEO? It means that, now more than ever, the way you design your site matters.

Last week, Google announced an update to their webmaster guidelines regarding this indexing system change. Among their changes to the guidelines are recommendations to “Make sure your web design adheres to principles of progressive enhancement” and to pay closer attention to the page speed and performance of your site.

Previously, page speed was only had a ranking impact when two sites were very closely ranked in other ways. The page speed would help determine which was ranked higher. This is the reason it was said to only have an impact on a small percentage of sites.

Now, however, it seems like Google may be saying there is a more significant impact from page performance. Specifically, the announcement reads “Pages that render quickly not only help users get to your content easier, but make indexing of those pages more efficient too. We advise you follow the best practices for page performance optimization…”

What are some actionable tasks that webmasters can do to respond to these guideline updates? Well the first would be go to Google Webmaster Tools and use the Fetch and Render as Google Tool.

This tool will give you an image of the way Google sees your site. If you are blocking Google from seeing your style sheet or scripting, your render may look something like this.

Render From Google.jpg

This is something like the way Google used to index pages, seeing only the HTML elements on the page, and not the styling that organized them. If this is what your rendering looks like, it means that Google’s index contains an inaccurate view of your site, and you should remedy that.

Most likely, you are using your robots.txt file to block Google’s access to your CSS file. Check this in webmaster tools and make the changes you need, in order to allow Google to more accurately render your site.

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