Google recently posted a list of search improvements at their webmaster blog. Some of these are improvements Google made during the month of December 2011, and some of them are significant, so pay attention! This isn’t an exhaustive list, but you can see the whole “30 Search Quality Highlights for December” here.
- Image search landing page quality signals: Google is trying to provide the most relevant images when people search, of course. What you can do is to complete the ALT tag information, if you want your images ranked and drawing people to your website. The completion of the ALT tags will also help your page in regular search. But be careful of loading images down with keywords because Google also improved spam detection for image search.
- Improved sitelinks: If you’re a local marketer this is good for you. Google is providing better and more sitelinks (the links to interior pages below your main page link), and they’ve made them more relevant to local search. Be sure that you’re not sending all of your links to your front page alone. To have sitelinks, you need to have interior pages that rank well, too.
- Soft 404 codes: Some webmasters return codes other than 404 (page missing) even though the page exhibits language saying that the page is not found. Google calls these alternate codes “Soft codes” or “crypto 404’s.” Google says these are hard for spiders to figure out what to do with, and suggest that instead of using these soft codes, you stick to the 404.
- More rich snippets: Google improved rich snippets for recipes, shopping, and reviews. If you have any of these type sites, you should learn about rich snippets and be sure to use them.
- More accurate dates in bylines: Google got better at figuring out when a document was created and placed on the Web. This is a huge argument for freshness. Since they are pro-fresh, older documents that are no longer relevant to a search will fall to make room for the new. If you don’t continually produce fresh content, you’ll see your organic traffic drop.
- Image size recognition: Google says, “With this change, you’ll tend to see images with larger full-size versions.” So, instead of loading a huge version of an image, scale it to where it’s the size you want and then, apply it to your page. Since full-sizes will work better for search, it makes sense. Besides, if you’re NOT doing this (for example in WordPress, you can resize large images), you’re just using up storage space that you don’t need to use.
- Other improvements are: Improved +1 button on search results pages, live results for NFL and college football, and safer searching, but there are several others. I encourage you to follow the link above and see if any of the others apply to you.