2012 has been full of change for the SEO industry, during the last 12 months the updates that search engines have introduced changed the fundamentals of SEO. At the forefront of these updates and resulting changes has been Google. However, all search engines have made it harder to manipulate SERPs favouring higher quality and more relevant results for the end user.
Not long ago some SEOs used simple, less ethical techniques to rank well for a particular keyword… some just repeated the same keyword more than competitors did in anchor text and content. The SEO industry used comments, forums, directories and article sites to generate maximum links resulting in high rankings (albeit only for the short term). This approach proved to be somewhat successful, however, in 2011 the SEO industry was taken by surprise with Google’s well documented Panda update. Those techniques producing spammy, poor quality links were no longer acceptable in the eyes of Google and this update changed the SEO industry for ever.
For some these changes were frustrating – the algorithm updates may have destroyed years of work and made many common techniques redundant. However, from a user perspective the changes were really positive – results are now clearer, more relevant and have no clutter from content farms and spammy sites. Although the changes were sudden and less than well received by some SEOs, many would now agree that they have been for the better benefiting us all long term.
This update to the Google algorithm was introduced in February 2011, however, it was still being updated and developed throughout 2012. The update was aimed at lowering the search engine rankings and the display of low quality sites in search results. It penalised websites that produced too much ‘thin’ or low quality content, and did this by looking at the ratio of high to low quality content on the site. The update was a response to the growing problem of spam on the web featuring in Google’s search results, these sites were removed from results as Panda identified websites that consistently put out low quality content on the web. Since February 2011 Google has updated Panda 20 times, each update roughly affecting between 1-5% of results. This update has been very successful for Google, and constant updates to it means that this is set to continue ensuring that results provided are valuable and useful to the end user.
On the 24th April Google introduced its Penguin update, this penalised any websites that showed signs of artificial, low quality external links. Penguin was designed to target aggressive link building strategies, in particular excessive use of unnatural anchor text, duplicate content, keyword stuffing or any technique that comes under the label of ‘Black Hat’ SEO. The overall aim is to decrease search engine rankings for sites that aren’t following Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Any website that was penalised by this update, wanting to restore its ranking was required to remove all low quality, and artificial links regardless of how old they were. It seems that websites can have a certain number of unreliable, poor quality links before a threshold is passed and Penguin penalises the site. According to Google’s estimates around 3.1% of search queries in English have been affected by the original update. Penguin 1.1 and Penguin 3 have since been rolled out, they are aimed at penalising websites that are using further manipulative techniques to achieve high rankings.
In addition to the updates, Google has provided the disavow tool to help identify these poor quality links that cannot be removed (read our previous post on how and when to use the Google Disavow Tool here). However, even with the help of this tool and the removal of any poor quality links Google is in no hurry to restore a sites previous higher quality status.
The majority of the updates introduced by Google and other search engines have been focused on looking for, and eliminating low quality content being prominent in their search results. However, changes have been introduced that reward high quality content and user experience. This can be seen from the following key recommendations:
Above the Fold Adverts
Websites that force the reader to scroll down the page to view the content of the site will risk incurring a penalty. Although it won’t affect too many sites it still highlights the importance of a high quality site and good user experience in Google’s rankings.
Well Written Content
This can’t be emphasised enough. Google realises that quality sites have backlinks from a wide variety of different places, new sites, blogs, social media, and videos amongst many. It is important to engage the target audience and provide something that will be useful, interesting and relevant then the link will come along naturally. High quality and unique content is key, make sure that the content is created for the reader and not for SEO purposes. Importantly avoid duplicate and spun content at all cost.
Although the component parts of the algorithm are a closely guarded secret, there have been more than enough hints that social media is becoming increasingly important. Engaging with your audience via social media is a sign of quality, a website should have some natural social back-links. Google knows that real brands have very active social media.
The overall goal of all of these updates is to ensure that high quality, relevant websites are displayed at the top of search results. It is no secret that there will be more algorithm updates to help this change on the way in 2013. It is very easy to get worried about these changes and what will mean for the SEO industry. However, remember that challenges presented by updates has always been a part of SEO, it is a constantly evolving and changing industry. 2013 and beyond is a time for those in the SEO industry to prove themselves rolling with the changes and adapting techniques to follow search engine guidelines. It is important for us all to focus on what we should be doing, engaging with our website visitors, writing quality content and using high quality sites. This all means that high quality and relevant content is able to prosper benefiting us all.