The age of SEO being simple is over. Your responsibilities have been massively upgraded by a flood of new SEO trends. So, how do you keep up?
I thought I’d give you what I see as the ten most important changes you should not ignore if you want high rankings, hopefully allowing you to keep up with this fast-paced SEO world.
Google makes a lot of changes to its algorithm, but most people don’t notice the changes. However, you probably almost immediately noticed changes when Google rolled out its Panda/Farmer/Scraper update.
In fact, Google said that the change actually would impact about 12% of search results in the U.S. It negatively impacted low-quality pages and content farm sites and awarded those sites that provided high-quality content.
For example, Mahalo.com ranked for 33,875 keywords before the update. It plunged to just 9,740 keywords after. That’s a decrease of more than 70%. It’s important to see that the keywords were like these: Zealand air, digg or tax check. Before the update, Mahalo.com ranked in the top ten SERs for those keywords. They fell out of the top 100 results.
The Scraper update, which came a little later in the year, targeted scraper sites. Matt Cutts said, “We’re evaluating multiple changes that should help drive spam levels even lower, including one change that primarily affects sites that copy others’ content and sites with low levels of original content.”
This update was more targeted with a little bit over 2% of query changes in some way, but only half a percent of search results would change, so people probably wouldn’t notice. The change is meant to show searchers the original content rather than the scraped or copied content.
Google’s new search index: Caffeine
Caffeine is an SEO change that Google said would provide the largest collection of web content they’ve ever offered, allowing 50 percent fresher results for web searches.
This was not an algorithm change, but a rebuild on the way they index. Here’s the image they used to illustrate it:
It’s really about going from their old index to their new one. Their old index had several layers. Some layers were refreshed at a faster rate than others. The main layer would update every couple of weeks, but older layers of the old index involved Google having to analyze the entire web, leading to a significant delay between when a page was discovered and when it was made available to searchers.
Caffeine now allows Google to analyze the web in small batches and update on a regular basis, so a new page can be added straight to the index sooner. Searchers are then finding fresher information faster than before.
Unexpected SERP changes
The interesting change that Caffeine introduced was a wider range of content shown on Google SERPs. Before Caffeine, you had the standard 10 blue links, looking like this:
After Caffeine, you now have this:
What’s interesting is that you can change your search focus in any number of ways. For instance, change your location, and you’ll get a different set of searches. And what you also don’t see are the results that would show up from people in my social media circle.
In fact, Google has tested this social aspect in many ways, including avatars of your friends appearing below the pages they recommended. These changes are making it harder and harder to game SEO strictly with optimized content since results are being based on a user’s action and his or her social circle – things that are out of your control.
The Mayday update of Google, which occurred back in 2010, wasn’t a ranking change, but a crawling or indexing change. This update probably means that sites getting less traffic are still indexed, but some of those pages might not rank as high as before. In an interview, Google’s Matt Cutts said that this change is going after long tail traffic.
This change positively impacted very large sites, particularly e-commerce sites, which have item pages that don’t have a lot of links going to them, are several clicks away from the home page and may not have a lot of valuable content on them.
These product pages don’t get a lot of external links, and the content is usually pulled from a database, so this change is helping these pages rank well for these long tail queries.
This change, implemented back in September 2010, allows users to see relevant search results as they type. If you see the search you are looking for, you can quickly click it. The user benefit of Google Instant is saved time. In fact, Google tested and discovered that the average user saves two to five seconds per search.
How does this affect SEO? It seems searchers will probably give more value to the top five rankings, those which are seen by the searcher, as the results instantly change. But long tail search is more important as people will continue to type until they see what they want.
The latest data comes from HitWise. It shows that search queries five to eight words long went down 2%, while one-word queries actually went up.
My own experience is that I tend to discover pages that I wouldn’t normally discover because as I watch the Google suggestions change, I may see something I wasn’t expecting and click through. What’s your experience been like?
Site speed as a ranking signal
Another change made by Google was geared toward their evaluation of a site’s speed. When searchers are able to conduct more searches because of speed, they tend to be happier. Google did some experiments showing that slowing down the search results page just by 400 milliseconds actually decreased the number of searches by 0.2% to 0.6%.
While site speed is a new signal, it doesn’t carry as much weight as the relevance of a page, but the cost of slower performance increases over time and persists…that’s why it pays to minimize site load. You have to ask yourself if that new feature you want added to your site is going to be worth having the slower page load.
You can use the Page Speed tool to test your site’s load speed so you can then make changes based on best practices.
Here’s my Quick Sprout blog in Page Speed.
This took about five seconds to process. Notice in the red vertical rectangle all of my recommendations from high priority to experimental. The top horizontal rectangle also recommends changes based upon a mobile report. And if you click the link in the bottom horizontal rectangle, you get this page:
Looks like I got my work cut out for me!
You can also go to the Site Performance page inside Webmaster Tools to measure the speed of your site. It evaluates the speed based on how people experience it around the world, the trend over the last few months and some suggestions on how to make the pages load faster.
Bing Gaining on Google
Just because Google takes up 67% of all searches doesn’t mean you should ignore Bing, especially since search that is powered by Bing has actually risen.
But often these changes don’t reflect what is going on your site, so it’s important to keep an eye on these developments while working hard to optimize your site based on your results.
For instance, one site I know gets 93% of its search engine traffic from Google, and according to Google Analytics, Yahoo traffic accounts for about 7.1%, Bing for 5.7% and MSN for 4.7 %. That hasn’t really changed despite the increase of market share by Bing.
The merger was completed awhile ago, and SEO, at least in my book, is still the same for both Bing and Google. I create original content with targeted, relevant keywords, which both search engines love.
It does seem that Bing puts a high value on external links as Google does, but I noticed that it’s important to make sure you don’t have crawl errors in your code errors that might prevent Bing from indexing your site.
It’s also been reported that when it comes to Bing, your domain name should have keywords in it. In addition, title tags with appropriate keywords, content with keyword density and internal links that are optimized are equally important.
Socialization of search
I’ve talked about how social media will affect your SEO before, but it seems that as Google continues to make changes based on users’ actions and their social circles, your social network reach and the sharing you do in those networks will have a huge impact on your search traffic.
Don’t believe me? Almost 132 SEO and social media experts predicted that social signals at the page level and domain level would have a greater impact on search engine rankings than traditional SEO factors. Here’s the SEOmoz chart:
But it’s more than just having links shared on Twitter or Facebook; it’s becoming evident that a huge social reach will be key to competitive SEO work. In other words, if you are an SEO, you should be paying more attention to social media and to the ways in which to grow your social media circles for yourself and your clients.
The importance of brand link
It seems that search volume is starting to have an impact on brand links. What are brand links? They are links for companies such as Nike or Apple. Do a generic search for “tablets,” and you will see this:
If you have a high search volume for your brand, then you will likely appear in that red box. Google said that they were trying to help users who were not familiar with a brand to become aware of that brand. They wanted users to be able to find popular brands.
Can you optimize your site for brand links? It’s really hard to tell at this stage of the game, but some have suggested that Google is perhaps taking notice of the head terms that are being associated with a brand. For example, if Google sees that “tablet” and “Kindle Fire” are keywords with heavy search volume, then the brand link may be influenced.
This may not be the only factor influencing brand links. Mentions in the news could be having the same impact. If your brand is getting a lot of social mentions, then you could end up in the brand link spot.
In the last year alone, there have been huge changes to the SEO landscape. It’s really hard to keep up, but hopefully I’ve given you some ideas about what you should pay attention to.
By the way, these ten trends aren’t in the order of importance, but you could start at the top and just work your way through these trends to get a measure of where your site is at. Then with those results, you could determine your highest priorities.
What SEO trends did I miss in the last year that you think are very important?