There is no denying that 2013 brought a number of significant changes to the SEO and digital marketing industries, and that the vast majority of these updates came from Google. All of these algorithm adjustments and product changes create a larger picture for SEO practices: Google is urging marketers to move away from strictly tactical SEO strategies, and to place more emphasis on creating positive user experiences with superior content and design. What does this mean for brands? Your SEO strategy needs less “quick fixes” and tricks, and more strategy and quality. Don’t believe us? Here are Google’s 2013 changes, and what they mean for the present – and future – of SEO.
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Perhaps the most dreaded of these changes, Google made all organic searches secure in September 2013. With these search keywords now encrypted, brands can no longer see which search terms website visitors used to arrive via search. While this move is meant to discourage marketers from gaming the system with keyword manipulation, it also inhibits brands and publishers from gaining insight into the types of content and information that users are looking for. While there are other ways to gather this keyword data, no one is sure for how long these workarounds will be available.
Launched in conjunction with Google’s birthday, Hummingbird took the majority of the industry by surprise. It is a major platform change, allowing the search engine to better understand conversational and semantic search terms. Hummingbird softens the blow of losing keyword data a bit, since it drastically reduces the importance of exact keyword matches, and re-emphasizes that the key to SEO success is in the sum of all of your pages, as opposed to concentrating on certain pages and terms.
While Google Authorship has been around since 2011, its importance in the larger SEO picture has certainly increased this past year. The system allows Google to associate new content with the publisher who originally produced it. Building your personal credibility is important now for branding, but many are predicting that Google will, over time, measure which authors and publishers consistently produce shareable content and assign them a high “Author Rank” (a term that Google itself does not use) and use this Author Rank to help influence search engine rankings. Just as important as authorship is Publisher Rank, the system Google uses to build credibility for a website. These two structures point to the need for a holistic SEO approach that focuses on quality and shareability.
- In-Depth Articles
While Authorship might not be new, in-depth articles are; introduced this past August, this is an entirely new section of search engine rankings for high quality, longform research articles and esays. In-depth articles have their own separate place on the search results page, and use rich snippets to inform the user about the in-depth articles. This new offering is another rpiece of evidence that Google is rewarding brands that put their time and resources into producing quality content.
Like Authorship, Google+ was introduced in 2011, but 2013 was the year it became a major factor in interfacing with other Google products. YouTube now requires all comments to be made from a Google+ account, and while there have been varying studies about the importance of a +1 to a page’s SEO factor, the amount of Google+ content in SERPsand personalization of search results are definitely SEO factors to consider.
- PageRank’s Lack of Updates
While the rest of these entries are about new things that Google has introduced or updated, this entry is a bit of an anomaly; Google hasn’t updated its PageRank algorithm in almost a year. The system, which is a rough estimate of a page’s quality and user experience, may be potentially done away with, forcing marketers – and Google – to use better, more accurate measurements to gauge a webpage’s quality.
What do all of these changes have in common? They de-emphasize the tactical aspects of SEO, which are more liable for shortcuts and gaming the system, and force brands to increase their relevancy, quality, and to approach SEO more strategically and holistically. It might seem scary and disadvantageous to marketers, but forcing your SEO efforts to focus on strategy and quality will help your brand not only from a search perspective, but with customer retention and brand reputation as well. We’ll be excited to see what else will shape SEO in 2014 – and to help you adjust to every change Google throws at you. Happy New Year!