2012 Recap of Google’s Algorithm Updates

December 7, 2012 by  
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The Year of Updates

What a year!  Google’s constant updates have caused the words “the end of SEO” to be used more often than any other year.  Yet most of the doomsayers were just set in their ways.  After a year of massive algorithm changes, ethical high-quality SEO is still as useful as ever.

Panda: The Update that Never Ends

We started this year in the midst of the ongoing Panda update.  By February, Panda was already breaking the record length for a named Google update.

Panda represented a major shift in how the Internet works. Before Panda, the Internet was roughly divided into authoritative sites, normal sites, and spam.  However, Panda created a new category of non-spam low-quality sites that grows with each refresh.

Against the backdrop of near-constant Panda refreshes, Google rolled out a whole range of newer updates.

January: The Rise of Google+

The big news in January was the promotion of Google+ profile pages on SERPS.  The main effect this had on SEO was that Google+ pages became necessary.

Smaller updates included Top Heavy, a new penalty for site layouts with too much ad space above the fold, and improving the reward for relevant site links.

February:  Venice

Venice, and update that prioritized local results for some queries, rolled out in February.  It is not clear when Venice went into effect or how many queries it affected.

March: Panda 3.4

The highest-impact Panda update of the year, Panda 3.4, rolled out on March 23.

April: P-Day

Penguin Day was April 24. While Panda was a penalty for honest low-quality websites, Penguin was an “over-optimization penalty” for websites that were deliberately spamming the SERPs.  Most websites hit by Penguin were deliberately keyword stuffing or cloaking.

Still, it turned out that a LOT of websites were engaging in spam practices.  Penguin hit over 3% of English queries.  This caused mass panic on the Internet as people scrambled to find actual SEO practices that didn’t violate Google’s terms.

May: Knowledge is Power

May saw the debut of Knowledge Graphs on the SERPs, competing with third party content.  This was a preview for Google’s increasing use of knowledge panels of all kinds.

June-July: Lazy Days of Summer

There were not too many developments in June and July.  Panda and Penguin were refreshed a couple of times, but the changes to queries were not sweeping or unexpected.

August: Unlucky Number 7

In August, Google decided to restrict the SERPs for some queries to 7 instead of 10 results. They also increased the odds of one domain ranking multiple times on a SERP.

September: Exact Match Domain Update

Google announced that exact match domains will lose some of their SEO benefits.  This caused a major shift in the Internet economy.

October: The Bluff

Google dropped hints about a major Penguin refresh, but when it actually rolled out it affected only a small number of queries.

November: So Far So Good!

November has turned out to be uneventful.  However, this is likely an exception rather than a new rule.  Based on the year we’ve had, I think we will see a steady pace of new updates over the next year.

Fortunately, all the updates of 2012 have proved that adaptable high-quality SEO services will always have a place.  The continuing message from Google is that it’s okay to use SEO to sell yourself, as long as you are willing to play by the rules.

Three Tools Every SEO Should Use

October 19, 2012 by  
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Online marketing and search engine optimization (SEO) involves using various tools in order to effectively increase search engine rankings and web traffic. Because SEO has become a complex discipline there are three tools that every SEO professional should include in their toolkit as outline below.

1. Open Site Explorer.

Created by trusted authority SEOmoz.org this tool is designed to improve a website’s link profile. The tool is essential because it provides a more direct look into the distribution of anchor text on website pages. Additionally, the tool allows for comparisons of external and internal linking against up to five varied websites. With over approximately 40 million URLs indexed, it has become one of the most useful tools for marketing and SEO professionals as well as website owners and developers.

Features

Open Site Explorer enables the ability to generate valuable reports that are simple to create and may be exported for use at a later date. Operating more like a search engine, the site’s navigation and interface is well-designed and easy to learn. Tabs also help with navigation to make the process more streamlined.

The graphs generated make for easy comparisons. Users may choose between various layouts according to preference which also facilitate analysis. The online tool allows users to have access for completing analysis including the number of links to sites as well as where they came from.

2. Majestic SEO.

This tool provides detailed SEO reports for each month making it easy to analyze website backlink profiles.

Features

The tool uses hundreds of IPs worldwide that crawl the web using spare bandwidth to amass its vast scale of data. Because of this, its index is larger than Yahoo’s. The over 3.9 trillion unique URLS in its Historic Index make it the largest commercial index available. On average, it crawls over 1.4 billion URLs daily.

Majestic also includes ways to view data changes over time and generates tracking reports. The Backlink History Graphs are unique in that they are only possible due to the large amount of data provided by the tool.

3. The AdWords Keyword Tool

The Keyword Tool from Google is very useful and is offered free directly from the search engine. As one of the most utilized of all SEO keyword tools, users may discover ideas for keywords and groups that might otherwise go unrealized.

Features

Online advertising is one of the more popular ways to generate publicity for products and services offered. Created in 2000, the Adwords basic technology involves choosing trigger keyword terms that pertain to advertisements.

These keywords surface each time a web user searches for any similar subject related to that term. Results are displayed on the Explorer page when the words are typed into Google’s search engine. The more specific the adword keywords are, the more clicks will be generated for websites.

SEO is a complicated field of Internet marketing. As such, these three tools assist with making the process of keyword research and checking for search ranking, density, analysis and backlinks among many other tasks much more simplified.

Learn More about Google’s Penguin

October 11, 2012 by  
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The Penguin Google search algorithm update introduced on April 24th, 2012 aimed at over-optimization and black hat web spam. It has since sparked a lot of confusion among SEO professionals.

Webmasters who have suffered from Penguin’s verdict talk about starting from scratch, others about escaping its effects. Regardless of the situation, SEO companies and markets find themselves in; it’s important that they tackle the issue at its source: “how” the Penguin update works and “what” to do about it.

Google’s Search Results Quality Guidelines

In the words of Matt Cutts, head of the web spam team at Google, Penguin (and its forerunner, Panda) will decrease search rankings of websites that violate Google’s existing quality guidelines. The team began with baby updates released before the Penguin. These updates, aimed at over-optimized content, have already shaken many webmasters. When Google finally released Penguin, Matt Cutts made it clear that the “change is targeted at web spam, not SEO.”

Purging the search results of web spam has always been at the core of Google’s guidelines. The goal is to reward high-quality websites and punish those that employ web spam techniques such as keyword stuffing and link schemes.

Anatomy of a Site Hit by the Penguin

For webmasters, the best way to check against a Penguin attack is through analyzing a site’s Google referrals. Decreasing organic traffic and ranking on or after April 24th, when the major algorithm update was officially released, most likely indicates a Penguin hit. Some sites reported a drop of a third in their organic traffic two weeks after the Penguin Google update.

The use of web spam techniques is definitely a signal for Google to punish a website. Sites with unnatural links and over-optimized content suffered heavy blows and have found it difficult to recover.

Recovering from and Surviving Penguin Google

Asking Google for reconsideration won’t hurt. Google’s bot can re-crawl and re-analyze a website and get its previous ranking back.

If Google has valid reasons for penalizing your website, work on your link profile. Remove all unnatural or low quality links and diversify anchor text on links. Massive links acquired in such a short time all seem unnatural to Google. And so are reciprocal links and links obtained from low quality article marketing directories.

Webmasters don’t have ultimate control over low quality websites linking back to their sites. In this case, it’s better to take a proactive approach and focus instead on building more positive links. More than half of links of top ranking websites with a natural link profile contain anchor texts that aren’t the exact keyword they’re trying to rank for. Their link profiles also include a variety of URLs, image links, brand names, and many types of links. It is important to remember the elements of Penguin Google when attempting this proactive approach.

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