Google dominated search marketing news in 2013, especially with secure search (keyword data not provided), the Hummingbird algorithm, and Panda/Penguin updates.
It's no surprise that Google dominated SEO news in 2013. Here are some thoughts on the top 3 Google Dance steps in the past year.
Google Secure Search
Goodbye keyword data! That was what SEO professionals had to say on September 23, 2013, when Google announced they had suspended provided keyword data in order to protect user privacy. This was a development that most professionals were anticipating, but were hoping wouldn't occur.
The signs were there all along. Right up until the official announcement, there were numerous rumors that this change was pending. Anyone watching their keyword data in analytics could see the percentage of not provided terms climbing at an alarming rate all through the summer of 2013.
This loss of keyword data meant many SEO professionals needed to take a different approach to achieve the same level of accuracy while reporting, because the raw data so many people used to measure SEO results was not available anymore.
Some SEO companies have mentioned they are working on a solution for this issue. At the time of publication, I've only seen one with something solid to work with.
On September 26, not long after Google announced they wouldn't share the keyword data, they announced their brand new algorithm impacting more than 90 percent of searches worldwide, "Hummingbird." Amit Singhal, Google engineer, later said it was perhaps the largest change to the algorithm since he joined the company back in 2001.
With the Hummingbird update, Google intends to make search a more human way to interact with users and to provide a more direct answer than before.
The whole idea with this update is to make search "conversational." In general, users find it easier to search for something as if they were asking a friend, instead of coming up with a specific keyword phrase. An example might be, ‘How tall is the Empire State Building?'
The Hummingbird update focuses on the meaning behind the words. It uses different signals to identify what the user is searching for, such as location and previous search history, in order to present the best results. If you are searching for a product, for example, Google would get your location and see which stores are close to you and have the product in their inventory.
In particular, Google said that Hummingbird will pay more attention to the whole sentence instead of each specific word. This way, it is easier to understand what the user is searching for based on the meaning of the query.
Did Hummingbird kill SEO and link building?
No. The update shouldn't change how competent SEO professionals do their job. The optimization should remain the same: present original and high-quality content. The primary question SEOs asked themselves in the past was, "How do I rank for this keyword?" Today, the better question to ask is: "How do I best provide the answer to the user questions along with the best experience?"
Panda and Penguin Updates
Even though Panda and Penguin updates in 2013 did not receive the same level of fanfare they did previously, they certainly played a role in the search engine optimization world last year. Their main goal is to fight low quality sites and link scheme spammers respectively.
Google has achieved incredible results by filtering "bad" sites from their SERPS. By removing over optimized websites, Google was able to push higher-quality sites near the top of the search results. Some big brands like Dish.com, the Salvation Army and CheapOair also got punished because they were perceived as being involved in one way or another in some kind of link scheme.
Although Google's main goal was to target spammers, it affected a great number of smaller websites. To help them recover from the updates, Google has provided a guide on how to build high-quality sites. The guidance consists of a list of 23 points to answer the question, "What counts as a high-quality site?" It is supposed to help webmasters "step into Google's mindset."
On one hand, to this day there are many websites that have never recovered from these updates. Some even went out of business due to massive decreases in traffic and revenue. On the other hand, SEO professionals have helped many website owners recover from the "traumatic" updates. There are hundreds of posts teaching how to recover from them that would definitely help. Most of the techniques involve creating high quality content, removing bad links, building quality links and getting more involved with social media. There is no perfect formula to success, but most of these things have helped a lot of people to get back.
So there you have it: the top 3 most impactful events in SEO in 2013. What do you think? What other events got your attention?
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Crispin Sheridan is the Senior Director, Global Search at SAP. As part of the digital team, he established and leads the search and testing practices at SAP. Crispin is responsible for paid, natural, and mobile search and all online testing. Search and testing at SAP are fully centralized and globally funded and run under a hybrid in-house and agency model.
Crispin has proven that search learnings and keyword insights work hand in hand with social media marketing and together can effectively drive B2B lead generation. Furthermore, the development of the SAP.com Test Lab has contributed significant success to SAP's digital marketing efforts.
A frequent guest speaker at conferences, including SES New York, San Francisco, Toronto, London, Delhi, Shanghai, and Hong Kong, Crispin was appointed to the SES Advisory Board in December 2009. He has also been a guest speaker at the e-Metrics Summit and ad:Tech, and is a member of Google's B2B Technology Council. You can follow him on Twitter at @crispinsheridan and read his monthly SEO column on ClickZ.
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