What is SEO 2012?

by David Naylor
Bronco - Digital Marketing Agency

Having returned from doing 2 conferences back to back, the iGaming Affiliate Conference in Barcelona and the A4U Expo in London, I thought it would be a good time to do a post on the topic that I was talking about in my sessions.

I tend to get asked to talk on the future of SEO, and with this year being such as violent one in terms of changes from Google it's important to take a look at what is SEO 2012.

Back in January 2011 I did a session on the future of SEO and created a screenshot of what I thought Google would look like .. this is what I thought…

So how far off was I?

You look at the serps for the same search today and see this… its still the 10 blue links on the page

But if you look at the "see results about" we are now in the realms of where I thought we would be heading towards, just without the big Youtube integration.

There is also more going on with the search results for such things as "credit cards" and "car insurance" and who knows how far Google will push the boundaries with their Adwords customers as to how prominent these become.

There has been a torrent of updates from Google that are rolling faster …

Feb 23rd 2011 – Panda / Farmer, affected 12% of results. Hit Europe, April 11th 2011
June 21st 2011 – Panda 2.2 (first time they have carried over an update)
August 12th 2011 – Global Panda roll out, 6-9% of queries
Sept / Oct / Nov – Panda flux updates

January 18th – Panda 3.2
January 19th –"Top heavy" – sites devalued
March 21st – Unnatural Link Warnings in WMT, followed by ranking drops
March 23rd – Panda 3.4 – announced by Twitter, 1.6% queries
April 19th – Panda 3.5
April 24th – Penguin – over optimisation penalty, bad links
April 27th – Panda 3.6
May 25th Penguin 2
June 8th Panda 3.7
June 25th Panda 3.8
July 24th Panda 3.9
August 20th 3.91
September 18th Panda 3.9.2
August 10th – DMCA penalty
September 27th – EMD penalty
September 27th Panda #20 ~2.4% queries impacted
October 5th – Penguin 3.0, ~0.3% impact

And these are just the ones they have announced. Algorithm changes still go on and sites will still pick up penalties outside these updates. My advice would be to take action and not wait for the next update.

So what is Google like in 2012?
There have certainly become more transparent, but why are they giving us this information? We know that they have been recruiting Odesk workers to carry out quality reviews, and they have always been inside link networks (they just probably know about more now!). We have had our keyword data in Analytics restricted with the introduction of "not provided" and soon Google Shopping Paid inclusion will be coming into force. Google now have a massive amount of link data following all the reinclusions so 2013 will be even tougher on link building.

So what was Panda?
It was…. "designed to reduce the rankings for low quality sites – sites that are low value add to users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful" (quote by Amit Singhal & Matt Cutts, 25th February 2011)

Sites that got hit had weak content, had links from sites that got hit, were over affiliated and poor for the user, but you can recover from it.

So what is Penguin?
Penguin is a Google algorithm change targeted at webspam …."the change will descrease rankings for sites that we believe are violating Google's existing quality guidelines" (quote by Matt Cutts, 24th April 2012)

To recover from Penguin you need to clean up your link profile and remove any weak or unnatural links. Also look at the anchor text balance in the link profile. When you have removed the links and recovered you'll need to rebuild the profile as your rankings are likely to be weaker. It is clear now that the unnatural link warnings that were issued in March 2012 were the prelim to Penguin, and was a good exercise to gather link data, but even though Penguin is algorithmic, if you had one of the original warnings you'll still need to do a reinclusion request to come back.

So What Does Google Want in 2012?

"Write good content and you will get links" … REALLY!
How can a site gain links from good content with all the social network sharing that goes on. Years ago before Twitter and Facebook people would leave proper comments on websites, or rewrite an article on their blog, with their spin on it and link to the source. This rarely happens now as people just Tweet and Like something and then it's gone as the noise of the internet increases.

"Build sites for users and not for Search Engines"
Google can now algorithmically determine sites that are poor for users, as seen in the over affiliated and top heavy sites update. But it's more important than ever to also make sure your site is good for the search engines with things like speed, content and structure.

"Has Google stepped into Social for a reason"
For the last few years SEO's have been saying that social signals is a ranking factor but how can Google trust social signals when it's so easy to game. How can they really track all of the interactions and work out the authority or trust of each social share or mention?

"Good link building strategies"
Of course Google want you to have good, clean link profiles…. It would certainly make their life easier. With the expectations of a big Penguin roll out when Matt Cutts said "You really don't want the next Penguin update" , it's time people took a long hard look at their link profiles and started the clean up and changed their strategies.

So what still is important for SEO 2012?

For the onpage, you still need good quality title tags, headings and unique content, along with a good site structure, speed and internal linking.

For your visitors you need to be investing more in keeping them coming back so do newsletters, offers and vouchers. You also need to get more out of the traffic your site gets so do some split testing to increase conversions, making sure your tracking is all set up properly. You also need to get more referrals and recommendations from other sources from social and viral marketing.

For the off page, the ranking algorithm is still heavily weighted to links and you need to be even more careful and cleverer. It's always, always been about Quality over Quantity. When you're building links here are a few top tips to help identify a safe link.

  • Check SearchMetrics.com to see whether there has been any reduction in their search engine visibility, however their figures are based on search volume so use this as a starting point.
  • Check that all content on the site is unique and not scraped through the use of a quotation search on Google.
  • Look at the PageRank and how it flows through the website, does the homepage pass equity into the internal pages?
  • Check the number of outbound links that the site currently has and whether those links are related links.
  • Look at the backlink profile of the site in Ahrefs.com and other tools to make sure that they are not over active, or under active with their own link building.
  • Look at the whois in order to check the age of the site.
  • Check the site is indexed in Google and look what Google returns on a site:domain search.
  • Also look at the IP address of the site to ensure that it is not part of a large network of sites that could cause problems as well as looking at the source code to make sure that they are not hiding any information through hidden text, meta refreshes or rel canonical tags.
  • Back in March 2009 at a conference I stated "Build a Brand – Become a Brand". Whether anyone at the time listened to the advice I'm not sure but it is more important than ever to be the brand. To build a brand you need to go back to traditional PR with and SEO angle, which is purely the reason why Bronco formed a strategic partnership earlier on this year with the PR Agency 10 Yetis. For a successful PR campaign you need to be producing good content and producing topical, social and viral pushes with the aim to get press mentions, social mentions and brand mentions.

    So my advice for what to do now, is to set in place a strategy to improve your overall presence and not just expect to get traffic from search rankings. You need to do a full link clean up now, even if your rankings drop, and then develop a new link strategy for the future. At the same time make sure your on page is exceptional not only for users but for the search engines too.

    There are things that will never change is that Google will continue to do updates, but what is required now is a lot more effort to stay ahead and always remember quality over quantity on everything that you do.

    Bronco - Digital Marketing Agency
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