Such is the fast moving and dynamic nature of the search industry that every year sees a whole range of changes. When it comes to talking about what changed in search during 2013, there are a number of avenues we could go down, from strategy changes anyone with an interest in SEO should have made to what Google’s Matt Cutts has been sharing with us in his regular video answers to webmaster questions.
We realise that, whether it is looking at the areas above of finding the best blogs on Search Engine Land, for example, many within the digital marketing industry look at many different areas in order to find advice and guidance. However, there is one thing that unites us all: the Google algorithm change.
With this in mind we’ve looked at the big changes in Google’s algorithm that have occurred throughout 2013.
January and March were marked with Google Panda updates 24 and 25. Google themselves called update 24 a data refresh rather than a roll-out of a big update, and as such Google Panda 24 saw a visible impact on approximately 1.2% of searches.
Google Panda 25 was the last confirmed Google Panda update, and Cutts stated at the time that future Google Panda updates would not be announced nor confirmed by Google. There is nothing overly sinister going on here, however, just that Google have now integrated Google Panda into their main algorithm, rather than using it as standalone entity. This integration couples with a need for a greater focus on content within SEO, and should help to focus the minds of anyone pushing a digital marketing strategy now that high quality content is a “must do” within the regular Google algorithm and not just a Google Panda satisfaction strategy.
May 2013 saw the roll out of the fourth version of Google Penguin – termed Google Penguin 2.0 owing to its use of second generation technology. As you already know, Google Penguin looks predominantly of the backlink profile and link building activities of websites, and Cutts stated that the main change within Penguin 2.0 was a tightening of the way Google looks at page and domain authority. This makes it even more important for webmasters and SEOs to ensure they are only building links from high quality pages. However, Google have made the Penguin algorithm more intricate in terms of how they determine whether links are good or bad. For example, if there is a great page filled with expertise but on a low authority website, Google will still view a link within the high quality text as a good link.
As a result of this, another change saw Google look closer at websites that offer expertise and are considered industry leaders, and so boosted how the Penguin algorithm ranks their authority.
Looking at only these two changes, it is easy to see why the “content is king” mantra has proven so popular in 2013 and is driving digital marketing strategy planning into 2014.
Later in 2013, on October 4th, Google Penguin 2.1 rolled out. The main addition to this was a “spam filter” with an aim of further tightening the quality of search results by targeting websites guilty of link spamming. In addition to Google Penguin 2.1, Google were actively and publicly pursuing a number of link networks throughout the summer, including Ghost Rank 2.0.
Alongside the two Google Penguin updates we saw during 2013, Google also rolled out what became known as the “payday loan” update during the summer. This wasn’t a massive update that would have impacted on many, if any, people pursuing legitimate SEO gains, but rather something Google did to target specific industries that are notorious for spammy content, such as payday loans, hence the name, and pornography.
Despite big changes in the way Google Panda works within the overall algorithm and to the strength of Google Panda, the biggest Google algorithm news of the year was the Google Hummingbird upgrade.
Google Hummingbird isn’t like a Panda or Penguin roll-out, it is the actual Google algorithm itself. The aim of Google Hummingbird is to ensure that internet users are presented with the most relevant search results possible based on the search terms they have used, rather than giving results based on one or two keywords, which had been the case in the past. Given that more people are performing long-tail searches, it had become obvious that such an upgrade to the Google algorithm was necessary, and as such this has also impacted on the way we approach long tail keywords within SEO planning.
Okay, so while this isn’t a change to any Google algorithm, Google’s move towards using secure search and the increasing percentage of keyword (not provided) certainly got tongues wagging across the digital marketing industry and represents a real change in the way SEOs and webmasters approach keyword research. At the end of 2013, the (not provided) percentage had stabilised at just below 90%.
There are a number of conspiracy theories as to why Google has taken this path, the biggest one being that the company wants businesses to spend more on AdWords to discover their most effective keywords, while another is that Google is looking to protect users from “spying” by agencies such as the NSA and GCHQ.
2013 has clearly been a huge year in terms of changes in search. It remains to be seen in what direction Google will move in 2014, and how future algorithm and operational changes will be received by consumers and the digital marketing community.