The past few years have kept SEO experts extremely busy, with major updates to Google’s algorithm changing the way marketers approach SEO for good. In fact, Google makes around 600 changes every year, but most of them are just modifications to existing algorithms. It used to be easy to alter web content to get higher SEO rankings in search engine results pages (SERPs) but “fooling” Google is no longer a sensible option. Business owners and marketers in 2014 and beyond need to stay on top of their online marketing and SEO strategies to stand any chance of competing in an increasingly competitive online environment.
The Recent Google Updates That Affect SEO the Most
The first Panda update was rolled out in early 2011. One of the most significant algorithm updates in Google’s history, it affected around 12 percent of search results. Aimed at penalizing low-quality content sites and those with large ad-to-content ratios, and rewarding sites with more relevant and useful content, Panda had a major impact on the way marketers approached SEO.
February 2012 saw the Venice update, which focused more on integrating local search data into organic results.
Affecting around three percent of English search queries, the Penguin update was launched in April 2012 to tackle sites that were basically spamming Google. Black hat techniques like keyword stuffing and link schemes were heavily penalized. Released in May 2013, Penguin 2.0 included further updates to penalize websites with low quality backlinks.
In January 2013, the “Top Heavy” update expanded on Panda to devalue websites with too much ad-space and too little content above the fold.
In September 2013, Google announced that the Hummingbird update was rolled out around a month earlier. Aimed at returning more relevant results in SERPs, the Hummingbird update focuses even more on the link and content quality of sites, and the meaning behind the words used in search queries.
SEO Lessons to Learn From the Latest Google Updates
Following Panda, it’s clear that business owners and marketers need to seriously focus on providing quality blog content to their readers. SEO strategies also need to incorporate content that keeps readers on a website for longer. A mixed bag of content such as text, images, videos, and presentations should also do better in SERPs. To escape penalties, avoid duplicate content, incomplete site work, and too many ads. Instead, focus on creating unique content that is relevant on every page of the site and can be shared easily across social media channels.
The Venice update has been a huge benefit to smaller businesses that are more concerned with local commerce. To benefit from Venice in 2014, business owners must verify their Google+ Local page to authenticate their business. Then it’s a case of building local citations across different online channels (including business directories) and making sure the name, address, and phone number are consistent across the web. Businesses must identify the searches that are relevant to their products and services and optimize their pages for these search terms combined with the business location. It’s not a case of keyword stuffing, but including relevant information on every web page.
Because of the Penguin update, businesses in 2014 will have to review the quality of links to their website and also internal links. Links from poor quality sites, paid links, and exact-match anchor text links need to be removed. Instead, develop links naturally over time, vary phrases in anchor texts, and don’t stuff keywords and keyphrases throughout web content.
The “Top Heavy” algorithm change means businesses should focus on providing quality content above the fold (before users have to scroll down) and avoid bombarding the reader with ads.
Hummingbird, arguably Google’s biggest algorithm change since 2001, focuses more on the meaning behind the words in search queries. “Conversational search” has therefore become a common phrase in SEO circles. With more people searching via mobile devices using their voice, Google are now penalizing sites that are not optimized for mobile. In 2014, SEOs need to focus a lot less on keywords and concentrate on the meaning behind their content. When creating content, the main focus should be on addressing users’ needs with meaningful and relevant information. What are searchers actually looking for? Do web pages deliver, or do they have high bounce rates? These are all factors that Hummingbird takes into consideration. The new Google algorithm also prefers a diverse mix of content, so businesses need to be creative and include pictures, videos, presentations, maps, infographics, and more throughout their website. Basically, businesses should focus on customer engagement, not keyword data.
SEO strategies in 2014 and beyond need to consider all of Google’s algorithm updates as a whole and combine SEO techniques that are also flexible to allow for future updates. Ultimately, the goal remains the same: continue to publish original and high quality content that meets the needs of your audience, and develop natural links through branded content spread across multiple social media channels. It’s time to stop manipulating Google with dubious SEO tactics. If you want your business and brand to show up higher in SERPs, just give your audience what they want.