2013 saw the foundation of traditional SEO brought into question. Google forbade many older techniques, and updated others, to bring them in-line with where the internet is heading in 2014. This shouldn’t be read to mean that SEO is dead; with an estimated 97% of all web experiences beginning with a search engine, it’s more important than ever. SEO in 2014, however, is about optimizing content to drive a successful campaign.
The Trends of 2013
Google introduced a number of changes in 2013, all of which were meant to put the final nail in black-hat SEO’s coffin and bring more utility to web users. Here’s a recap of the biggest changes Matt Cutts and the Google team brought our way last year:
Panda Goes Clandestine- In May of 2013, Google announced that updates to Panda, an algorithm update meant to penalize producers of low-quality web content, would no longer be announced. Instead, updates will be made quietly, driving the point home that the Google is through firing warning shots at abusive marketers.
Penguin Targets Links Along with Content- Updates to Google’s equally reviled Penguin expanded the spam-utility’s scope from content quality to link quality. Penguin no longer takes a cursory glance at included links while focusing on keyword stuffing and content quality. Not only does it check for content quality, it now evaluates each piece of linked content to ensure it offers readers value.
Hummingbird Impacts 90% of Google Searches- Hummingbird was Google’s last major update of 2013 and one they hoped would drive their message home. Unlike Panda and Penguin, Hummingbird was a near complete overhaul of the PageRank algorithm Google had been using since its inception. Whereas Panda and Penguin affected an estimated 10% and 3% of search results, respectively, Webspam head Matt Cutts estimates Hummingbird impacted 90% of results.
Hummingbird fundamentally shifted the way the algorithm works. In the past, people searched using simple phrases and keywords. For example, “pizza Rochester delivery” was used to find a Rochester pizzeria that delivers. Hummingbird fills the need to answer search queries using conversational speech, an increasingly popular way of searching online. Now, users search using full questions, like “Where can I find a Rochester pizzeria that delivers near me?” Using geo-caching data and an algorithm that actually considers the meaning behind queries, Hummingbird offers a more human, and thereby more accurate, search experience.
Where Are We Heading in 2014?
Taken together, last year’s changes focus on value. Content, links, web design — everything you do online needs to offer value or you risk being penalized. If you want to attract traffic and avoid sparring with Google, you need to optimize every facet of your SEO campaign.
Content Built to Answer Questions- Staying ahead of Google in 2014 means focusing on content. Everything you publish has to fill a need. If you stop focusing on “relevant” keywords and start writing relevant content, you can easily adapt to Hummingbird’s shift toward conversational search queries. Great writing brings with it all the keywords and value you need to implement effective SEO.
Synergize Reviews with Search Results- One of the most exciting developments in SEO is the ability to link reviews with your listings in Google results. A professional review of up to 67 characters can be attached to your search results and cited. Place reviews above your content’s meta-description line to increase visibility and improve credibility.
Develop a Link-Building Strategy- Like anything else, you need to take a strategic approach to the way you list links in and develop links for your content. Fixing broken links using Google Webmaster Tools, checking the reputation of cited sources, and ensuring links are relevant to your content are going to be huge in 2014 for avoiding Penguin’s ire.
In some ways, SEO changes in 2014 are simply continuing the trends of 2013. The main difference is that Google, owner of 70% of the search industry market share, has taken the gloves off and made it clear that you either get in line, or you’re going to be severely penalized for using antiquated marketing strategies.