Google made a number of changes to its search engine in 2013. From Panda and Penguin updates, the expansion of its Knowledge Graph and replacing the Google Keyword Tool, SEOs were put through the wringer.
Here is a look at five updates Google made last year that changed the way we market ourselves and our clients.
Panda Rolling into the Algorithm (January & March)
Google rolled out a Panda update in January, and then again in March. At SMX West, Matt Cutts said it would be the final update to Panda, and that it was now becoming part of the algorithm. Afterward, sites that hadn’t improved their quality up to the required standard were just asking to be penalized.
My takeaway: Write only great content. Anyone churning out low-quality and/or duplicate content is running the risk of being penalized. Thus, giving their competitors the opportunity to outrank them.
Penguin Updates (May & October)
The latest Penguin update, 2.1, went live in October 2013. Matt Cutts said it impacted 1% of all search queries. That’s some significant work indeed.
Earlier in the year, in May to be precise, Penguin 2.0 update was released. This had the biggest effect on search results since the first update; 2.3% of English queries were impacted by this update according to Cutts himself.
A huge number of search results were impacted by the two Penguin updates over the course of the year.
My takeaway: I still notice lots and lots of websites and businesses out there building low-quality links and putting themselves at a high risk of being hit by the Penguin penalty (even in the low competitive industries!). You can take advantage of their errors by being on the right side of Google and jump above them in the rankings when they get penalized, while staying ethical and penalty-free.
In-depth Articles (August)
This has yet to be released in my homeland (the United Kingdom), but in August, Google rolled out “in-depth articles” at the bottom of some search results in the United States.
Google stated their research suggested up to 10% of users’ daily information revolved around learning about a broad topic. With that, Google started to rank high-quality, in-depth content at the bottom of the pages.
To have a chance of your article being included in these results, Google suggested using authorship markup. I have yet been able to test this, but here’s an example from Google.com:
My takeaway: This gives you an opportunity to rank high-quality content on the first page of Google. Admittedly, I’ve not had the chance to test it myself. Looking at those results, it’s only the big brands ranking high. But perhaps there is an opportunity for small brands to gain visitors through in-depth articles.
Google Keyword Planner Replaces Google Keyword Tool (August)
The much-loved Google Keyword Tool waved goodbye in August 2013 and was replaced by Google Keyword Planner. The Keyword Tool had previously been a best friend to both SEOs and PPC consultants.
To use the Planner, users must not be logged into an AdWords account. There’s no match type data for search volume either (exact match only), although that affects PPC consultants much more than link builders and SEOs. There’s no local vs. global monthly search data or “closely related” search terms, either.
Basically, the Planner is a poor version of the old Keyword Tool we used to love so much!
Many marketers focused on building a brand for their client or company, including focusing on their social profiles as a way around not knowing how many searches were made for each term.
Of course, there is still plenty of data available in the Keyword Planner as well as tools like SEMrush to help you research which keywords can drive you relevant traffic.
My takeaway: It's a pain to not know which keywords are the most popular when you’re wanting to rank an e-commerce website, for example. But Google Keyword Planner still provides good enough data to work with. There’s also Google Trends, SEMrush and other tools that are useful for conducting keyword research.
Analytics Data Goes Not Provided (September)
Prior to that, 60-70% of my clients and personal sites were providing (not provided) keyword data anyway, but I guess Google wanted to go the whole hog in removing all organic keyword data.
This came shortly after the fall of the Google Keyword Tool. (Those people over at Google are really keen on pushing us away from trying to improve our rankings in their search engine, aren’t they?!)
My takeaway: Not the ideal solution, but a way around this is to check out which pages receive the most traffic on your site. Businesses that want to rank for specific keywords should also use tracking software like SEMrush to supply a daily report of where their site is ranking for them in Google. At least, while they still can!
Barrie Smith is an SEO consultant for Receptional Ltd. You can connect with him on Google+. His last article for SEMrush was “The Value of Referral Traffic, and Where to Get It.”