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The New Google Search: Six Changes That Rocked the SEO World

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In a little over a year, Google has rendered 10 years of SEO dogma mostly useless. Go ahead and throw out everything you used to hold dear, such as link building, keyword-rich content, internal links, and tracking results on SERPs. It’s time to start over.

Is all that drama necessary? Yes, it is.

Recently, Google made changes that together have dismantled what we have taken for granted in the world of SEO. Each of the six major changes focused on one aspect of search. The cumulative impact of the changes has me calling for the end of an era.

Let’s review each change chronologically.



  1. Google Panda. The change to Google's search results ranking algorithm was a well-publicized move to shutdown “content farms” (sites that exist solely to rank highly in search results, grab traffic, and monetize that traffic with paid ads for actual content sites). A total of 12% of search traffic was rumored to be impacted. The result was that quality sites ranked higher in search.


  2. Google+. Google created Google+ as a social networking service---and intended to leverage its power in search to put a dent in Facebook’s run. Google's Circles were touted as the core differentiator (a feature that Facebook quickly copied). However, the true differentiator was (and remains) the ability for Google to index social traffic in its search algorithm.


  3. Secure search. Google started hiding your organic search details (the terms you searched) from websites if you were logged in to Google (at first Gmail, but now all Google properties). Now, 15-30% of a site’s organic traffic is “unknown,” which places a massive hole in the marketing tool box.


  4. Freshness update. Targeted at news results, Google changed its rankings to display the most recent content first. For example, if you search for information about the NBA Playoffs, Google displays the 2012 playoffs, not playoffs from other years. (That change is not limited to news items. Now, the more recent the content, the more likely it will come up at the top of search results.)


  5. Search plus Your World. Google now indexes your social feed and includes results from your feed ahead of other natural searches, so all search results are personalized for you—when you are logged in to a Google account (and to a lesser degree, even when you are not). Now, my results are really different from your results.


  6. Penguin. The change will lower the search engine rankings of pages that violate Google's Webmaster Guidelines. Google has signaled an intent to penalize sites that over-engineer the search results using keyword-stuffing techniques. The penalties will be targeted at the worst offenders.


The dynamic of managing how your company shows up in search has changed---forever. What does a “page one result” mean when every search engine results page is personalized? How can you use keywords on your site to ensure people find your business? If 30% of your organic traffic is hidden, how can you know what terms your visitors are searching?

Be Prepared for Constant Changes


You can do the following four things to help your content rank high in search results, no matter what changes Google continues to roll out.


  1. Write high-quality content... and write regularly. It is more important than ever to tell your story in as many channels as possible. Make sure your content is well-written, relevant, and timely. In this new web environment, good stories win readers.


  2. Audit your content. If you have high-quality content that hasn't been touched in a while, update it.  Refresh it, share it, reuse it. Get your reimagined content out into your community in new and interesting ways.


  3. Get more contributors. An easy way to expand your content is to expand your list of folks creating content. Get more people in your company blogging or writing for the website, or sharing content via social channels. Tap into other sources for content, such as your user community or technical teams. Remove any technology roadblocks that make it hard to add contributors and post new content.


  4. Engage your community. Think about your entire web footprint holistically rather than consider them disconnected silos. Use each social channel to fill in gaps in your content strategy.


These dramatic changes may have snuck up on you. However, the good news is that we are all in the same position. Businesses that recognize what these changes mean---and can adapt to the new SEO reality fastest---will gain a critical advantage.

(Photo courtesy of Bigstock: Rollercoaster Ride)


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Aaron Dun is vice-president of marketing and strategy at Percussion, a provider of Web content, experience, and engagement software products. Reach him via aaron_dun@percussion.com.

Twitter: @ajdun

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Comments

  • by Debbie Josendale Wed Jun 6, 2012 via blog

    Hi Aaron,

    Thanks for connecting all the dots of the many changes that Google has implemented. You are right SEO practices as we have know them for years have changed...and if you look at each change made by Google...it might seem like it's not that big of a deal. But as a whole huge impact.

    Content that is high quality and Fresh reigns. That represents a huge change for search and businesses!

    Thanks again for your insight.

    Debbie

  • by Branding Diva Wed Jun 6, 2012 via blog

    Aaron,

    Great article.Thank you! I've shared with my team and followers.

  • by Manoj Wed Jun 6, 2012 via blog

    The funny thing is, the fundamentals of what was required for sustainable SEO have hardly changed in the last few years: great content and naturally achieved popularity of that content.

  • by Entrepreneur Student Wed Jun 6, 2012 via blog

    Thanks for this recap. It has always been a combination of content, activity and links so focus on all three to stay on top long term.
    Fortunately, it makes it a lot harder for people to build dozens of low quality sites that all get ranked well.

  • by Brooke Palm Wed Jun 6, 2012 via blog

    Thanks Aaron for your concise recap of all the Google changes. Very well written. Appreciate it!

    Brooke
    Social Media Marketer @ WebJuris

  • by Sally Erickson Wed Jun 6, 2012 via blog

    Hi Aaron,

    I really appreciate your actually saying that SEO is not what it used to be. So many in the business of SEO are continuing business-as-usual when the whole set of SEO methods need to be reevaluated. Your points are well made, but you add that final idea that so many others have missed. The answer to What do I do now?

    Thank you so much for the excellent list of Google Search chronology along with your helpful tips!

  • by Aaron Dun Wed Jun 6, 2012 via blog

    Thanks Debbie, I am sure I missed a few a long the way, but the speed and scale of these really stood out. As you said, good fresh content marketing matters!

    Aaron

  • by Aaron Dun Wed Jun 6, 2012 via blog

    Thanks Sally, The great thing about the Marketing Profs community is the heavy emphasis on "how-tos." Like you, I appreciate articles that help me take action based on what I am reading, otherwise, it just gets added to the long, long list of things to try and figure out what to do around!

    -Aaron

  • by JoAnn Corley Wed Jun 6, 2012 via blog

    Alan,thanks for writing....what does that mean for back links?

  • by Steve P Wed Jun 6, 2012 via blog

    Yes you are right with SEO changing and I do appreciate your article on it. The old way of doing Business as usual is passing, so I guess we either get on the train and go with it or stay stuck at the station?

    Stephen P

  • by Aaron Dun Wed Jun 6, 2012 via blog

    Hi JoAnn, its a great question with different schools of thought on how to handle it. Popular wisdom seems to be coming down on the idea that a back link to stale content will be devalued in the algorithm, but its not entirely clear yet how this will shake out.

    If you are interested, I am hosting a Google + Hangout with a few SEO experts on June 14th to go deeper on some of these issues. Details are here, http://www.percussion.com/news-and-events/events/google-hangout-on-air (no need to register, just click the links on the day of).

    Hope to see you there.

    -Aaron

  • by Mike O'Toole Wed Jun 6, 2012 via blog

    Aaron, Great post. And it seems that most of the changes favor quality, socially-engaged content...which while harder to game should ultimately benefit all of us as marketers.

  • by HCG corporate designs Thu Jun 7, 2012 via blog

    Great article, congrats on that! Google changes its algorithms and ranking and SEO methods very often which leads to only one reasonable solution: creating good content and spread the word. That's the only way to succeed in the long run. Google does good in forcing us to do so ;-)

  • by Paul Sherland Sun Jun 10, 2012 via blog

    Hi Aaron,

    Just got back from SMX Advanced in Seattle and your excellent article echoes the themes of the conference. Matt Cutts seemed to dance around the issue of social media's impact on SERPs, but the consensus was that social media's impact is coming if it's not here yet. Luckily, Matt Cutts provided a clear and detailed roadmap to being #1 in this mashup -- http://youtu.be/b7W0o65tTIQ.

    Thanks again for your insights!

    Paul

  • by Aaron Dun Mon Jun 11, 2012 via blog

    Thanks for sharing the Link Paul. Its not hard to see how much your search results will differ simply by searching for the same term when logged into any Google account, and when not logged in. My results vary dramatically and I hardly consider myself a power user of G+ at this stage. And since about 30% of our organic traffic is hidden by SSL, its reasonable to assume then that 30% of our traffic is logged into a Google Account while they are surfing, and for that 30%, their results will be personalized to a degree. Mind-boggling!

    Going to be fun to watch this develop/advance over the coming months!

    -Aaron

  • by Eric Antariksa - Marketing Student Wed Jun 27, 2012 via blog

    Freshness update, I think, is an critical factor to enhance our traffic. Write on a regular basis is a must. Maybe three times a week. Need lots of energy and creative ideas to generate fresh and great contents.

  • by PMF Mon Oct 15, 2012 via blog

    This article cleared a lot of confusion up for me. Some of my sites have been hit hard by all the changes, while others have seen an increase in traffic.

    I cannot believe the search results! Type in any physical product and the 1st page is filled with Amazon pages and eBay listings. It is for me anyway.. Shocking.

  • by www.cproductreviews.com/ Sat Dec 1, 2012 via blog

    Those changes definitely rocked my world. In the end though, it has taught me an important lesson...to always think of VALUE ADD.

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