What Google did to SEO in 2012

Google makes about 500 changes to its ranking algorithm every year. This is why you might find yourself bouncing around the search results page. In the SEO world, we call this the Google dance. Google dances happen daily, weekly, monthly and every time Google updates its algorithm.

Although Google changes its methods constantly, the basic elements of good SEO remain the same today as the were back in 1999 – when I started in the wonderful world of the web.

The most important changes Google made this year were:

Reputation and Trust

Google rewards people/companies that provide valuable content on well coded websites.  They always did this, but they have updated things so they can weed out the spammers.  Links are still important, but make sure they are from good websites that also have good reputation and trust indicators.

Un-natural Links

Google now have better techniques to figure out where your spammy links are coming from.  Luckily they will warn you that you un-natural links towards your website and will give you an opportunity to clean up your link profile.  Unfortunately, they will not tell you exactly which links they are.  Remember those 2,000 spammy links you bought for $5 – well that will now come back to haunt you!

Disavow Tool

Google released a tool that allows you to tell them which links towards your site that you don’t want to take credit for.  If you get the “un-natural links” warning then the disavow tool is your friend.

Low Quality Content

This one will be top of Googles changes every year.  It’s quite simple – Google has a job.  It’s job is to make sure the searcher gets the best results for their keyword search.  If your website is on page one, but you have low quality content (i.e. copied content, low word count, too many adverts etc.) then you will probably get punished for that.  Re-write your content with this question in your mind “is this quality content that is useful for searchers on Google?”.  If the answer is yes, then you are heading in the right direction.

Over Optimisation of Websites

We are trying to make GoogleBot smarter, make our relevance better, and we are also looking for those who abuse it, like too many keywords on a page, or exchange way too many links or go well beyond what you normally expect. – Matt Cutts, Google Webspam team.

Exact Match Domains

This year Google started really going after exact match domain names – particularly low quality ones.  This is the update that makes me most happy!  Previous to this, companies would buy up generic domain names and would rank surprisingly well.  For example, if you wanted to rank well for “plumbing services new york”, you could buy “www.plumbing-services-new-york.com” and you would probably rank pretty well with that.  I personally hated these generic and uninspiring domain names, and now it seems that Google do too.

Too Many Adverts Above the Fold

Definition: Above The Fold = The visible part of the web page seen before scrolling down.

Websites with tonnes of advertising above the fold are now being seen as spam.  Most “normal websites” that have advertising would have adverts in the sidebar and only a small amount of adverts.  If you had too many adverts, you probably saw a drop in rankings.

Pirated Content

Have you stolen copyrighted material for use on your website?  Have you copied and pasted large portions of text from another website and used it on your own?  Well, apart from the fact that it’s illegal anyway, Google are now punishing you for it.  They do not want a whole load of websites with the exact same content on them.  This offers no value to searchers.

Format of the Search Results Page

The search results page on Google is constantly changing.  For example, last week I noticed that the left hand sidebar does not appear any more.  This used to contain a number of filters where I could filter my results.

A recent search for “pizza” saw two adverts, two organic listings and two map listings above the fold.  Below the fold there were 5 more map listings, seven organic listings and four image results.  That’s a whopping 20 non-paid results and 2 paid results on page one.

A search for “coffee” gave one organic listing, five images and five map listings above the fold.  There were 2 map listings and 9 organic results below the fold.  That’s 22 results in total.

You might have noticed a common theme – map listings are becoming more and more important as Google tries to personalise your search results.

Anyway, all that talk of food – time for lunch!

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