2012 was eventful to say the least. Last year I did an interview on SEO tips for 2012. This year is no different. I asked 15 trusted experts in the SEO community about the changes we saw last year and what we can expect in 2013. This is a must read for anyone working with SEO.
- Joost de Valk (CEO, Yoast, WordPress SEO plugin author)
- Trond Lyngbø (Senior consultant and author, Metronet, Search Engine Land and SEOnomics)
- Geir Ellefsen (Senior consultant, Metronet, and Edgy SEO blog)
- Barry Schwartz (CEO, RustyBrick® Inc, Executive Editor at Search Engine Roundtable)
- Ross Hudgens (Founder, Siege Media)
- Jon Cooper (SEO consultant, Point Blank SEO)
- Neil Patel (Co-founder KISSmetrics and Crazy Egg, NeilPatel.com)
- Bas van den Beld (Founder, State of Search)
- Marcus Tandler (Partner at Tandler.Doerje.Partner and blogger)
- Jason Acidre (CEO of Xight Interactive and Marketing Consultant for Affilorama)
- Will Critchlow (Founder, Distilled)
- Aaron Wall (Founder, SEObook)
- Andrew Knibbe (CMO, Flippa.com)
- Scott Polk (VP of Internet Marketing, ObsidianEdge Marketing)
- AJ Kohn (Owner, Blind Five Year Old)
What were the most important changes in SEO last year (2012)?
Joost de Valk
To point out one or two changes would not do justice to what Google did last year. They changed so much of how SEO works that it left a lot of webmasters scrambling. We did a huge amount of reviews for websites that were hit by Panda and Penguin, and I have yet to find one single website that I think was undeserving of the slap it got. 3 or 4 huge banners above the fold? Seriously? Even if Google didn’t slap you for it, your users did. Buying links from crappy blog networks built entirely for the purpose of creating link equity? Seriously? I’ve done my bit of that too… in 2004. Not in 2010, 2011 or 2012. Nobody should.
There were several major shifts across the SEO industry in 2012. The biggest, in my view, was how Google cracked down on sites that took advantage of loopholes and weaknesses. Google has paved over most of the cracks, barricaded many open backdoors, and removed “low hanging fruit” approaches to gain easy and cheap SEO results.
They simultaneously introduced new things like Authorship and AuthorRank, which led to a significant change in the structure of SERPs. While SERPs are still cluttered with “noise” and good rankings are sometimes pushed down by things like Maps, it’s obvious that Google is tuning their filters pretty aggressively to defeat sites publishing low quality content.
Google made some big changes last year. We saw huge updates with Panda, Penguin and low quality EMD update. They updated their quality guidelines so there is no room for creative interpretations. It’s time to stop doing low quality link building and shallow content. All in all making SEO harder, which I think is a good thing 😉
- Google’s Penguin update changing how link builders do their work
- Google’s Panda update still plagues SEOs on how to write and organize content on their sites. Yes, this is a 2011 change but there were many updates to it in 2012.
- Google also introduced the exact match domain algorithm, page layout algorithm and the DMCA algorithm where many many webmasters and SEOs saw their sites fall off the charts.
Penguin was the biggest, most definitely. It completely changed the way almost everyone does SEO, link building, etc. In fact it even went about restructuring the way we THINK about terms like link building, and they now even have diminishing brand perception. The EMD update also did more of that as well – bringing pure “SEO” plays down in value. Today, if you don’t think about building a brand, you won’t build a ranking website.
By far the biggest change in 2012 was the fact that a lot of the most scalable link tactics were finally cracked down on by the big G. This also might be marked as the year Google goes after people scraping their data, first starting with those who are already taking some of their authorized data (i.e. Market Samurai & Raven Tools). I think this will continue until they’re supplying all the data, allowing them to charge as they wish.
In 2012 the most important changes were how search engines viewed content and links. They are getting much smarter, in which it is harder to build unnatural links and write crappy content and achieve great rankings. And if you happen to get good rankings using those 2 methods… it won’t last for long.
The updates Google made this year with exact match domains, penguin and panda has placed even more emphasis on creating a good site and writing good content.
Bas van den Beld
2012 was full of changes off course, with Panda, Penguin and all the changes Google made to push Google+ and the thought behind that up to the recent decision by tools like Raven Tools to, under pressure from Google, decide to abandon ranking tracking all together. You can definitely say 2012 has been a noisy and busy year for SEO. The general consensus can be that SEO is growing up and is more than ‘just’ rankings and is more than ‘gaming’ the search engines. It is a trend which has been going on for a few years already but has really bolstered this year.
SEOs finally had to realize that building exact match anchor text links is no viable SEO strategy anymore, and can even be harmful to sites if pushed too hard. SEO had to start looking beyond the algo and really provide engaging & compelling content to attract natural links and social mentions.
Penguin update was definitely the biggest game-changer of 2012, and that update somehow changed how people build links and gave way to the era of content marketing.
I’ve also observed that high-profile brands began to crowd the SERPs (in several competitive verticals) after the EMD update, wherein newly ranked pages from authoritative domains – in some ways – pay no attention to the actual relevance of its content to the targeted queries. I believe that this drift will still be improved on future algorithmic updates.
The disavow link feature on Google Webmaster tools may also have killed negative SEO and manipulative link bombing, though there are some areas that this feature might affect legit websites. It’s still something to watch out for in 2013.
I think we will look back on 2011 and 2012 as significant for the introduction of machine learned effects directly into the main organic ranking algorithm. We see the outcomes in both Panda and Penguin as well as more subtle updates like the top-heavy update. I think we will increasingly see the repercussions as even the engineers who built it don’t know exactly why certain parameters are set the way they are.
I think the biggest change in 2012 was the relentless focus on links. Links have of course played a role in SEO for over a decade, but if Panda was about policing junky content in 2011 then 2012 was about policing links. There were many pieces to it…
- tightening anchor text filters
- hitting blog link networks
- link warnings
- the disavow tool (& claiming that you are now responsible for policing the rest of the web off your site, even as Google makes little effort or investment to police all the spam on YouTube).
Without a doubt the biggest SEO changes in 2012 were related to the Google Panda updates. We saw a large number of sellers on the Flippa marketplace that had been hit hard – mostly due to the large volumes of backlinks that became devalued or other grey-hat techniques that the world’s largest search engine was no longer willing to tolerate. We could see the precise moment this happened in their Google Analytics traffic stats. Unfortunately the prices these sites sold for reflected these updates. On the other hand, websites that survived the Panda updates unscathed ended up selling for more.
I would say that one of the biggest changes for SEO in 2012 was how Google evaluates links. Anchor Text is the one item that really sticks out for me. In 2011 we moved away from Exact Match Anchor Text towards using Brand and Call to Action and saw significant gains in rankings and direct traffic for clients. There are too many SEOs who simply cannot get away from the idea that “click here” and “more info” can pass more link equity than “Exact Match.” SEOs really need to start thinking about the web as an ecosystem and the links are the roots that connect everything together. Now that is not to say that “Exact Match Anchor Text” is dead, but it is on its death-bed.
Another honorable mention for 2012 is Google Authorship. This is a trust signal and when combined with a Google Plus Verified Name Account you have Trust with Google – this is huge.
I think the biggest change was the Penguin Update. It was important not just because it targeted certain link building techniques but because it was punitive in nature.
It was a powerful way for Google to change the mindset of site owners as they contemplate different strategies. Suddenly, the risk attached to these get-links-quick schemes became much higher. Between Panda (2011) and Penguin (2012), Google helped shape the industry’s current content marketing focus.
Other important changes were the true emergence of multi-screen search, the Knowledge Graph and continuing SERP diversity via context and personalization.
What do you think we as SEOs should focus on in 2013?
Joost de Valk
For a while, people seemed to think that:
- A) SEO could impact their bottom line within 2 weeks and
- B) they needn’t think of the results of their SEO campaigns in 2 years
I hope that’s changed now. Your SEO campaign should focus on getting results in 1 or 2 years and take faster improvements as a bonus. On badly SEO’d websites a good SEO can still get tremendous results in a short period, and getting some nicely target links from high-profile sites can still boost rankings, so don’t stop doing that, just think about whether Google will still like what you’re doing in 2 years.
Good SEO always went hand-in-hand with good UX, great content and a good site structure, but many people took shortcuts to prevent having to work on that. Well, that time is over. SEO no longer stands for Seemingly Effortless Optimization, but for Seriously Effortful Optimization. Get to work. The first thing I’d do is look deeply at your site and get all the basics right again. Then see what you could do to make the site more worthwhile for your customers and prospective customers, while keeping SEO best practices in mind. Some SEO’s see that as giving in and agreeing that Google has won. I don’t care, I just want to help my clients make more money.
The difficulty will be to keep the ‘main thing’ the MAIN thing! Many clients think SEO is only about higher rankings and greater search volumes. But from an SEO perspective, rankings are just a consequence, not a KPI. Obsessing over a symptom will misdiagnose the disease.
Many site owners want to do the minimum possible, yet expect awesome results. But the days of ‘quick fix SEO’ are numbered, if not already over. It’s time to see SEO from a different angle, with broader, wider focus. To step back, rather than blindly rush to implement new tactics. To decide where you want to go, and act on a strategy-driven plan.
In 2013-2015, your strategy will be key to survive. Get help. Be ready to pay for this help. Remember, even excellent SEO cannot compensate for a poor product. You must set yourself apart from the crowd with a great offer that adds value to your target audience, both collectively and individually. Know your customers. Understand them well. Research and analyze their needs and problems. The better you can read your buyer’s mind, the greater your chance of success.
SEO itself will grow more complex in 2013, with more data to analyze, and changing usage patterns (e.g. mobile devices). That’s why my best tip is to step back, evaluate and analyze your business strategy, then figure out exactly where you’re headed.
Having relevant content alone won’t be enough in 2013. With an emphasis on ‘authorship’, Google has signaled its focus on identifying quality content. Semantic Search and the Knowledge Graph will be of paramount importance in the coming year.
Google is shifting tracks to become an “answer engine”. The strategic SEO train is leaving the station. Will you be on board? Be smart. Keep your focus. And dominate the SERPs in 2013 – and beyond!
I think it’s time to stop thinking small about SEO. SEOs need to look at the big picture. Don’t get stuck on small details. Build better web sites, get better at social and focus on content. Do remarkable stuff 🙂
SEOs should continue to focus on building our unique quality content that naturally attracts links but should also spend more time focusing on social factors. Obviously, Google+ is going to be big, it isn’t that big right now, but Google is betting a lot on it. Facebook and Twitter are huge drivers of traffic and consider them to continue to grow in influence and thus search engines will consider them to be a growing factor of trust and relevance.
I think we should learn how to be better content marketers. We were SEOs, now we have to be content marketers in order to survive. I don’t think we need to learn content strategy in most verticals, but we need to know how to apply content marketing to the content strategy being implemented by teams – without contradicting said strategy – to most effectively get movement in the search engines. And of course, conversions as well. If we solely focus on marketing content and do it well, tons of other stuff will take care of itself.
We should focus on identifying what we do that scales, assessing it’s legitimacy as a long-term tactic, and adjusting as needed. More & more algorithmic changes like Penguin will happen, and it’s up to us to not be on the bad end of the stick. Because algorithms detect patterns, and because patterns are usually from something repeatable (a la scalable), we have to focus on things that don’t leave footprints. That’s why “scale” is going to be less and less about tactics and more and more about process.
In 2013 SEO won’t be about gaming Google, it will be about building a “real business”. If you can create a good product or service people love, write content that benefits others, and create a good user experience, you’re site is more likely to get rankings in the long run.
Bas van den Beld
In the next year this will be a trend which without a doubt will continue. Google will try to maintain and grow their grip and “SEO” will be much more about optimising in general than before. SEO’s should, as should other marketers, focus on integrating all the channels and trying to make a change within companies to not just think about SEO as a channel but as part of the integrated marketing campaigns. Again, something which has been going on for a while, but which should be done much more.
Building up authority as an author and becoming a credible and competent source within your niche. Try to become an expert in your industry, share specialist advice and engage with your community. This will help a lot getting your own stuff in front of like-minded people and the linkerati within your industry. Share and you will get shared!
SEO, as a marketing practice, has grown bigger over the years, as the more it evolves, the more it involves different signals to achieve better search visibility.
Next year, it’s imperative for us SEOs to focus on a diversified approach for our campaigns, through appropriate integration of different inbound channels. All the signals generated through these efforts can help build a solid online brand presence (seeing that Google is favouring brands more and more).
And in turn, these actions (diversified approach to optimize for search, social, engagements, conversions, user-experience and brand recognition) can help improve search visibility and will allow the brand to compete for highly competitive keywords.
Applying the Pareto Principle (80% output from 20% input) on every aspect of implementation is also important. Make the most out of every implemented idea (ex: building evergreen content for links, social shares, traffic, lead generation, branding and eventually rankings).
The more we focus on quality (to achieve maximum results), the lesser tendencies of putting our campaigns at risk of spamming, over-optimizing and/or over-populating the web with crappy guest postings.
Basically, I recommend SEOs to focus on online brand marketing by being everywhere (particularly on the right distribution channels). I believe that search engines will put more weight on brand-related signals next year.
I really liked Dr. Pete’s answer to this which was diversification. I like this not only at a tactical level (reducing the reliance on a single traffic source or marketing method) but also at a strategic and personal level. I like it as a way of building a competitive moat and also as a means of personal development.
2013 will for many be a year where we end up having to focus on broader & more holistic marketing efforts that reach people at many points, rather than being so focused on just the search channel. It will also be a year in which some of the “can’t lose” platform plays begin to use their Google rankings to really push back at Google in ways that perhaps gives Google pause. For example, the biggest online retailer is now adding 3rd party brand controlled pages on their site & is running a distributed online ad network that is already above a billion Dollars per year in revenue run rate. Facebook and Twitter might also try to encroach on search too.
At Flippa, we expect 2013 to be more of the same with respect to back-link and content quality trumping all. SEOers would also be advised to see if the role of social media becomes a larger influencer of search engine results in 2013.
In 2013 the focus should be on:
- Developing Content that attracts Relevant Organic Links
- Social Signals – Do not build your own Facebook, but use their technology to create your own micro-social communities
- More Authorship
- Build Engaging Content and ShareBait, then market the hell out of it
Fusion. I see a number of SEOs on tilt with content marketing and all but abandoning traditional SEO. The same can be said for mobile and social. I’m looking to combine these techniques – to create synergy between them – rather change direction completely.
Use structured data, content marketing, keyword research, social snippet optimization, user experience testing, conversion optimization, readability and weblog analysis (to name a few) to stay ahead of the game.
Specifically, I do think SEOs should pay more attention to Google+ as a way to influence personalized SERPs and, if they haven’t already, adopt Google Authorship.
What are your thoughts on 2013?
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