As expected, 2014 was a banner year for SEO ups and downs. There were algorithm shifts a-plenty, and much ado about every major twist and turn. Why is SEO such an ever-changing industry? We can thank Google for the topsy-turvy momentum. As they adjust their algorithms based on how people search, SEO experts have to shift their strategies to being on top.
There has been an estimated 83 major algorithm changes in Google in the last few years alone. That makes 83 times marketing experts have had to scramble, regroup, and learn the new laws of the land. And although 2015 promises to continue to stir the pot, understanding the nuances of what changed last year will help us move forward with gusto.
First Quarter 2014
As we entered into the new year, the first notable SEO drama occurred with Expedia. Unnatural links were the culprit, and they saw an estimated 25% decrease in rankings as a result. This was a huge lesson to us all: Google had put the smackdown on irrelevant, outright bad links, and we could no longer fool the search bots into thinking any link was a good one. This made the entire act of link building a much more challenging effort.
Google also launched a mobile bot that effectively crawled smartphone content, making small screens a major focus for SEO pros. It also made mobile an undeniable force for anyone in the digital marketing game.
Finally, Matt Cutts eschewed the act of guest blogging, throwing a major wrench into the core content strategies of many companies. He simply stated that if you were using guest blogging as a core way to build links, you’d see negative consequences. And he wasn’t bluffing.
Second Quarter 2014
By April, the major news revolved around the shake-up at Google+. Their head of social, Vic Gundotra, stepped down from his post, leaving many to assume that Google’s social focus had significantly lessoned, and there was major speculation on how this would affect organic search results.
Next, Panda 4.0 wreaked its havoc, with eyes set squarely on sites with low quality content. Major brands like Ask.com saw massive hits in rankings, as Google made a strong statement that content for the sake of itself was not enough to woo visitors. This unraveling shifted content marketing into the forefront of key SEO efforts, and in a newly minted way: Quality trumped quantity, and with very clear repercussions for those who continued to choose a different point of view.
Third Quarter 2014
By the summer, we had all met Google’s latest animal, the esteemed Pigeon 1.0. Pigeon’s focus, as carrier pigeons are wont, was local. This algorithm update created a major shift in how Google determined local rankings, sending marketing pros into a flurry to obey the new rules of the game.
Next, security got a major boost as Google announced HTTPS was at last a prominent ranking signal. This was a strong statement that Google had chosen to highlight the importance of online safety. Just how prominent the ranking is has yet to be established, but they aren’t likely to diminish this, which means many have jumped on the security bandwagon. Which we can all agree is a good thing.
By fall, it was clear that keywords were no longer a major factor in rankings. Content had become the clear winner for top placement. Social signals, too, were showing signs of diminished value. Score yet another victory for high quality and value-rich content.
Fourth Quarter 2014
In the last spurt of the year, Penguin finally saw a refresh, which focused on web spam and over-optimization. Essentially, Penguin takes down major black hat tactics. For the most part, the web rejoiced, as the refresh allowed all those hit by the last update to redeem themselves and be re-ranked.
We then saw mobile get yet another boost in popularity when Google released mobile-focused search options in their Google Webmaster Tools. They showed their hand in the focus on mobile search results, since that has now become a primary concern. Expect this to be a key area of change in the new year too.
Finally, not to be outdone, Bing got into the game in a bigger way at year’s end with their own version of a Panda release, deciphering what is good and bad content in a more sophisticated format.
The end result are a few very obvious takeaways:
1) Content, content, content. It’s your ticket to top rankings, but it has to be authentic, relevant to your audience, original, current, and interesting. Please do not add to the clutter; make each publication matter.
2) Mobile is more important than the web for many (if not most) companies now. Consider shifting your focus to mobile primarily (or even exclusively if you need to choose) if this is where the bulk of your audience is.
3) Black hat tactics will take down any of your sincere efforts for high rankings. It’s getting harder and harder to fool the bots, so seriously, don’t even try.
What other major SEO developments affected your marketing methods in 2014?