SEO in 2012: Five updates that shook Search this year

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  • December 19, 2012
Felicity Crouch

Felicity Crouch

Marketing Manager

This year has been huge for SEO; Google is finally clamping down on cheap, easy link-building and rewarding those sites with authentic, high-quality and engaging content.

The SEO industry is shedding its shady reputation and being recognised as a skilful online marketing art. Here are five of the most memorable updates the Branded3 SEO team were talking about this year:

The Penguin and Panda updates

Hitting UK searches in April this year, Google’s latest Penguin update fought against aggressive web spam tactics and aimed to clean up link profiles. It’s estimated that this update affected 0.3% of UK queries, but even to those it didn’t hit, it sent a clear message that Google was fighting ‘over-optimisation’.

The Penguin updated affected many sites this year

Google has also continued to refine and modify the Panda algorithm update this year, which affects whole sites rather than just specific pages, and penalises low-quality sites with copied or useless content. So-called ‘content farms’ have been the target, confirming that Google’s aim is to reprimand those sites who try too hard with black-hat SEO tactics.

Although many webmasters and SEO’s had a tough time this year in the wake of these updates; moving forward, it means that sites can now focus on quality content and achieving user goals, rather than trying to play the system.

Tweets Vs. Rankings

Earlier this year, we conducted an extensive study into the effect of tweets on Google rankings. In the biggest study of its kind, our research indicated that URLs receive a significant boost in Google rankings when they are shared on Twitter.

This revolutionary study was undertaken using Branded3’s innovative online petition site, Twitition, and findings have shown that the average ranking for URLs with over 7,500 tweets directing to them, have an average Google SERPs ranking of 4.96.

Obviously, we’re aware that correlation does not imply causation and it would be impossible to isolate other factors influencing rankings in this study, but the study has returned some really interesting results, and we’ll be conducting plenty more in 2013.

The increasing need for mobile SEO

This year saw a massive shift in search trends with some of Branded3’s clients receiving over 50% of their traffic via mobile devices. With the ever-increasing smartphone market, it’s essential that brands factor mobile SEO into their strategies next year, because not doing so could cut out a massive proportion of their audience.

We outlined three main steps on Blogstorm that we use to deliver mobile content so that it delivers on an SEO level, but our preferred method is utilising responsive design so that there’s only one URL for users to remember, one URL for Google to crawl and index, and one reinforced brand message.

Our Head of Search, Tim Grice commented on the benefits of mobile search for local businesses:

“There is also a significant opportunity to drive local traffic as over 60% of all searches made from a mobile have local intent. This is massive for local businesses and stores, who can now quickly drive traffic and foot flow by optimising their local listings and mobile sites for local search.”

The disavow tool

News which came as a massive relief to the SEO industry this year was the announcement of Google’s disavow tool. We had a mass of webmasters approaching us this year regarding penalties, link removals and reconsideration requests, and at last the disavow tool brought positive news!

We had a strong feeling this was coming before it was announced, and had even developed a great link removal process before the disavow tool was launched, but it indicated to us and other SEO’s that Google was willing to help.

Our strategy for any clients who had been hit by the Penguin update was to first implement a link audit and identify the spam links, and use these in a disavow reconsideration request.

We’re still finding that plenty of websites are still struggling with spam links, so if you want any advice on using the disavow tool, feel free to get in touch! Alternatively, expert Tim Grice has written a fantastic guide on SEOwizz on how the tool works.

The rise of Content Marketing

Content Marketing

In-line with Google’s step towards rewarding authentic content, our Content Marketing service has enjoyed a huge surge in popularity this year. What’s great about this direction for SEO is that the number one goal is to make pages better, not getting as many links as you can.

Our Director of Search, Patrick Altoft explained in a Blogstorm article earlier this month that improving commercial pages is the first step to take when implementing a content strategy. We’ve taken this approach with a few of our clients now, and made big changes to the design, layout and content on their landing pages, and even managed to boost the number of conversions for one client by 80% in just a few months by changing only one page.

Google’s algorithms use hundreds of user engagement signals, and this shift towards recognising high-quality, engaging sites means that you simply must have a content strategy. Content Marketing will be huge next year, and we can’t wait!

What was big for you in SEO in 2012?

Tell us in the comments below!

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