SEO has certainly had its share of ups and downs this past year. Both Google and Bing have rolled out a lot of new features and algorithm updates that have the potential to impact the way SEO is handled from here on out. Here are 4 of some of the biggest changes to SEO in 2011:
Bing, Facebook And The Friendship Effect
In May 2011, Bing and Facebook announced a new approach to searching, naming it the Friend Effect. As Bing explained in their blog post announcing the partnership, searching has become an increasingly social experience. We ask our friends, family and coworkers for advice at various points during the decision making process, whether it be what movie we should see this weekend or what IT services company we should hire to manage our small business. Peer review sites like Yelp allow people to connect with users outside of their personal social network and tap into what Bing calls the "collective IQ of the Web." Because of the Friend Effect, Bing users receive personalized search results based on the opinions of your friends by simply signing into Facebook.
A Bing user logged into Facebook could potentially see an entirely different SERP than when they aren't logged in, based on the preferences of their network. A website that didn't even crack the top results is suddenly catapulted to the #3 spot, just because a handful of that users Facebook friends Liked that page. Site owners have to make sure their content is easily shareable (and worthy of being shared). Installing the Facebook Like button on your blog is the first step, but you must take an active role in promoting your own content.
Panda 1.0 (also known as the Farmer Update) went live in February of 2011 and sent shock-waves through the world of SEO. The first Panda update was designed to take on content farms that were cluttering the search results with low-quality, spammy or stolen content. As I am writing this post it looks like we went from 1.0 to update 3.1 (mid-November) over the course of 2011. Panda has also reportedly flagged websites that had too much duplicate content (much to the chagrin of site owners that were the legitimate authors), relied too heavily on ads above the fold and those with a poor user experience.
There is no denying that Panda has had a significant impact on the way websites go about their SEO. Panda has forced site owners to take a good, hard look at their websites and dig through each page for flaws that they may have previously glossed over. Now, more than ever, white hat SEO is the best way to protect your site from the next Panda update.
+1 And Google+
Not to be outdone by Facebook and Bing, Google launched their much anticipated social networking site, Google+ in June. A few short weeks after Google+ launched, the site had over 25 million users that were sharing more than a billion pieces of content EVERY DAY. The newest social networking site recently opened up the brand floodgates, allowing companies to create their own business profiles. Google+ brand pages have recently begun appearing the SERP alongside company websites. In some cases, the content that businesses have shared on Google+ is also directly published in the SERPs. While it has yet to be confirmed, many in the SEO industry suspect that Google might be giving more weight to websites that have an active Google+ account and receive numerous +1s on their content. Since Google no longer has direct access to Facebook's data, it makes sense to assume they are using Google+ and +1 to fill in the gaps.
The +1 button, the predecessor to Google+, was Google's answer to the Friendship Effect created by Bing and Facebook.
Some have heralded Google+ as the Facebook killer; while others say its doomed to fail like the other Google social networking attempts. Regardless of what you think, there is no denying that right now Google+ has a lot of potential. While still on uncertain ground, the long term success of Google+ remains to be seen.
In October, Google announced their intent to make search more secure in response to privacy concerns. Basically, when a Google user is logged into their account, their search data (like what keywords they used to find your website) are no longer being given to website owners. Matt Cutts, the director of web spam at Google, announced that Google estimated the change would impact less than 10% of searches being conducted on a daily basis, but many SEO professionals and site owners have reported seeing as much as 40% being filed under "Not Provided." This has raised some concerns among site owners. Without trustworthy data to build SEO campaigns off of, how would they know what keywords are working for their sites and which ones are not? One of the more frustrating aspects of encrypted search is that it doesn't affect PPC data, only organic search. Some have hypothesized that the secure search update is also meant to push site owners into spending more on their PPC campaigns, in order to get access to data that was once free.
These are just a few of the big changes to happen to SEO in 2011. What other changes/updates do think will ripple outward into 2012?
Nick Stamoulis is the President and Founder of Brick Marketing, a full-service web marketing and Boston SEO services firm. With over 12 years of experience, Nick Stamoulis shares his knowledge by posting SEO tips to his company blog, the Brick Marketing Blog, and publishing the Brick Marketing SEO Newsletter, read by over 150,000 opt-in subscribers.