2011 was the year of The Panda in SEO

Google Logo 2012Digital Marketing has changed more in the last couple of years than it did in the previous 20, SEO has contributed too and has been affected by these changes. 2011 saw the impact of real Content Strategies rather than just throwing links at a site and hoping for positions and high click-through ratios. We’ve felt for years that SEO is more about dialogue and content (the major virtues of a good Social Media campaign) and thus improving the brand offering, and that is now being reflected in Google results. This is ultimately a very good thing and means that SEO can take centre stage in developing an online proposition.

The Power of Google and Panda

For the UK as well as many countries outside the US, SEO may as well mean Google Optimisation rather than Search Engine Optimisation. There are very few markets where there is such a monopoly.

This was emphasised last month when the latest UK search engine stats were released. The report showed Google has grown its year-on-year market share to 91.07% of all UK searches in November, up from 90.39% last year.

Google is the behemoth, whether we like it or not. And so everything they do, change or introduce, the search market must stop and take note.

Andy Francos IP’s lead Search Engineer took us through the impact in April of the Google Panda Update in the US. Everyone got ready for a seismic shift of their website’s performance and the real possibility of losing a reported 90% of traffic.

Panda was an algorithmic update by Google, which brought in new parameters in judging websites and reducing organic visibility for what it deemed was “low quality content”. The effect of this saw websites that were sitting pretty on pages one, two and three then being dispatched to outside page 10.

Flaws in Google’s algorithm

Despite Google’s obvious power, and its ability to change algorithms and thus change the offerings of business websites, there are still flaws. The search engine still allows sites with hefty links and poor content to continue to thrive. This can be most noticeable in Google giving over-weighted precedence to websites with keyword rich domains, meaning sites with the actual keyword in their URL – such as www.download-free-movies.fr or whatever.

In May we looked into how rife this is in the Google Serps. The problem is that those businesses who bought a keyword rich domain seem to have some advantage over other sites, despite the amount of content. This was something that was prevalent in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Also this was something that was key for good positioning in MSN back in the day, part of the reason why Google took the march on the search market. Unfortunately, for some searches, this whole issue doesn’t look like it’s about to shift anytime soon, despite Panda and other changes.

What is positive is how referral traffic can benefit your site and thus your positions. Here Andy looks into a study he did on the subject highlighting the benefits of obtaining links that provide a high volume of referrals and that click through data influences rankings within Google.

The Changing Face of Search

So what’s next for SEO and Google in 2012? Hopefully issues with keyword rich domains will fall away, plus the mounting visibility of US sites appearing for UK local searches needs to be dealt with by Google.

However, as Jon Earnshaw our Head of Search outlines, two major changes will be evident in search over the coming year. The first is the well established activity of paid linking. This has risen its head again and Jon outlines how Google is trying to deter sites from pushing paid links to their pages.

The second and perhaps biggest change to how we all interact with search engines and thus company websites is that search results are going to be so much more personalised in the future. The changing face of search and personalisation is already with us.

This means that if you search for the same keyword as me, then we could get totally different results. How will companies and SEO agencies deal with that? Don’t worry we’ve got it all in hand.

Have a very Happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year.