If you’re in SEO, and have been so for a long time, you already know that 2012 was arguably one of the more stressful years of SEO. There were a lot of unexpected updates from Google which then led to unexpected setbacks in keeping our websites where we comfortably got them to land.
If you’re a newcomer to SEO, you’ve probably heard all types of stories surrounding the tribulations of everything from your friends and colleagues. What I aim to do here is to provide a sort of summation of the major updates Google rolled out during 2012, so that a meta-perspective can be established. Also, you’ll be able to paint a picture of what could be coming in 2013.
1. Google Penguin/Webspam Update – April/May
In a move that is pretty much the SEO equivalent of an asteroid affecting a certain section of the planet, the Google Penguin update is going down as one of the most profound shifts in SEO history.
Penguin began on April 24th, and the penalties inflicted by the update can still be felt by a certain percentage of sites to this day. in an effort to legitimize the search results, Penguin targets sites that were engaging in black hat techniques such as keyword stuffing and cloaking. There were also penalties inflicted on sites that were “over-optimizing”.
Black hat tactics such as spamming web forums with links on massive scales were working for sites over an extended period of time, but these sites sitting at the top experienced heavy penalties. People now know that link building in such an un-natural way does absolutely nothing positive for rankings, and more legitimate tactics have since been launched.
2. SERPS with Seven Results – August
A search engine result page (SERP) on Google established an almost signature assignment of having ten results on each. This changed in August when it was found that 18% of English keywords would begin to only yield seven results.
Even if your site was sitting at eight, nine or ten – not ideal, but still the first page – you now were getting knocked back into invisibility. Just why Google decided to do this is unclear, but it seems to be a way to get even more relevant results to show up on certain queries. We can only hope that Google doesn’t decide to shrink SERPs even more in 2013, but at this point, there’s nothing that we can put past the search engine.
3. Exact-Match Domain (EMD) Update – September
An EMD is a domain where the name matches the keyword that gets typed in – for example: runningsneakers.com, campgrounds.com, and so forth. These are okay, but in the eyes of Google, if you had a thin website with an EMD, you were going to get hit by the update. According to Matt Cutts of Google, this update affected 0.6% of queries.
The EMD update was met with some high level of criticism due to how sites with EMDs were getting penalized for no clear reason. Imagine having your sole income depend on your site, just to see it get hit when you committed no foul play on it. This was documented to happen in some instances according to some SEOmoz forums at the time of the update. These owners had to contact Google to make a case for why their site didn’t deserve to get hit.
It should be noted that there are consistent updates always happening with the Google algorithms – known as Panda updates. You can check with SEOmoz, Search Engine Journal, or Matt Cutts’ Twitter account for when more updates are expected.
Take the lessons learned this year, and develop sharp insight for the quickly-approaching year. You never know what Google could have planned next.