Search Engine Optimisation - Consequences of Google algorithm updates and changes in fundamental ranking signals for SEO

What is SEO in 2016?

What is modern SEO?
SEO, Links and Traffic
Google+ and SEOFacebook and SEOBlogging and SEO

Optimising your website for the search engines is not the same as spamming the search engines. Real search engine optimisation (SEO) is beneficial to your website, to the search engines and to search engine users, while spamming techniques will sooner or later have serious negative effects on the placement of your website in the search engine results pages (SERPs).

SEO (search engine optimisation) refers to both on-site and off-site techniques that enable and encourage search engines to properly index a website and to place it high in the search results for appropriate search queries. "High" means within the first ten results displayed and preferably within the first five results, since the latter are always visible without scrolling (i.e. "above the fold").

SEO at its best involves coordination of on-site characteristics and off-site promotion. The interaction between on-site and off-site aspects is, of course, mediated by links. and increasingly by establishment of authorship. The quality of your website content, verified authorship, site navigation and internal links, together with the quality and source characteristics of your incoming links account for most of your search results placement. Social engagement via GooglePlus is also rapidly becoming very important.

In 2012, specifically on 24 April, 2012, Google made the biggest changes to its search since it went on-line in 2000. This involved major algorithm updates (namely, Panda and Penguin) and changed some fundamental ranking signals to penalise low-quality websites and give more weight to quality signals including high quality content and social media engagement.

In September 2013, Google carried out the Hummingbird algorithm update. This was a major revision of the basic search algorithm while Panda and Penguin continue to be applied to this basic algorithm.

Here we summarise some of the major effects of the changes made in the Google algorithm and the consequences of these changes for your website.

High Quality Content

Google attempts to use artificial intelligence to determine whether or not the content of a website is poorly written, is stuffed with keywords, has spelling or punctuation errors, is overloaded with adverts or outgoing links, plus a number of other ranking signals that indicate a website's quality. Among these other signals are the amount of time a visitor spends on a website, whether visitors click through to other pages on the same website, bookmark the website and otherwise label it as useful. It's unclear how successful they have been with this approach since spammer websites continue to occupy high positions in the Google search results. Recent statements from Google suggest that they plan to augment this approach via author identification using GooglePlus. If the author of a website is determined by Google to be "expert" in the field covered by the website, that site will be pushed higher in the search results.

Moral: Do not accept links from low quality link farms nor point links to low quality or irrelevant websites. If your website contains low-quality, syndicated articles or has poorly written content, delete this material and add high quality, relevant content.

Fresh Content

Google has repeatedly stated that fresh content signals are highly important for ranking, while inbound links have become somewhat less important. Google claims that this means that if you don’t regularly add fresh content to your website, you shouldn't expect to do well in Google’s search engine results. Our observations suggest that this provision currently seems to apply more to dated content in blog format since we know of many websites that haven't been updated for years but which still rank highly. Google’s freshness ranking assessment, especially of blog posts, focuses on three key areas:
  • recent events or "trending" topics,
  • recurring events such as annual festivals and similar events,
  • recently updated or fresh content detected on a website.
Moral: Add new content or update the existing content on your website as part of your marketing activities each month, because sites with fresh content get better quality scores and higher search positions than sites that have not been updated in a while. This currently applies more to blog format than to standard websites.

No Duplicate Content

Having content "scraped", meaning copied automatically, or copied by hand onto other websites is a major problem for webmasters and also for users who find the search results full of duplicated information or, even worse, content that makes no sense at all and is packed with clickable adverts. With the Panda and Penguin updates, Google is improving its efforts to reward original content when evaluating a website's quality and determining ranking positions. Today, instead of thin content and unnatural inbound link building, websites need well-written, original content to rank highly. (Contrary to SEO dogma, nowadays, it's unlikely that good content attracts many incoming links since linking activity is much lower now than it was in the early days of the internet. This is another reason behind Google's moves to decrease its reliance on linking to assess website quality.) Let's also not forget that it is illegal to duplicate the copyright text and images of others. That's what the Copyright statement at the bottom of a webpage means.

Moral: It is imperative that your website not contain content duplicated from other sites or even within your own site. Delete this material and add high quality, original and relevant content. Copying material from other sources and changing a few words here and there does not constitute being original and is easily detected by Google.

Verified Website Content Authorship

From 2014 onwards, who creates the content and who links to that content will become increasingly important. This is why Google is encouraging webmasters to become more active on their GooglePlus profiles. Google’s "Author Rank" now has the potential to be the biggest algorithmic signal for SEO since the hyperlink itself.

The Google Authorship feature lets authors tag their own original content (web pages, posts, entire websites etc.) as belonging specifically to them by carrying out a verified, two way link betwen the content and their GooglePlus accounts. Google already uses Authorship to help identify duplicate content and to assign authorship correctly and to provide rich snippets (images, video) in search results, and it is certain that Google will increasingly use both Authorship and GooglePlus popularity as ranking signals as well.

Moral: When you publish original content, link it to your GooglePlus profile to establish authorship and expertise, and to prevent damage to your ranking by content thieves.

Social Engagement

Social cues now contribute to position in the Google search results (e.g. sharing and "likes" on Facebook, re-tweets on Twitter, posts and "pluses" on Google+ etc.). In addition, of course, a popular and well-constructed Facebook or GooglePlus page will send real traffic to your website. It's therefore worthwhile to go to some effort to make your social profiles not only match your existing branding (colours, logo, marketing message etc.), but must also provide valuable content that will attract visitors, some of whom will click through to your website.

Moral: An active "social presence" can contribute significantly to your website postion in the SERPs and to its incoming traffic. Your marketing strategy should include regular posts and sharing on social media.

What matters for SEO from now on

Since the Panda and Penguin updates of the Google algorithm, while still very important, inbound links and keywords are no longer the overwhelmingly predominant path to good rankings on Google. Although many of the tried-and-true SEO strategies still work, they are less important today than previously. So for 2013, the Panda/Penguin updates mean that your Google strategy must include:
  • High quality content,
  • Regular updating,
  • Original content linked to an expert author,
  • Social engagement.
During the next year or two, social media signals and "expert" authorship will become ever more important ranking factors on Google.

The role of Google+ in Google ranking.

The role of Facebook search engine ranking.

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