The Year of Google Updates & What They Meant to it's Users?
Has anyone else noticed that Google has had a rather large year? They launched a new social media platform, throwing Buzz to the wayside. There was the 'panda update', initially unleashed on February 23rd, only to receive continuous updates throughout the year (April 1st, May 9th, June 22nd and September 28th), ever sending SEO's into a spin (and they're still making updates—10 in the past month).
Updates were made to the Places algorithm, relegating reviews from 3rd party review sites, something that has definitely had a negative effect on many a business. Then, in a move that seemed to really upset the seo community they announced that keyword data, for users surfing the internet while logged into their account, would no longer be shown in Analytics, citing privacy as the main reason—and this is just the tip of the iceberg!
Although what I love about this job is the constant change and the need to be forever reading, researching and learning in order to keep up with everything happening and how to work with it, this year seemed almost over the top—and this was just from Google, forget everything else happening within the realms of an online marketers job description! So with all of this change, we thought that it would be nice to go over a couple of these changes, in a sort of 'Google state of the nation'.
Algorithm and Data Shifts from Google
The Google Panda Update
Lets start with the biggest change, and the most commonly updating one—Google's Panda update. On February 24th, 2011, Google posted on their official blog, an article attempting to explain to users what their intentions were for the algorithm update. This from the opening paragraph:
"Our goal is simple: to give people the most relevant answers to their queries as quickly as possible. This requires constant tuning of our algorithms, as new content—both good and bad—comes online all the time."
Essentially the update focused heavily on people 'cheating the system' and personally, I saw it as a great thing, as we always strive to keep our SEO efforts clean and authentic (black hat techniques will almost always bite you back in the end). Essentially sites that were not producing original content that was insightful, well researched and completely relative to the search queries it was being found for, were penalized and quite heavily, with reports of sites dropping from 1st page rankings into oblivion (though these were likely very guilty of black hat SEO).
What stands strong from this is that content remains king and the more well written and researched that content, the better it will perform. Links from other authentic sites on the web will also help your rankings, as always, and being engrained on the web via social networks will also help!
That's right—in 2011 (well, late in 2010 actually) it was revealed that the search engines are taking social media content into account within the rankings, as found in Search Engine Land's 6 questions to Google & Bing on this issue.
Google's Places Algorithm Update
It's no secret that the SERP's have grown to favour locations mentioned in searches and your actual physical location, but what does this mean? Essentially, the days of seeing your site ranked in 1st when searching from your location, does not mean that those searching it in the next state or province over (or even the next town) will see the same result (this applies to all search results, not just places). Further to this Google updated their Places algorithm not to take into account the reviews obtained for a business on review specific sites such as Trip Advisor and Yelp when showing results from a search, and now only take Google Places reviews into account.
This has been a tough one to swallow, as it appears that Google may simply be trying to have people use their product more, rather than showing authentic results. A site that has good to great reviews from a range of sources around the web, in our opinion, should always rank higher than a site that has a few decent reviews in the Google Places interface itself and none, or less decent reviews elsewhere. Unfortunately this is what is now happening within Google Places results and we have to work with it.
The message: To help you rank well within Google Places, be sure to get reviews from Google users, from within the Google Places space.
Google Removes Keyword Data From Analytics
In a move that really upset many an SEO, Google announced on October 18th, 2011, that it would be removing keyword data from users surfing the web while logged into their Google Account. Google labeled it as making search more secure, but others have seen it as a blatantly false claim. Although your keyword data will no longer show within Analytics, it will still be available to advertisers and is therefore somewhat hypocritical on Google's behalf. I have to say that they seem to have a point. Further more to this, they may not be displaying your search data to people in Analytics, but they are still collecting this information, in order to present it to the paying advertisers.
Originally some may have thought to themselves, 'how many people really surf online while signed into their Google account?' While it's a valid question, and one that I mulled over a little as well, there have been tests run, like this one from UK SEO Dave Naylor that have shown more than a quarter of their audience is surfing while signed into Google! While this will vary from site to site, it definitely makes you take note and proves that this change will likely result in some changes into research for what keywords people are using to discover and arrive on your website.
A much more recent article from Dave Naylor's site shows another test that they ran, which shows up to a 10% loss of keyword data. All of this makes the discovery process and continued monitoring of a sites traffic more difficult, where keyword data and terms of interest are involved.
Google's Big New Product
Google Plus: Another Social Channel
Perhaps the largest thing Google did this year was release it's own social media channel; Google Plus. Everything started off well for Google Plus, but recently there have been numerous articles that discuss the issues that they are having, in essence with holding engagement. Even with people like Mashable pushing brands to invest in Google Plus and Google Plus's recently released 'pages' (which resemble the Facebook Page in some ways), we are still seeing a steep decline in referral traffic to sites from this social media outlet, a measly 0.00064% rate. Needless to say, you want to include Google Plus within your social media network, as there is bound to be a benefit with the direct connection to showing in Google's SERP's.
Google's Continued Design Updates
The other big news that has been seen this year from Google, especially in recent times, is updates to the design of their many products. As recently as Thursday this past week we have seen Google roll out updates to the YouTube user interface (which should be visible to users now) and an update to the Google account, which will be visible to account users when searching, using Google Plus and anything else in the family, also released this week. This update may not be visible to all yet, but if you don't see it and cant wait to, try this hack found on Mashable.
Overall I think the design updates are great, especially the YouTube one. When landing on YouTube's homepage, while signed in, you get a very useful left sidebar that really enhances the experience. In the middle people within your Google Plus network that shared videos will be shown and the usual suggested videos now show on the right column. The design is clean and makes use of the current design trends. Most of the trends it utilizes, have been around for some time and I think, are somewhat timeless trends of recent years.
The Google accounts page has been tidied up a lot in recent months (as has the SERP page and more), but they have furthered this with the most recent update, removing the black bar from the top of the page and replacing it with a smooth dropdown that comes out of Google logo in the top left of your screen. From this dropdown you can access all the same things you could in the past, but it leaves the page a lot cleaner and lighter when you're not looking to access the elements of the ol' black bar.
Needless to say, it has been a turbulent year for SEO's and online marketers. All in all it's making the web a better place, with more authentic search results, cleaner interfaces and another, powerful social media tool to exploit. It's not without it's downsides; however, with the loss of 3rd party reviews having any weight in the rankings of local businesses within Googles Places listings and the removal of logged in users keyword data from within Analytics, both of which we can move past, it just makes our job a little tougher again.
What are your thoughts on the shifts and changes within Google this year? Have you noticed anything that you would like to ad to the article? Let us know in the comments below.