2012 Year in Review: Search Engine Optimization

penguin

When you're dealing with a company that tweaks its flagship product almost twice a day, there's likely going to be some significant events you'll want to monitor throughout the year. And while Google isn't the only player (think Bing, Yahoo!, among others) in the search industry, it is by far the largest.

There were a lot of significant changes to Google's algorithm this year, as well as the ways marketers use search engines. Below are some of the more significant changes we saw in search engine optimization in 2012.

Down with Spam

2012 brought many Google algorithm updates aimed at reducing web spam and low quality content in organic search results. As a result, even more emphasis was put on creating high quality content and leaving outdated black hat tactics to continue dying a slow, painful death. Below is a recap of 2012's algorithm change highlights:

Penguin Was Born

In April of 2012, Google rolled out the Penguin algorithm update which was focused on reducing web spam by penalizing sites using "black hat" techniques to game the rankings. The update specifically penalized sites which were engaging in keyword stuffing and unnatural link schemes.

Panda Grew Up

Google continued to update its Panda algorithm update in an effort to eliminate low quality or "thin content" from the rankings. The continued updates to Panda meant that strong content became, even more than ever, the single most important factor to executing a successful SEO campaign.

Exact Match Domains Got Slapped

In October, Google released an update which aimed to rid the SERPs of low quality results from exact match domains (bestcollegesinamerica.com, for example, is an exact match domain for the keyword "best colleges in america").

Prior to the EMD update it was relatively easy for websites to rank highly for a keyword based almost entirely on the presence of that keyword in the domain name.

Obviously this resulted in low quality sites making it onto page 1 for some very desirable keywords.

In With Social

Social signals and content became increasingly influential in the world of organic search in 2012. Below are two ways social rocked the world of search in 2012:

Social Shares and Rankings

Social shares can be thought of as digital "votes of confidence" for quality content. For search engines, counting these shares is a much better measurement of content quality and popularity than counting backlinks(which are more easily manipulated by sneaky humans). That's not to say that links aren't still important (they definitely are!) but having social share counts in conjunction with inbound links became increasing important in 2012.

Social Results

2012 was the year we saw more and more social content (in practice, really just G+ content) showing up in our organic search results as a result of Google's January launch of Search Plus Your World. Facebook Likes and related content from Facebook friends began appearing in a sidebar for logged in users using Bing. All of which is to say that social content became even more integrated with our search experience in 2012 (and more of a focus than ever for search marketers).

Bing Results Page

And Google.

Google Results Page

Usability

In June, Google officially recommended responsive design as the best way to build a smartphone-optimized website that will stand the best chance of ranking well in organic results.

As the variety of screen resolutions grows, so too does the challenge of ensuring a consistently positive user experience across multiple devices. Responsive design solves this challenge and is the best option from an SEO perspective. With a responsive design, your content lives on one URL as opposed to desktop and mobile specific ones, limiting duplicate content issues. Google also claims that they are better able to crawl and index responsive sites since mobile content does not have to be discovered and crawled separately.

Conclusion

As always, you can expect a lot more in the coming year. 2013 is sure to see some significant developments in the search engine marketing game. If you have any insights or ideas about the future (and the past), please let us know in the space below.

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