2013 will continue bringing profound changes to search engine optimization (SEO) practices for marketers and agencies alike. 2012 was the year of a fundamental change in SEO practices, with Google making several major changes to its ranking method.
In 2012, Google introduced its Penguin algorithm update, which targeted “webspam” including link stuffing, and other “over optimization techniques” frowned upon by the search engine. Throughout the year, Google improved upon 2011’s Panda update, which aimed to filter low-quality or spam websites from search results.
I offer five predictions to marketers and professionals for 2013. I’ve made these predictions based on available data and past developments in SEO from the past few years.
1. The social web continues to greatly influence SEO in 2013.
In recent years, sharing of content and websites has increasingly become a factor in search engine ranking algorithms, particularly on Google. This trend will continue in 2013, with marketers racing to find new ways to further engage users on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, and get them to share content. More shares will increasingly mean higher ranking and brand equity, leading Google to classify highly-social websites as superior to their non-social counterparts.
Those websites that have largely ignored social media or failed to develop a long-term social strategy risk losing search engine visibility and prestige. The best way to avoid this? Implement social sharing features throughout your website early on in the year.
2. Google’s Author Rank continues to have a profound effect on search.
Chances are you’ve seen search results containing the page or document author’s name (“By Author”) on Google over the past year. This is all part of Google’s strategic effort to make its search engine smarter and knowledgeable, while incorporating elements of Google+ within search results (author information is matched to Google+, if a profile exists for that author.)
Marketers should strongly consider creating a Google+ presence if they haven’t already. Over time, marketers on Google+ will potentially find their content ranking higher than their non-Google+ counterparts. Those who dismissed Google+ as not being important early on will find themselves behind the SEO curve in 2013.
3. Structured Data plays an even larger role in SEO.
Google’s author information is part of a broader search component called structured data – a form of extended meta data embedded in webpages, documents, or media. Google’s efforts to make its search engine smarter are centered around providing users with such extended information – e.g. restaurant reviews, address information, copyright information, etc.
Marketers would be keen to include structured data information in their webpages, documents, or media. For one thing, it’s professional and gives your content a polished appearance. More importantly, those who ignore structured data will find their content pushed back on Google’s search results if the search engine deems you less relevant on a given topic.
4. Link building strategies become increasingly irrelevant.
For the past decade, many SEO professionals have focused their efforts on link-building. Building quality links used to be the hallmark of a great SEO strategy – propelling you to the top of Google’s search results and establishing your website’s relevancy. In recent years, Google’s Panda and Penguin algorithm updates have devalued this technique due to illicit SEO tactics such as link stuffing (in which SEO professionals insert many links all over the page, even when they aren’t necessary.)
Google still cares about on-page links. But marketers must make sure they are completely relevant. More importantly, they should focus their SEO efforts on building inbound links (from other websites linking in to yours), as this has become a key component of Google’s search ranking.
5. The debate over Google+ and +1’s continues.
Marketers and SEO professionals alike will continue debating whether or not Google+ truly does have a significant effect on Google’s search results. Those arguing in Google+’s favor say Google’s push towards search personalization makes +1’s and shares ever more relevant, as shared content frequently appears on the first page of Google’s search results. Opponents say Google is simply using Google+ where structured data makes it relevant for ranking purposes.
I strongly believe that Google+ is and will remain an important factor in Google’s search ranking practices. I’ve conducted no less than a dozen experiments using different networks to assess the effect of search personalization on one’s search results. And in many cases, I’ve found that whether or not personalization is enabled, content that has been +1’ed or shared over Google+ is treated favorably. Marketers can decide for themselves.