The search engine landscape has changed considerably since the days of the “Wild Wild Web” back in the early ’90s when the crown was still up for grabs. For some of us names like Archie, Altavista, Lycos, Magellan and even the funkier DogPile may cause a bad case of misty eyes and nostalgia. (Wikipedia has a great time line of search engines.)
There are still many search engines available and many specialise in particular markets (see Wikipedia list of search engines), however the simple truth is that there are 2 heavyweights left: Google and Bing. A while ago I would have said there were 3, but since Yahoo now relies on Bing for its results I count them as one and the same.
Of the two, Google is still the heavyweight champion and, like it or not, we have to pay attention to anything Google does that can affect our rankings.
Landmarks on the Google-scape
Since its creation on 15th September 1997 Google has changed its algorithms and its interface many times. In terms of SEO, the big bangs happened from late 2010 onwards.
December 2010 “Social Signals”
Google confirmed that they use social signals, including Twitter and Facebook data, to determine ranking
February 2011 “Panda”
Named after one of Google’s engineers, this update put content farms on the endangered species list. This was a major update to Google’s algorithm and, according to Google, affected up to 12% of search results. For too long results had been infested by content that was of poor quality, blatantly copied, or had too many advertisements. There have been a number of updates to Panda since February 2011 including its international roll out to non-English queries in August 2011.
June 2011 “Schema.org”
To me, this was one of those rare moments where Google and Bing stopped playing “mine is bigger than yours” (I’m talking about market share!) and came together to do something useful for search engine users. For SEO this marked the birth of what is commonly referred to as microdata.
The Schema.org homepage describes purpose of microdata as:
a collection of schemas, i.e., html tags, that webmasters can use to markup their pages in ways recognized by major search providers. Search engines including Bing, Google, Yahoo! and Yandex rely on this markup to improve the display of search results, making it easier for people to find the right web pages.
Many sites are generated from structured data, which is often stored in databases. When this data is formatted into HTML, it becomes very difficult to recover the original structured data. Many applications, especially search engines, can benefit greatly from direct access to this structured data. On-page markup enables search engines to understand the information on web pages and provide richer search results in order to make it easier for users to find relevant information on the web. Markup can also enable new tools and applications that make use of the structure.
A shared markup vocabulary makes easier for webmasters to decide on a markup schema and get the maximum benefit for their efforts. So, in the spirit of sitemaps.org, search engines have come together to provide a shared collection of schemas that webmasters can use.
To manually code these tags is quite laborious. Fortunately there are extensions and plugins for the more popular content management systems to help webmasters and SEOs add them to pages and posts.
June 2011 “Google Voice Search” and “Search by Image”
Recognising the proliferation of different devices used by consumers, Google introduced the ability to dictate your search terms or submit an image for comparison.
June 2011 “Google+”
Yes, I know … this wasn’t an update to the Google algorithm. It signaled the start of Google’s challenge to Facebook giving members the ability to create circles for sharing content. Now do you see how this links (pun intended) to SEO? Backlinks!
February 2012 “Venice”
This update aimed to more tightly integrate local search data and aggressively localise the organic search results. In combination with the “Schema.org” update this opened new ranking opportunities for local SEO.
So what does this mean for SEO?
Content still remains king. Assuming that you didn’t stray to the dark side and fall foul of the Panda then the main task is to consistently create or curate content that is valuable, relevant and compelling.
Be an early adopter and start adding the microdata tags to your pages and posts to gain an advantage over the laggards. If you work with WordPress you can find a list of microdata plugins in the WordPress plugin directory. For other languages and CMS take a look at the list of tools at schema.rdfs.org
Get social! Now that Google’s algorithm has the smarts to detect dodgy backlink schemes don’t fall into that trap. Set up a Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+ account. Create links back to your original content and broadcast to your Tweeps, Followers/Subscribers, Connections and Circles.
If you haven’t already done so, set up RSS feeds for your content and for comments. RSS is great for your readership to passively receive your updates. Make sure your titles and extracts contain your keywords.
On the subject of keywords, this is one area where things get trickier. With the increase in use of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, people are more likely to use fewer search terms to find your content. Conversely with Google Voice Search, they can effortlessly dictate a whole stream of search terms. Add the tighter integration of local search data and aggressively localisation of organic search results, your SEO muscles are going to get quite a workout!
Do meta keywords and description matter anymore?
Whilst Google and Bing may place less emphasis on “old school” meta tags, there is still the cornucopia of other search engines to consider.
Likewise, make good use of “alt” and “title” tags.
How will I know if I’ve got it right?
With SEO, there is no absolute “right”, just varying degrees of success. Give it your best shot, check the results, make changes, rinse and repeat.
As with any marketing, the proof is in the results. Just remember the 3 most important words: Measure, Measure, Measure.
So that’s all there is to it!
Until next time, I look forward to your comments.