2013: SEO Year in Review

8335459995_b23d44327e_o.jpg

Throughout 2013, there have been many significant changes in search engine optimization (SEO) and as a result, industry leaders are making the case for the necessity of higher marketing budgets in the upcoming new year. Is this just a clever ploy to get businesses to spend more or are the reasons behind the rumors really justified?

Let’s first examine some of the significant SEO changes that have taken place in 2013:

  • Google’s (not provided) data
  • Google’s Hummingbird algorithm replacement
  • The rise of content marketing and the importance of social signals 

Google (not provided) Data

(Not provided) began rearing its ugly head in Google Analytics in October of 2011. (Not provided) was the result of Google encrypting searches for signed-in users (those using a secure Google connection, ie gmail). However, only until recently had the percentage of (not provided) data grown significantly. Over the past six months, (not provided) averaged over 70% of all organic keyword performance data, and, in October 2013, Google made secure search a priority and stopped providing organic keyword data altogether.

As a result of all organic search data now being encrypted, the way organic keyword terms and phrases are analyzed and chosen for optimization needs to change. The days of simply looking in Google Analytics for the organic keyword phrases that have produced the most exposure, click-throughs and conversions are gone. Instead, new strategies, such as landing page analysis, will need to become a part of your digital marketing strategy and you’re going to need an experienced team to help you make this transition.

Google Hummingbird

In late September of this year, Google announced Hummingbird, its brand new algorithm replacement. This new algorithm focuses on semantic search and aims to more accurately interpret what a visitor is really searching for, i.e. user intent. With the implementation of Google’s Knowledge Graph, searches are becoming more “conversational” and sites that rank highly in the SERPs (search engine results pages) have well structured content intended to answer users’ questions.

This considerable algorithm change has caused marketing efforts to shift away from targeting keywords and/or phrases to focusing on addressing and answering users’ questions in a more conversational way. Website content should now focus on products or services and how they accommodate a user’s need as opposed to manipulating keyword phrases that are intended more for search engines than humans. In other words, a user should find your site’s content so useful that he/she is inclined to like, comment and share it with others.

Content Marketing and Social Signals

This year has also been the year of content marketing and the rise of social signals. You have likely heard the buzz phrase “content marketing” and may be wondering “what exactly is it?” Content marketing is the creation and sharing of published content and materializes in various different formats such as white papers, videos, infographics, articles, case studies, blogs, etc. The purpose of content marketing is to attract and keep customers by creating unique, relevant and engaging content.

When it comes to content marketing (in any format mentioned above), the focus on what search engines may deem relevant is greatly shifting towards what humans find valuable. You should ask yourself the following questions: Am I producing content that my visitors want to read? Am I producing content that my visitors find so important that they are motivated to provide commentary and to share with others? If your digital marketing strategy still involves focusing almost solely on keyword targeting and implementation, your site will likely experience a decline in the SERPs (search engine results pages).

Things to Consider Moving Forward 

SEO strategies that worked even six months ago no longer work and can even, in some cases, now harm a site’s rankings. Link earning holds more value than link building. Further, as a result of secure search, new ways to analyze organic SEO efforts need to be explored. Additionally, content still remains king and needs to provide value that users want to share on social media platforms that are more important now than ever before. You may even need to hire a copywriter/social media specialist to manage said platforms. 

Ultimately, evolving SEO strategies require a new mindset and expertise that could possibly equal greater dollar spend. You may have already started to shift your focus away from keyword optimization to concentrate more heavily on creating valuable content. In that case, you may not need to increase your digital marketing budget in 2014. On the other hand, if you haven’t taken into consideration the loss of organic keyword data in Google Analytics and the most recent algorithm updates, then you may need to increase your budget to accommodate a new, more comprehensive marketing strategy.

With 2014 rapidly approaching, every business owner should at least ask “How will these significant changes affect my business’s marketing budget moving forward?” The most important thing is to be aware of and prepared for a potential increase in budget and to also view Google’s newest changes as opportunities moving forward.

Banner image courtesy of Flickr user MomentsforZen