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How the world of SEO has changed over the past year

We are now sitting in April 2011 and looking back at the changes that have occurred in the ‘SEO World’ over the past 12 months. Whilst we reflect on these changes that many of us are witnessing, many of the core elements that help websites rank may well have stayed the same.

If your site has good architecture, contains good quality optimised content and varied relevant inbound links then it is likely you’re going to be less affected by search engines such as Google when changes do happen. Many sites that haven’t got these basic elements in place have suffered a blow over the past year mainly as a result of Google Search Engine updates and changes. Detailed below are some of the changes that have impacted on how well websites rank.

The most recent of Google’s updates has been the Panda update. This update aims to tackle low quality sites that syndicate duplicate content around the web to attain links and traffic back to their site. Google’s update aims to penalise sites using these tactics to promote or advertise their sites with little or no original content. Web analytics has shown that 11.8% of websites have already been affected in the US since this recent update. Many websites have seen their traffic halved and it is now likely that Google will roll this change out worldwide to combat other websites using these tactics.

This year has also seen Google tweaking its algorithms to tackle scraper sites which copy content from other sites using automated tools. By changing its algorithm, Google aims to rank websites that produce original content higher as opposed to sites that have scraped the content for its own purpose and then rank through the use of spam. Problems occurred when sites that had scraped content ranked higher than the original producers of the content. With this algorithm change, penalties will be issued to the sites scraping original content.

Early last year saw many updates and changes with the Mayday update kick starting it all off.  The Mayday update by Google aimed to tackle content sites that were ranking for long tail keywords using minimal content to syndicate around the web. To avoid penalisation, many websites were redesigned incorporating unique high quality content into the site. Many also addressed and altered their SEO strategies to provide original content that was worthy of gaining links.

Around the time of the Mayday update a new web indexing system called Caffeine was introduced. Its purpose was to show fresh results published on the web quicker than any other previous indexing system. Regardless of whether it was a blog post or news story, the Caffeine Index would enable you to find links to relevant content much more quickly. Many companies providing fresh new daily content to the web saw huge amounts of traffic as a result of this update.

Last year saw Google unveil ‘Google Instant’. Instant was introduced to save the user valuable time as Google believes people read quickly, but type slowly. Although Google Instant has had no impact on how web pages rank in the Google Index, it has affected the way people search and what they search for.

The way the SERP’s have changed over the past year is clearly noticeable, even to the less frequent Google user. What started off as just a title and description in the SERP’s last year saw products and maps been added to the equation. This was then re-evaluated to integrate local listings within the SERP’s, putting more emphasis on local search. We have also seen the introduction of brand refinements in the SERP’s as well as the inclusion of Faceted Search. This year has already seen the inclusion of the flag system which helps users identify important information about the website they are visiting. Also, the ability to hide sites to personalise the results has recently been introduced. The most recent addition is the social feature +1. This feature allows the user to approve URL’s in both the organic and paid listings. The approval of a particular site will help other users find useful related content that they are searching for.

All in all, the changes in the world of SEO over the past year have been pretty big and it’s unlikely to stop there in subsequent years. It is likely we will see more emphasis on the integration of social media elements into the SERP’s as part of a continuation of the social circle work that Google has carried out this past year.