The past year has brought sweeping changes to the world of search engine optimisation. Some SEO techniques that performed well in 2011 are no longer useful. Many webmasters, marketers and writers have had difficulty adjusting to this. The most important SEO headlines of 2012 revolved around the actions of Google. When the year began, a number of website owners were still reeling from the 2011 Panda update.
Google issued a minor update to Panda during mid-January. Some websites that were harmed by the previous update reported that some of their traffic had been restored. The main purpose of the original Panda update was to punish websites with duplicate or low quality material. Some companies responded by removing thousands of Web pages and establishing new content policies.
Top Heavy Update
Google also released the Top Heavy update in January. It penalises websites that display numerous advertisements near the top of each page. This change didn't affect as many webmasters as the Panda update. Unlike low quality links or mediocre content, this problem is relatively easy to fix. However, the temporary loss of search traffic and the removal of ads can have a substantial impact on revenue.
During the same month, there was a significant change in Bing search results. Commentators at Search Engine Roundtable and WebmasterWorld remarked that Bing appeared to be prioritising country-specific domain names. For example, this update boosted the rankings of .au domains on Bing Australia. To register such domains, most governments require people to live in the appropriate country or maintain offices there.
The next major event was the Penguin update in April. This was one of the most important updates in many years. Google punished Web pages with questionable inbound links from unrelated or low quality websites. It sought to stop webmasters from using links to manipulate search rankings. This update was very unpopular with many website owners and marketers. It had an even greater impact than Panda.
Search Engine Roundtable conducted a survey of SEO practitioners in May. About 65 percent of the respondents said that Penguin had reduced their Google traffic. Approximately 14 percent reported no change, and 13 percent said that their traffic had increased. Webmasters and SEO firms have become much more careful about the types of links that they try to obtain. Some have even asked other website owners to remove links.
The changes at Google gave people plenty of things to talk about at the MozCon conference in late July. The three-day event in Seattle attracted about 800 participants. SEOmoz.org reported that there were presentations on SEO, reputation management, Google Plus and conversion rate optimisation. The conference featured appearances by Paddy Moogan, Ian Lurie, Rand Fishkin and others.
Exact Domain Match Update
During September, Google began to take action against low quality websites with domain names that have search keywords in them. This means that a website with a name like truro-canada-news.com won't appear in the results for "Truro, Canada news" unless it has inbound links and quality content. This was a disappointing development for entrepreneurs who had bought many exact match domains.
Disavow Links Tool
Two months later, Google established the "Disavow links" tool. Webmasters can use it to request that Google ignore inbound links from specific websites. This SEO tool takes up to a month to work, but it can reverse some of the damage caused by Penguin. There were also two minor Panda updates in November. They affected about 2 percent of Google searches.
SEO Trends for 2013
These developments will have a marked impact on SEO in 2013 as well. More website owners and marketers will begin to focus on obtaining unique content and quality one-way links. Keyword stuffing, link exchanges and article spinning will quickly become things of the past. It will remain important to optimise Web pages for specific keywords and ensure that search engine spiders can read them.