Search Marketing: 2012 in Review

December 14, 2012 - The Search Marketing Group

The year 2012 has proved interesting for the world of search marketing and so here at the Search Marketing Group we thought it would be helpful to put together a review of the year from an SEO perspective.

Back in January 2012, the SEO world was still recovering from the impact of the Panda update (update 3.2 was released on 18/01/12) but there was a general sense of optimism as Google announced new search features such as the integration of Search+ into the SERPs. This trend continued throughout February, March and into April, with further Panda updates and tweaks to the algorithm that focused on providing speed, freshness and more integration of local data into the search results.

By April however, the continued Panda updates were affecting less and less searches and the vast majority of effected websites had taken the necessary steps to reinvigorate their content and as such were less affected. But, then on the 24th April 2012, the world of search marketing was going to face one of the most dramatic turns in its history.

While there have been many algorithm updates that have affected methodologies, Penguin directly targeted “over-optimisation” and affected over 3% of English queries. While the initial Panda update had affected 12% of search results, those sites mainly affected were content farms whereas the Penguin update was less discriminate.  This update was accompanied by Google Webmaster tools sending out more “Webmaster Warnings” in a period of two days than it had in its entire three year history previously. These left many Webmasters confused and lead to panic in certain circles. The SEO press were abuzz with news of the update and articles such as “Two Weeks In, Google Talks Penguin Update, Ways To Recover & Negative SEO” by Danny Sulivan became required reading for many website owners looking for answers.

After a couple of weeks it became clear that Penguin didn’t just share having a cute name with Panda – like its predecessor, Penguin was a filter with the prospect of long term scheduled updates. This allowed for websites to “clean up their act” by attempting to remove “bad” links from their back link portfolios and remove any known/identifiable on-page instances of spam. Google hailed the update as a success (perhaps the 42% increase in PPC spend had something to do with it?), while for many in the search marketing community, it presented a plethora of challenges – none more so than the looming prospect of negative SEO: what, after all, was there to stop someone acquiring a large number of poor quality link farm links and directing them to a competitor’s site?

While search marketers dealt with the fallout, Google continued to tweak, introducing features such as “knowledge graph”, which is the integration of more information into the result when you search for certain people. In the example below this data is on the right hand side.

 

A Google Screenshot

There were also a series of updates that tied into the penguin update such as the improvement of handling pagination and the creation of a larger “base” index.

In July 2012, Google released another wave of Webmaster warnings related to the topic of “unnatural links” detection. However, this time they promptly announced that the new warnings were not serious.  In August, Google introduced the DMCA penalty (note “penalty”, not “update”), which affected websites with repeated copyright violations. Also in August, Google continued the trend of reducing the number of returned results on the homepage and instead showing more pages from the same domain.

September saw the introduction of the “Exact-Match Domain” update, which led to the devaluation of owning exact match domains and affected 0.6 of queries (Google data). This meant that higher quality sites with fresh pertinent content should triumph over lower quality sites that happen to have a relevant URL, which is an important step in the creation of brand focused sites. Brand awareness through direct traffic and searches, with the addition of integrated brand social media is becoming ever more important in the world of Search Marketing.

Later in the year, October 2012 saw Google’s response to the fear of negative SEO practices (among other things) in the form of the Disavow tool in Webmaster tools. This new tool means that you can state that you have nothing to do with dubious links entering your site and that you have tried everything to remove them to no avail. While this may seem like a godsend for many, it is recommended that webmasters only use it in extreme circumstances. It is  also worth noting that the tool is not a quick fix, with disavowed links taking weeks to be removed from your WMT data and it is still unclear if websites can recover in between Penguin updates or if they need to wait for the next filter.

Which brings us up to early December 2012 and here at the Search Marketing Group, we are starting the New Year as we began, with a sense of optimism for the year to come.