Over the last year Google has made some changes to its algorithm which really affects organic traffic rankings. Typically Google’s changes are merely a shifting over ranking factors. However, Google’s recent changes have, to a certain extent, changed the rules a bit.
Local Search has become more Relevant
Local listings now appear more frequently on non-geospecific-searches. For example, merely searching Jeep Parts will show still show the typical listings but you will also see physical locations in Google Places.
What this means for SEO
Small local businesses: This is a good thing. You may not have the budget to really rank for competitive head terms the way large E-commerce websites with huge marketing budgets do. Having a physical location within the proximity of the searcher will now help even those odds. And if your business model revolves around your physical location (and not selling online), you are likely to get relevant traffic.
E-commerce sites with physical locations: This is also a win for sites like BestBuy.com and Target.com. Having physical locations throughout the United States increases the chances of having a physical location in proximity of the user.
E-commerce sites without physical locations: This is a bit of a hindrance for e-commerce sites with no physical location like Buy.com or Amazon.com. Someone physically near a Best Buy store searching for an item carried by both Best Buy and Buy.com is likely to see Best Buy’s physical listing pop up near or even at the top of the listings, pushing Buy.com’s rankings further down.
Ranking Measures: This change has changed SEO web analytics to an extent. As location has become a larger factor (along with past user behavior), traditional methods of measuring keyword rankings may have become slightly less effective. Ideally this could make Google Webmaster Tools’ average keyword ranking metric (and therefore Google Webmaster Tools in general) more important. However, I remain a bit skeptical of some of the avg. position results as I see clients who don’t average #1 for their own brand name. However, it may be that Google’s avg. position measures all of Google’s properties (Google.ca, Google.es, Google.com.mx, etc) into a single aggregate.
Branded websites have become more Relevant for searches
Google’s algorithm appears to be giving a much larger berth to branded websites. So searches that include a brand name are likely to yield numerous results for that brand’s website (as opposed to the 2 maximum that used to display).
Retailers (Brands): Someone searching for a retailer by name will now find numerous results for the brand’s website. This means that competitor websites ranking for their brand name are now pushed further down in the results.
Manufacturer Brands: These sites made off like a bandit. Gaining as many as 7 or 8 of the top searches, searchers are far more likely to land on such a website before going to a retailer website selling their product. One could argue that this increases the need for retailer websites to be listed on a manufacturer’s “Where to Buy” page.
Retailers (when someone searches for a manufacturer they market): Retailers have no doubt seen brand-specific search traffic drop for brands they carry.
Retailers who solely or primarily market a single brand: Thoroughly screwed until/unless Google decides to roll this change back.
Social Media affects Rankings
For all websites: Similar to inbound links, Tweets and Facebook ‘shares’ are counted as ‘votes’ by Google and Bing. So having a presence on these websites is important, as is getting brand awareness. While Social Media marketing has become an industry unto itself, it’s affect on SEO adds to its credibility
Google Shopping has become more Relevant
Google Shopping results have been given a far more prominent placing in search results. Sometimes these results displace the top ranking webpage as the first result.
What this means: Having a well-formatted Google Product Feed has become that much more important. As Google Shopping results siphon clicks from organic search results, re-commerce websites will find a greater need to be included and gain better rankings in Google Shopping results.
Duplicate Content has become even less effective
Largely a result of the Farmer/Panda update, content farms (a term for websites that simply act as content aggregators for the sake of search engine placement and don’t necessarily provide value to visitors) have been hit hard. And with this, websites whose SEO was overly dependent on inbound links from such websites have seen their SEO become less effective. It’s been said that 12% of searches have been affected by Panda/Farmer update.
What this means: Websites whose existence was based on gathering up ‘SEO content’ and websites who depended largely on such websites have seen their rankings drop. You can see a very visible drop for websites like Ezine Articles, Hub Pages and Squidoo.
I don’t believe there is anything inherently wrong with these sites but rather the ways they’ve been used by the bulk of their visitors is something Google’s algorithm has been modified to devalue. So while many SEO’s refer to this as a ‘punishment’ I see it as more of Google’s version of a market correction.
On a side note, there is indeed a sense of justice in this for anyone who has found an article they wrote copied verbatim on another website with no credit and no inbound link to their website.
Google +1 will no doubt make personalized search results even more important factor
Google is integrating social media into their rankings (and virtually all other Google services) with their new +1 feature, which allows users to flag certain results as “pretty cool” (similar to Facebook’s “Like” feature). In fact, there already exists a script for adding a +1 button to websites and Google has already added tracking for +1 in Analytics and Webmaster Tools . This will certainly add a new dynamic to search result, making it a more social experience. Assuming this catches on and Google sticks with it, it may change the face of SEO.
Regardless of one’s opinion and willingness/ability to adapt to Google’s latest changes, it’s clear that their changes follow through (or least, intent do) with their mission to provide relevant results to their searchers. By giving users results that are catered to their location and past behavior, Google is tailoring their results to individual users. And since Google doesn’t seem poised to lose market share any time soon, all we can do as SEO professionals is adapt our strategy, largely by incorporating social media, local search optimization, and perhaps shifting away from relying on lower quality inbound links and brand-specific keywords. Of course, one could also argue that this makes small local businesses a more viable market for SEOs looking to expand their client list.