2012 Google SEO Updates

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Google Panda

The Panda update was rolled out in early 2011 and the search world has seen fairly regular updates ever since. When it first began Google announced that a staggering 11.8% of websites were affected by the change and as new ways of refining the algorithm emerge more sites are either penalized or rewarded for their efforts.

With the addition of Penguin early this year even more updates have been put into place for the Panda algorithm giving the search engine conglomerate a sophistication in search that was previously thought impossible to achieve.

Farmer Penalties

Ever since the beginning of website development there have been people who steal content from other websites. These website scraping domains came to be known as content farms. As Panda progressed in 2012 there were rolling updates to the algorithm as Google became better at recognizing these sites.

Original Content

One of the ways Google began to recognize quality websites was by determining the level of original content produced. The idea is that your website, no matter which competitive group it lives in, should have enough interesting and original content to support every page.

In other words, you can no longer expect a page to rank for a certain keyword if the content on the page does not back it up. Matt Cutts has been known for stressing the importance of having adequate content support for any page creation - not the other way around.

Content Freshness

Another key factor for rankings that has come from Panda is the idea that the natural progression of a website should have regular content additions. Google believes that if a website is going to stay relevant it will need to be interesting for users and follow current trends.

Blog creation, regular updates on sale information, weather updates, upcoming events, etc. – These are just a few of the ways a business can maintain website freshness in its competitive space.


Exact Match Domains (EMD) & Partial Match Domains (PMD) are receiving more scrutiny from Google Panda these days. After an update in September 2012 there were a lot of EMDs that lost top page rankings if they were not supported by quality content.

Having keywords in the domain name of your website used to be a ranking factor toward the positive in the world of search. Talk of reducing the value of an exact match domain has been around for a couple years, but it wasn’t until the Penguin update came along to more closely measure the quality of a site that it was made possible.

Google Penguin

As the SEO industry has grown rapidly over the past decade or so, methodology in creating high-ranking websites has been questioned in regards to ethical practice. In an effort to further discourage what has become known as Black Hat SEO practices Google has finally laid down the law.

By counter-acting the usual tactics that were used for gaining rankings the past the Penguin update has become a welcome compliment to Panda for searchers everywhere. While the methods of SEO may have changed with the addition of the Penguin update, the overall goal is to create a great user experience in a way that showcases a business’s strengths in their respective market.

Page Layout

When Penguin was released in March of 2012 it was originally called the Page Layout update by Google. The algorithm was updated to evaluate the quality of each individual page based on its layout.

This part of penguin refers to the structure of the page itself. In other words, how does the page read and is it user friendly. The idea of placing engaging content “above the fold” became an important part of SEO practices.

It also became important to have eye-catching elements integrated into the pages to create more interesting content. Those elements could be images, videos, info-graphics, data, or screenshots – anything that is visually stimulating while staying relevant to the content on the page.

Reduce Over-optimization

Taking the page layout guidelines even further Google began to penalize over-optimization. In a rare pre-release notification, Matt Cutts told the SEO community that this update was intended to give equal opportunity to websites creating high quality content.

This aspect of the Penguin update was specifically aimed at SEO efforts that had been useful in the past for improving rankings. Where keyword stuffing used to be the norm in attributes such as page titles, alt image tags, meta descriptions, anchor text and body copy, Google made these methods obsolete and many websites were affected.

The Penguin algorithm update changed the nature of SEO so that nobody would have the upper hand by using tricks to game the system. With this evolution happening in the SEO world the industry became less focused on ways to gain rankings and more focused on finding innovative business marketing strategies.

Quality Links

The number of links that point to a website directly affects its domain authority. It used to be that you could purchase links whether that was through link farm websites, directory listings or article placements.

Now that Penguin is firmly in place the penalties can be steep for indulging in any of these old practices. The first move Google made was to remove “spammy” link farm websites from the index. Essentially what that did was remove the value of those links from the destination websites overnight.

Google then took it one step further by penalizing websites who continued to have “bad links” pointing to their domain. They even began a new service in Google Webmaster Tools to alert website owners that they had “questionable links” for their domains and should work to get them removed.

Google now offers a Disavow Links feature in Webmaster Tools where you can submit a request for the Googlebots to ignore links that you have been unable to remove after a provable effort. There has been positive feedback for this new feature even though the request seems to take roughly four weeks to take effect.

User Engagement

For white hat SEOs this piece of our job has always been the most important. How do users interact with the website and are they finding what their search queries brought them here for? With the Penguin update fewer and fewer poorly constructed websites are making the cut.

Google has been reporting on user engagement in Analytics for years and now they are giving more value to how interesting a website is. Not only is a website expected to have original and robust content to support search queries, but how a searcher behaves once they arrive to your site is also very important.

The level of interest can be gauged by things like bounce rate, time on site, page entrances & exits, etc. The SEO industry has evolved into a way for businesses to showcase the ways in which they surpass the competition with creative marketing ideas and highly engaging content.

Google+ Local

Everyone chuckled a little when Google developed the “+” universe as competition to the ever-popular Facebook. Then early this year the switch was made from Google Places to Google+ Local. With the popularity of Google Maps and the slow start of Google+ they decided to combine the two.

During the transition many businesses lost listing placement but as the year went on Google+ Local became the new face of local search optimization. In addition to claiming a listing, businesses are encouraged to create their very own Google+ page to increase the amount interaction customers can have.

Business Pages

By creating a business page on Google+ you are giving potential customers more information about your product that may make it more engaging. The more information you can showcase about your business the more likely you are to get new customers who find you through relevant search queries.

Business pages can also be useful for local getting your listing into the proper search queries on Google. By optimizing the Google+ page a business can tell Google what it sells, where it’s located, how much people like it, etc.

User Reviews

Google has become more dependent on reviews in determining the value of a business in the local market. Taking that one step further, Google also places value on the response businesses give to their customer reviews and the ways in which they encourage people to leave their thoughts.

Social Interaction

Google+ for business has become a way for many websites to incorporate social interaction through their listings. Users who are signed in to Google can now leave reviews at the push of a button and give your business a +1 at the same time.




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