3 Ways Google Changed SEO in 2011

First, let’s set the record straight. Google changed SEO in many more than three ways in the past year. Google’s algorithm and policies are continually changing so it could even be safe to say that it changed SEO on a daily basis. Of course, some changes got a lot more attention than others, and rightly so.

These changes could be known as “game-changers”. Obviously they each received a lot of press and attention within the last 12 months. Let’s take a look.

#1 – The Panda Update
Originally labeled the “Farmer Update”, Panda was a huge algorithm update that targeted “content farms”, or spammy and low-quality content sites way back in February. It was most likely in response to complaints of poor quality search results and increased pressure as Bing continued to increase its market share. The goal was to kick low quality content and spam blogs out of the results and reward quality content.

In the process major content distribution sites like Ezine, Business.com, and Associated Content really took a hit. It resulted in these sites re-evaluating their strategy and implementing stricter submission policies. As the year continued, it became apparent that Panda wasn’t a one time thing. It was rolling out in phases, and another big Panda update, labeled Panda 2.2 emerged in June. The target of Panda 2.2 were scraper sites, or sites that copy content from elsewhere on the web and outrank the original.

While the February update attracted the most attention and had the most immediate impact, the message was clear. Publish good, quality content or don’t publish content at all- because Google won’t rank it.

#2 – Google+
Before launching Google+, Google tested the waters with its +1 button. Google stated that the +1 button was shorthand for “this is pretty cool” or “you should check this out”. Essentially it was Google’s version of the Facebook “Like” button. The +1 button was visible in search results for users logged into a Google account and eventually was released for web pages.

Users that were confused by this funny new button had an Aha moment when Google launched Google+ back in late June. Suddenly, it all made a little more sense. Google+ was originally branded as the Google+ Project. As soon as word got out about this “Facebook killer” everybody wanted to learn more and it became the fastest growing social network, although recently that growth eventually slowed. It picked back up again with the release of Google+ brand pages in November.

What’s important for SEOs to understand and leverage is that Google incorporates Google+ data into its search engine ranking algorithm, meaning that you can’t afford to not be involved.

#3 – Encrypted Search
The most recent Google policy change came recently when Google announced that searches conducted by users that were signed into a Google account would be encrypted. While this addressed privacy concerns that users may have, it posed quite a threat for those of us in the SEO world. We would no longer be provided with entrance keywords to a site.

We would only know that the visitor came from Google and the search term or query would be “(not provided)”. Google stated that the percentage of searches affected would be a small percent, but there are other factors to consider. Depending on the target audience, that could be a huge chunk of data missing. SEOs have been left to work with the data that they do have from non-encrypted search and to get creative in trying to figure out what the “(not provided)” terms are.

Clearly 2011 was a busy year over at Google and it’s doubtful that they are slowing down. So, what’s in store for 2012?

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