If you're like most online merchants, you've got an eye on your SEO strategy and the tactics involved with gaining higher organic rankings and driving more targeted, free traffic to your site. If you've been paying attention to Google lately, you've realized a few changes that have had or may have an impact on your business. I'm here to help you make sense of these recent changes and offer a long-term SEO strategy that'll stand the test-of-time -- or at least stand the test of Google algorithm changes and, in the case of Hummingbird, complete overhauls.
Rundown of recent changes this year with Google and its effects
Penguin 2.0 -- May 22, 2013: This was primarily a link-quality algorithm update that took into account the incoming link profile of any given website. Google was looking for situations where it seemed obvious there was link manipulation happening. For example, situations where websites were clearly trying to build incoming links with very specific anchor text that went beyond what a more natural-looking incoming link profile would resemble. Typically, this anchor text consisted of the most valuable business terms for that website (e.g. LCD HDTVs).
This update also targeted link web spam in general, an ongoing Google battle for years now, and obvious advertorials that pass PageRank. In other words, if you have a lot of very low quality incoming links and are associated with spammy links (e.g. automated systems that build low quality links), you've probably realized ranking losses. Widget bait and site-wide links fit this bill. Also, if you've been paying for links and you pay for written endorsements on other websites with links that pass PageRank, you've probably realized ranking losses.
Even if you haven't realized losses and are still incorporating these tactics, I encourage you to stop. Google has become increasingly sophisticated in its detection and filtering technology. As long as SEO is important to your business, don't play with these matches.
Updates to Google's Webmaster Guidelines -- ongoing: These tend to slip under most people's radars, so I recommend always checking in on Google's guidelines after every update. I also encourage you to return to these guidelines to guide your strategy. It's also good to check-in on Bing too. These updates outline and give more detail into all the best practices Google recommends to help it find, crawl, and better understand the content and products on your site. There is a section, link schemes, under quality guidelines where Google outlines linking practices that go against Google's guidelines. They certainly help you identify the likely causes of penalties like Penguin 2.0 and 2.1. You can click through that link to get more information as well.
Google Webmaster Tools reporting on webspam connected accounts -- August 2013: Google has been making efforts to give site owners notice of manual webspam actions in GWT -- links Google has identified as unnatural and other forms of webspam including problems with content. Log in to your GWT account and navigate to Search Traffic -- Manual Actions. If you receive a manual action message, realize you are on the radar and this is your opportunity to clean your content and/or incoming link profile of harmful, unnatural links. This additional help isn't all-inclusive at this point, and it might not ever be. I tend to think of this as Google's way to subdue the outcries for support in terms of getting direct and specific answers from Google about content and link penalties. It does offer you a link to submit a request for review, a reconsideration request through this manual webspam message. Regarding unnatural links, I have seen situations where Google will respond to reconsideration requests sent through GWT with actual sample URLs of links outside its quality guidelines. If your reconsideration request is detailed enough and you can provide proof of your work to remove unnatural links, it may be more inclined to offer sample URLs.
If you find yourself in a situation where you think you have been penalized and yet no notices have been brought forth through GWT, there are solutions available to help you identify the likely cause.
100 percent term (not provided) -- most people heard about it on Sept 23, 2013: Ugh…SEOs saw this one coming, but it's very critical for every web site owner and inbound marketer to know that all searches through Google are now 100 percent encrypted. Before you had to be signed into your Google account to perform secure searches; now it no longer matters. Anyone performing a search on Google is SSL protected, 100 percent of the time.
As a marketer and business owner, this now means all keyword-level data for organic traffic will be reported as 100 percent term (not provided) through analytic platforms like Google Analytics. This greatly disrupts the foundation for which most SEOs report on keyword performance and disables direct knowledge for specific keyword details. It blinds keyword data and in this day-and-age of technology, data blinding is never a positive thing.