It’s no surprise to SEO experts that the SEO landscape is evolving at an accelerating rate. Though most technology disciplines such as hardware and software are well known for changing incredibly fast, SEO has experienced changes so quickly in the last year that they would make the lead developer for Microsoft Windows blush. Not only did Google implement some massive changes that SEO experts never saw coming, long time hero of Google Matt Cutts left the company – and we still don’t know if he will ever join forces with Google again. As we move towards the end of 2015, reflect on the major SEO changes that have happened since 2014 and consider the direction that SEO is headed in the future.
SSL Became a Ranking Factor
One thing Google has done to change SEO since 2014 to the present is to include the use of SSL as a ranking factor for the SERPs. For those of you who don’t know what SSL is, it is simply a technology to establish a secure and encrypted conversation between an end user and the website they are accessing. Basically, Google is promoting a more secure Internet by providing incentive for web admins to include SSL plugins as part of their website.
However, this is admittedly a small ranking signal. Though we don’t have access to the Google algorithm to see how heavily this metric is weighted, it is likely akin to including exact match keywords in your domain. Will it help? Absolutely. But just how much? It is hard to know, but this is almost certainly one of the more minor ranking signals. Although, every little bit helps and if you lack SSL/HTTPS on your website you may want to incorporate that into your design in the quest for more traffic.
Google Became More Adept at Targeting and Annihilating Blog Networks
About this time last year, Google wiped a lot of previously high ranking blog networks of the map, which changed the SEO landscape forever. Many PBNs lost ungodly amounts of traffic, especially those that were selling back-links. Oh, if only it were as easy as purchasing a back-link to rank higher! Sites like NoHatDigital lost over 40% of their traffic and other sites like NichePursuits were hit even harder – all but crippling the sites for months if not years.
The Death of Guest Blogging Schemes
In the past, legitimate SEOs saw guest blogging as a viable means to inject link juice into a website to climb in the search engine results pages. The more backlinks they got, the more visitors they got. Sounds like a simple, effective, and legitimate practice, right? Well, not exactly. You see, a lot of people started to exploit this idea and before long there were entire websites dedicated to providing back-linking services. These guest blogging “content link mills” or “blogging farms” threw the real value of a site out of proportion with what the Google algorithm intended to accomplish. In short, it led to sites with lower-quality information rising above the crème de la crème content, and these sites painted a huge target on their backs.
Google singled them out and targeted them individually, which caused the guest blogging sites to go down and take anything they were linked to with them. Websites with back-links from these sites got slapped in the face with massive penalties that caused them to lose vast amounts of traffic, too.
Changing the Game for New Websites
In the past, it wasn’t so hard for new websites to rank well for their given keywords. Although, the past was the Wild West in terms of techniques people used to rank their websites. Today Google has included in their algorithm a way to make sure that brand new sites take a little more time than they did in the past to start ranking high in the SERPs.
Though this may sound counterproductive if you want to create a new website, realize that there are two key takeaways from this implementation. Firstly, this is a good thing because it stops the black hat folks from building a new website, cheating the system, and injecting their website above yours. What would you do if you had worked your tail off to get relevant rankings, only to be replaced by a cheater with a low-quality site almost overnight?
Secondly, this fairly new change means that the value of your SEO expert has increased (again). Every time Google makes a change to their algorithm, it becomes a little bit harder to rank your website. As a result, the poorer and less skilled SEO’s find that their dubious black hat ranking techniques don’t work anymore. A good SEO professional is worth their weight in gold because they will be able to help you rank, despite the latest changes, by only using ethical practices.
The SERP CTR Debate
For several years, people have been debating whether or not the click through rates of the SERPs are used as a ranking signal. Interestingly enough, this year more and more people have been agreeing that the CTR of a website can be manipulated to boost rankings. To be honest, this looks really dodgy and doesn’t do anything to increase the quality of a website. If this is in fact another exploit that has been discovered, others will follow suit until Google takes notice of it. In the end, it will get shut down like everything else if, in fact, it is actually improving rankings. However, though this is a long standing debate, this year we have been presented with tangible evidence that it actually does improve rankings.
Though we have seen a lot of other changes such as Pidgeon updates and various tinkerings with local search traffic and mobile friendliness, you need to be concerned with the philosophy of these changes. What do all of these changes have in common? Google is trying (and succeeding, I might add) to improve the quality of the Internet – from both a content perspective and a security perspective. A clean, safe Internet that provides us the exact information we want in mere milliseconds is the ultimate goal, and you need to work with an SEO professional (like us!) to help your website avoid anything that Google might see as “low quality” if you have any hope of gaining significant organic traffic.