Shawn Joshi is an online marketing professional at Vovia, specializing in SEO. Shawn loves basketball and is often told he sounds like Isaac Hayes... "Oh yeah, baby".

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A Shift in the SEO Landscape (Reviewing SEO in 2012)

SEO-landscapeThe SEO landscape shifted dramatically in 2012. With an average of 40 – 50 announced changes to Google’s algorithm per month, it’s safe to say that the search results look far different than they did 12 months ago!

Companies looking towards 2013 are going to need to do things differently when they’re either looking to boost conversions, improve their website’s rankings or increase relevant traffic. In this post we’re going to take a look at a few of the major changes that shifted SEO in 2012 – and what you can do to effectively dominate your rankings in the New Year!

Google Panda

Though the Google Panda Update was originally released in February of 2011, it was refreshed a number of times throughout this past year and is continually updated. The Panda Update focused on websites that featured duplicate or “thin” content. In other words, websites that had a lot of derivative-based content or content ripped from other websites were penalized and saw their rankings drop substantially as well as sites who were simply “Spinning” content from elsewhere.

A great example of this is A website based around user-submitted articles, many of their articles ranked highly in search results prior to this update despite being poorly written and uninformative  Unfortunately, they lost a lot of rankings as many of their articles were “derivatives”, or very similar, to others.

This update made it even more important to invest in unique, quality content intended for human beings and not search engines.

Google Penguin

This update was released in April and had substantial effects on websites who were engaged in SEO. The update aimed to penalize websites that employed tactics such as keyword stuffing or having over-optimized, unnatural anchor text. Sites with links containing unnatural amounts of unbranded phrases or sites with many links from unsavoury sources bore the brunt of the update.

For example a beauty website that had thousands of links built, all with the anchor text “buy make up online”, may be hit by the Penguin update and subsequently disappear from the rankings.

This update made it incredibly important to abandon spammy link schemes and consider how you might generate links naturally. As a bi-product, site owners began to think in terms of content and began to place more emphasis on building linkable resources.

The Venice Update

The Venice update, introduced in February 2012, had a substantial impact on broad search queries. What this update did was produce localized search results when the search term itself was broad. For example, a search for “Chinese restaurants” will now give you listings for your local Chinese restaurants – as opposed to search results that were national (or even international) in scope before the update.

This update made having a local SEO strategy for businesses even more of a necessity.

Looking Forward to 2013

These recent changes to Google’s search algorithm have had a tremendous impact on the SEO landscape. They have forced companies using SEO to drastically change their approach. Rather than focusing on the number of links built or quantities of anchor text, it is now time to focus on the quality of those links and the value your content is providing to your target audience. Link building has become more like brand building; a local presence is increasingly important and to stay ahead of your competition you’ve got to be actively involved in your SEO campaigns.

This includes devising and performing a content strategy – which includes content creation, building an engaged audience, and optimizing for conversion. In other words, this is far from the extremely simplistic “build it and they will come” approach to content.

Though this is a significant change that makes doing SEO far more difficult, it is for the best. Those companies who choose to invest in doing things sustainably and focusing on their market will be rewarded, where those who choose to take short cuts will inevitably lose – though that may take time to see come to fruition.

Rather than looking for short-term gains in rankings, these changes have forced companies to migrate to a much more sustainable content-centric form of SEO. It’s a brave new world with many new challenges of its own, but one thing is for certain: investing in the right approach now will pay dividends that grow long after the spammers have fallen out of the limelight.