If 2013 started with semantic web-volution, 2014 has done an excellent job of carrying the torch. It seems every year is labeled the most significant in the history of SEO, and there’s some truth there, but 2014 was unquestionably important and pivotal to the present and future of our industry.
The 2013 Google Hummingbird infrastructure update set the stage for the litany of wide-scale algorithm changes in 2014, but there were also a handful of non-algorithm news items that are influence how the SEO industry is evolving with the times.
Below are just a few of the biggest news stories from the past 12 months.
May 19: Google Panda 4.0 (Content)
Throughout 2014, Google Panda updates came with greater frequency and lesser severity, but Panda 4.0 deserves a mention due to its depth (7.5% of searches impacted) and inclusion of a data refresh, which helps penalized sites recover. Panda 4.1 was fairly large as well (2-3% of searches impacted), and both fall in line with Google’s hypnotic “content is king” mantra and their improved ability to understand semantics and implicit/explicit searcher intent.
July 24: Google Pigeon (Local)
Launched at the end of June, the Google Pigeon Update was the most significant change in local search since the Venice Update in 2012. Through the incorporation of more organic ranking signals and a tightened radius of results around the searcher’s location, Pigeon stripped the local 7-Pack from a handful of industries (real estate, most notably). Its expectedly messy roll out also produced a wave of “pigeon poop” jokes that are likely haunting some ominous corridor under Google’s Mountain View headquarters.
October 23: Google Penguin 3.0 (Links)
As of this writing, the much-anticipated third iteration of Google’s Penguin Update is still chugging along Roll Out Blvd., and Google has stated their intention of making Penguin updates an ongoing process (similar to Panda Updates). Hopeful SEOs that spent a year waiting for the fruit of their link removal labor to bloom have, for the most part, sighed a collective “meh,” as recoveries from Penguin-induced penalties have not met the hype. I like to think of Google Penguin as the Chinese Democracy of algorithm changes.
No 2014 news story exemplifies the “shiny objects” obsession within the industry like Google’s announcement of HTTPS as a ranking signal. Within a few days, hosting companies were pitching SSL certificates and HTTPS site transfers as a service offering (despite the complexity of implementation). In reality, and according to Google itself, HTTPS is not a significant factor (there are 200+ others out there), so transfer your site with caution.
Gone is the awkward Google Carousel; say hello to the three result K-Pack! In the vein of the Carousel, the K-Pack box shows up for restaurant, hotel, and general nightlife/entertainment-related searches.
The visual changes within search results are fairly unnoticeable unless you spend a lot of time staring at your blue links. However, 2014 marked a fairly large change to the formatting within organic, local, video, news and image results. Font sizes for titles and sitelink titles are now larger and no longer feature underlines, forcing SEOs to write shorter titles and meta descriptions, or risk getting cut off. Google also updated the look and functionality of its mobile Google Maps and search results.
If you can spam it, Google will devalue it. Sure enough, Google Authorship photos and tagging are dead tactics, thanks in no small part to its prevalence on sites without authors or blogs.