It’s almost impossible to tell what the world of SEO has in store for us in the future, and 2014 was proof of that. With delayed algorithm updates, such as Penguin 3.0, announcements of new ranking factors, and a complete overhaul to the way local search works, 2014 was an incredibly eventful year for search marketers. Let’s take a look back at the announcements and changes that made 2014 such an impactful year, and how those changes could set the tone and course of the year to come.
1. Diminished Impact of Google+
Google+ was long held as the frontrunner in a new age of links between social media marketing and traditional SEO. Since Google+ was the social media platform of choice backed by Google itself, it was reasonable to think that eventually, Google would favor Google+-based search results over any other type of social media result. However, in 2014, Google+ started seeing a series of changes that led many to question that prediction.
Google Authorship took a serious hit, with limited visibility for Google Authors on external pages. In April, the head of Google+ (Vic Gundotra) announced that he was leaving the company. Since Gundotra was a leader in pushing Google+ developments, many questioned how the social platform would fit into Google’s strategy moving forward.
Ultimately, Google+ became something closer to a platform, rather than a separate product, eliminating some lines of competition with powerhouses like Facebook and Twitter while keeping Google+ a usable entity. Social media marketers are still using Google+, to some degree, but search engine marketers are no longer viewing it as the significant platform they once projected.
2. Panda 4.0 and 4.1
Though its original iteration launched back in 2011, Google’s Panda algorithm was still making waves throughout 2014. Its first big hit came in May 2014, when Panda 4.0 started rolling out and punishing sites with low-quality content. Major players like Ask.com and RetailMeNot saw major decreases in search visibility, and thousands of businesses experienced drops or jumps in organic search rankings due to general volatility. With more than seven percent of all search queries affected, this was the biggest Panda release since the original 1.0.
Panda 4.1, a follow-up to the big release in May, was released toward the end of September, taking place over the course of several days and impacting about three percent of all search queries. While this update wasn’t officially named by Google, it was officially confirmed to have happened, and a number of sites focusing on song lyrics or other perceptibly “copied” content were hit. Any sties with copied or partially copied content saw reasonable hits in their search rankings.
This update is a clear indication that Panda is still a major force in Google’s arsenal, and they’re committed to revising it as necessary moving forward. Panda’s original intention, rewarding sites with high-quality content while punishing sites with low-quality content, is still intact, though the level of sophistication used to determine these characteristics is consistently increasing.
3. The Pigeon Update
2014 was a monumental year in terms of local search. While Google has had a local-based search algorithm for some time, the unofficially named “Pigeon Update” in July of 2014 dramatically changed the way local search results were calculated and presented. Most notably, local directory and local review sites, such as Yelp, which aggregate and host user-submitted ratings and reviews, got a significant boost in authority. Not only did this increase the rankings for local business entries on those directory pages, it also rewarded businesses with a long or strong history of cultivating positive reviews online. As a result, local business owners started scrambling to earn more positive reviews on these sites, thereby increasing their reputation and rankings online.
Later on, in November, Google did away with its Local Carousel, a design element it used to showcase images for local search results related to hotels, restaurants, and entertainment. While some users found this helpful, the painstaking amount of work it took to ensure appropriate, appealing images were included for a business on this carousel made its removal a relief for search marketers.
In many ways, local search was simplified. Google is clearly stressing the importance of giving a great customer experience in the real world, and business owners with a strong reputation in their communities are reaping the rewards.
4. Increased Emphasis on Security
Outside of the search community, security and privacy were big issues in 2014. A number of data leaks, hacks of major businesses, and the exploitation of Heartbleed when it was revealed in April made Americans fear for their security and made companies scramble to patch up any potential holes in their policies or frameworks.
As a possible result of this, Google announced in August that sites with SSL encryption (HTTPS designation) would start to receive a slight ranking boost. Clearly a measure taken to reward sites that protect their users’ security, chances are Google will continue following this trend into 2015 and beyond.
5. Penguin 3.0—Finally
After more than a year of hearing nothing on the Penguin front, we finally saw an update to the Penguin algorithm in October 2014. While the update wasn’t as big of an algorithm change as Penguin 2.0 back in 2013, the update was significant enough and distant enough to warrant an unofficial “3.0” designation. Following in the footsteps of Penguin updates before it, Penguin continues to increase its standards for what constitutes a “natural” external link, with a goal to eliminate unnatural, spammy link building tactics.
Predictions for 2015
Aside from the expected updates of Panda and Penguin, the biggest SEO game changers of 2014 were the dramatic changes to local search results and the increased importance of site security. Since many are predicting 2015 to be the year wearable technology like smart watches finally start breaking into the mainstream, these devices will likely impact Google’s plans for the future.
As such, I’ve put together a few predictions for Google’s intentions in the coming year and beyond:
- Panda and Penguin will continue to be relevant. Google shows no signs of overriding or massively overhauling these quality-hunters, so expect more updates (or at least data refreshes) in 2015.
- Local search results will be further refined. With Pigeon still in its infancy and wearable tech on the horizon, expect local search results to get super sophisticated in 2015. Think: hyperlocal, block-level search specificity.
- Security and privacy will be rewarded. SSL encryption will get an even bigger ranking boost, and peripheral site factors that increase security or privacy will also get rewarded.
Takeaways to Use Immediately
Now that we’ve taken a long look back and a look ahead at the potential future, it’s time to take a look at the present. Now is the time to start making changes to the direction of your campaign, responding to those last Google updates of 2014 and getting ready for what’s to come in the pipeline for the coming years.
Be strict with your link building campaign—only build high-quality links, and try to earn links by publishing amazing content on your website. Build your local reputation by encouraging online reviews, even if you have multiple locations, and do whatever you can to increase user privacy and security on your site.
Pay close attention to Google’s announcements in 2015. While in some ways, the search engine giant will only be following a course that already exists, 2015 could prove to be a very interesting year.
This article was written by Jayson DeMers from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.