Ramblings on a year in SEO & why 2013 should be the year for good content

2012 was yet another tumultuous year for webmasters and SEO’s. Google introduced some major updates to its algorithm which shaked up the way rankings were affected by links and the effectiveness of spam techniques. These changes have led to Google and Bing releasing new tools to allow webmasters to protect themselves against bad quality links and many are looking to find new ways of building links with little effort.

If there was one single event of 2012 that rocked the SEO world more than any other it was the Google Penguin update. While I heartily applaud this update, it gained a reputation of striking the heart of fear into SEO’s as websites began losing their rankings and disappearing from existence in the SERP’s. The intention of the update was to combat web spam, preventing sites from ranking well with backlink profiles showing heavily sculpted anchor text built using spammy or black-hat techniques. The update lead to websites or companies furiously trying to cut ties with the (often) outsourced link building services they had previously been using and contacting webmasters asking for links to their website to be removed.

Despite this update being just what was needed to shake up the world of SEO, some websites that were not engaging in low quality link building strategies were also hit; WordPress theme creators WPMU.org for instance were severly hit by Penguin primarily due to the presence of links to their site in the footers of their themes – many low quality sites were using their themes and not bothering to change the footer (as most don’t) leading to thousands of low quality links that they didn’t actively build. That WMPU.org managed to bounce back shows that these penalties are often not permanent, but it took a considerable amount of effort to return their traffic to previous numbers.

Moving into 2013, webmasters will need to tread as lightly as they did post-Penguin and not engage in any black-hat or spammy activities. They say that a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing and this is evident in the confusion that has arisen due to these updates.

How did these changes affect the perceptions of SEO?

We can look at the typical perceptions and reactions of three types of people:

  1. Webmasters who have practically no SEO knowledge will just carry on as normal and likely remain largely oblivious to these updates (assuming they haven’t paid for shoddy “SEO” services).
  2. People who work as professional SEO’s should (in my opinion) be able to just carry on as normal albeit with an extra degree of caution as overly-aggressive strategies are likely to come back and bite you in the behind.
  3. Those with just a little SEO knowledge however have come away from this whole ordeal feeling confused and not knowing what they should be doing. What they had believed to be ‘SEO’ is now punishing them or others and they do not know how to proceed; this is unfortunate because it is our industry and those working within it that has led to this confusion so it is our job to make things clearer and let the world know what SEO is really all about.

Wiping the slate clean

In what seemed to be an effort to show the world they are the search engine friendly to SEO’s, Bing released a disavow links tool in the end of June, allowing webmasters to tell Bing that they don’t trust a particular link pointing to their site. This a feature which, following the Penguin updates, people had been asking for and Bing determined themselves to be the first to offer it.

Google followed suite just four months later with their own version of a Disavow Links Tool which caused a much larger ruckus than Bing’s offering did, and understandably so considering it is Google penalizing websites for low-quality links.

Overall, I think that it is good that we have these tools available to us but I’d continue to be very cautious over its use. Using it should be a last resort should all else fail and remember that not all bad links pointing to your site hurt you – some are either ignored by Google or are simply a drop in a ocean of the better links you already have. In this article I looked at the Google disavow links tool in more detail and brought forth some of the theories people have about the data Google might be collecting with it.

What’s the next tactic we can abuse?

The arrival of Penguin meant that for many, link-building had changed. Low effort and low quality techniques no longer work (to the extent they used to) so something else had to fill the void – this is where guest blogging entered.

For some, guest blogging has become a sole link building strategy where articles with no substance are published on blogs which are nothing more than an article directory. You only need to spend a little bit of time on My Blog Guest to encounter such websites, ones where an article about the advantages of washing machines sits side by side with ones about why you should be buying Twitter followers (true story). Now before you get the impression I dislike My Blog Guest, I can reassure you I don’t and I use it myself. But, despite their best efforts to promote good quality writing and websites, it is still full of what, frankly, amounts to spam and unless something more is done, it’s only going to continue. Google aren’t going to allow poor quality guest blogging continue being as effective as it is and I wouldn’t be surprised if they did something about it in 2013.

It is for this reason I hope that guest blogging communities such as My Blog Guest become even more strict with their policies and guidelines because I would hate to see it (and guest blogging with it) fall into decline. I think guest blogging is an incredibly useful and viable technique for online marketers to achieve many aims, from driving quality referral traffic to, and this should be a secondary concern, building a link or two. People who create useful and valuable content should continue to be rewarded for that time and effort so anyone participating in crappy guest blogging needs to rethink their strategy and ask themselves whether they’re making best use of their time.

It’s time to rethink our content

Going into 2013, content is still very much king – link building is ‘link earning’ and you’re going to have to work hard to make progress in the SERP’s. But lest we devalue a legitimately useful strategy, people need to rethink the content they’re trotting out on other peoples blogs and ask themselves whether the sole purpose of the content is to get a link. If the answer to that question is yes then it’s likely the content will be worthless to most people. Make sure that your time is spent doing worthwhile things and you consider what you’re producing to be quality and you will be justly rewarded.

I hope you all have a very happy new years eve and a fantastic 2013 to come!