Friday, 21 December 2012

SEO in 2012: A Year in Review

2012 was, to put it mildly, an eventful year from a SEO perspective!

Google and its search engine algorithm changes – Google Penguin, above all – understandably stole the headlines, but there were plenty of other significant events and many different changes that saw the light of day as well, especially in terms of how SEOs, SEMs and internet marketers optimize their websites for maximum traffic, exposure, visibility, and of course drive in sales and maximize revenues.

Here is a list of events (not in chronological or any order) of some of the significant events that took place in the SEO industry in 2012:

Google Penguin

2012 saw Google introduce its second major algorithm update after the Panda. This particular update – called the Penguin – was announced on 24th April 2012, and in general terms, was aimed and decreasing search engine rankings of websites which violate Google’s Webmaster Guidelines – in particular, websites which were using blackhat SEO techniques such as cloaking, creating duplicate or spun content and websites involved in keyword stuffing, to name a few. It is said that the Penguin update affected around 3.1% of search engine queries, with further Penguin updates affecting even more search engine queries.

Google Panda

Google Panda was Google’s first major algorithm change and while it was introduced in 2011, a lot of what’s happened in the past 12 months in the SEO industry was directly related to Panda and/or one of its reiterations. The Panda, like the Penguin, was also introduced in order to combat low-quality websites/content from Google search rankings, and subsequent updates to Panda meant that websites making an effort into producing good, quality content became even stronger.

Emphasis on Quality Content

Understandably then, most of what happened in 2012 was a direct result of the introduction of Penguin or the as part of the after-effects of Google Panda (introduced in 2011) or one of its updates. The clear emphasis on the production of quality content – which was part of both of Google’s updates – became even more evident and important in terms of search engine optimization. Websites producing unique, high-quality, useful and informative content on a regular and consistent basis were given the top spot in the SERPs and the chance to solidify their position in the search engine rankings.


On the other hand, websites with duplicate, spun or low-quality content or spam content were deindexed and banned from Google’s search engine results. This included many websites using a different array of blackhat tactics to game and manipulate search engine rankings in order to rank better. Unsurprisingly, Google’s banhammer fell, and perhaps the only surprising thing was that it took Google so long to introduce these updates!


Google also started penalizing websites for what it called ‘over-optimization’, the purpose of which was to ‘level the playing field’ according to Google’s Matt Cutts. As part of this algorithm update, Google wanted to give sites that have better content rank above sites that might not have great content but get better rankings through stronger SEO. While no one really knows what Google means by over-optimization, you can read this excellent article over at ProBlogger to get a better understanding of it.

Ads and Design Penalties

Sites that had too many ads on a page, specifically above-the-fold (which forced people to scroll down to read the content on a page) became more prone to penalty as part of Google’s updates. Statistics say this only affects less than 1% blogs.

Panda/Penguin Had Their Flaws

However despite this, Google’s updates were not 100% effective, as there were plenty of cases where websites, seemingly at no fault, getting hit by these updates, while a lot of low-quality websites managed to fly under the radar and escape Google’s wrath. For many, this signaled the beginning of a long and tedious recovery process.

Social Signals Become an Integral Part of Rankings

Social media gained a lot of prominence and became an important factor from a SEO perspective in 2012. Social signals started have a big influence on Google’s search results, mostly because the search engine giant began taking social signals into account when determining a website/blog’s rankings. Social content (well, mostly just content from Google Plus) also started showing up in the SERP. Bing followed suit and started showing Facebook Likes and related content from your Facebook friends lists in its search results as well.

Exact-Match Domains

Google (in typical fashion, unable to stay out of the headlines!) introduced an update in October which targeted exact-match domains, or getting rid of such domains from the SERP to be precise. Exact-match domains, such as – an exact-match domain for the keywords weight loss tips – which made it easy for low-quality websites to rank on top for such extremely-competitive keywords, with the utmost ease, were deindexed.

Facebook Crosses the 1b Users Mark

In November 2012, Facebook became the first ever social network to cross the 1 billion users mark – which means that 1 in every 7 people on earth are on Facebook and that if Facebook were a country, it would’ve been the 3rd largest in the world, only just behind second-placed India! This has provided internet marketers, as well as brands, organizations and corporations with a fantastic opportunity to harness Facebook’s power and potential. Many big brands have been able to create a strong foothold on Facebook, and more continue to do so, in order to create brand-awareness, connect with their consumers, have customers connect with each other, and of course drive sales.

Social Media’s Growth in General

Facebook wasn’t the only social network to strengthen its hold in the social media industry. Pinterest was one of the fastest growing social networks of 2012, and Twitter wasn’t too far behind either.

Interface-based Changes to Google and Bing

Google, as part of many interface and design-based changes, started showing more and more content from Google Plus, but most importantly, overhauled its results page to make it more information-rich. The search tools moved up, which provided more screen real-estate for Google to provide information (basic information, stats, books, news, etc.) as well as advertisements alongside the results. Similarly Bing too started showing Facebook likes and related content on the SERP alongside the results.

Google Starts to Communicate

In 2012, Google expanded the types of messages and warning that it send to site owners and webmaster, by sending out warning messages and notifying domains about their black-hat webspam via the Webmaster Tools, which was unprecedented for Google. In January and February alone, Google sent out in excess of 700,000 messages in just two months – more than the total it had sent out in 2011!

Guest Blogging Warnings

Guest Blogging (white-hat) can be a superb way of building backlinks (for the guest-blogger) as well as getting fresh and unique content. However this medium has started to be abused, and this didn’t go unnoticed with Google; Matt Cutts issued a warning to blogs and guest bloggers about consequences of blackhat guest blogging techniques.

What else happened in the industry this year? Did I miss something out? Fire up your comments in the comments section below!

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