Summer is coming to a close and with it the end of (yet) another memorable season in the world of SEO. When Matt Cutts, Google’s head of webspam, announced his three month sabbatical we all joked that no updates could possibly roll out without him at the helm.
In his absence we’ve heard rumors of a suspected Penguin update, encryption as a ranking signal, and the death of authorship. Here are some of the SEO tidbits you may have missed out on this summer.
HTTPS: Encryption for SEO
Security breaches on the web seem to be an everyday occurrence. Sites large and small are impacted by the nefarious activities of spammers and hackers. Increasing security measures on a site is imperative to protecting a company’s bottom line today, and of course the privacy of your customer’s information. Search engines have taken notice and want to provide a better experience online for their users. In August Google announced they will begin using website encryption, HTTPS, as a ranking signal giving preferential treatment to sites which encrypt data for their users. The change is estimated to effect less than 1% of global queries so far, but has web developers scrambling to make it.
Encryption has always been a best practice as it provides heightened security by encrypting a user’s session with an SSL Digital Certificate. For online banking and ecommerce sites encryption is common, but for other industries it’s less so. Implementation often involves expense and additional measures, which many companies have put off – until now.
A recent study shows that currently to date no ranking benefits were observed as a result of this change. First, Google admittedly did state it was a “very lightweight signal” affecting a small amount of global queries. Some speculate that the roll out may not have gone into full effect yet; still others are calling Google’s bluff. Whichever camp you belong to, it’s clear that encryption is a focus for Google this summer and is likely to increase in importance overtime as the privacy trend continues. Forewarned is forearmed.
Google’s Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller shocked the SEO community announcing that the search giant is abandoning Google Authorship, a microdata markup attributing content to a particular author. Those in the know may have seen this coming, with a change to search results pages (SERPs) in July when bylines and images were stripped. Something was up with this particular feature.
John Mueller’s announcement, seen here on Google +, explains that through testing they discovered the information wasn’t as useful as once thought; in fact, it was distracting in some instances. Once thought to increase click-through rates, author snippets didn’t actually deliver significant improvement. Low adoption rates is likely another cause for the decision to get rid of authorship. While sites like The New York Times adopted markup, the Washington Post (for another example) did not. Without widespread adoption, author snippets didn’t accurately reflect perceived value.
Google plans to continue their discovery of additional uses for rich snippets in SERPs, because rich snippets provide useful information for the end user. Event snippets are growingly common, showing date, location and time of the event in SERPs. Music album snippets, product snippets such as reviews, recipe snippets, and video snippets are just a few of the opportunities available. No doubt rich snippets are here to stay, although it’s unfortunate that some SEO experts continue to recommend continued use of authorship snippets.
One particular Google update of importance this summer was rolled out at the end of July. The update aimed to provide more accurate and relevant local search results. It’s described to have tied more closely traditional web ranking signals with local search signals. Search Engine Land took the liberty of naming it the Pigeon update (“Pigeon is the name we decided on because this is a local search update and pigeons tend to fly back home”).
While speculation abounds with this update, experts noticed that Pigeon affects only English queries in the U.S. Moz has reported reduced numbers of 7-packs that show in local queries, with an increase in 3-packs. Experts have seen that the search radius has been reduced for most local queries and, most importantly, that local businesses seem to be favored over local brands.
Pigeon may seem like a small change, but it’s certainly changed the SERPs for many verticals. As expected, effects are still being monitored and analyzed. Best practices are still important for sites dependent on local traffic. This article discusses some great best practices for local search including:
- Set up your own individual Google + local page and do it correctly: all information provided, images, local phone number, proper category and consistent name/address/phone number (NAP) information.
- Consistent NAP throughout your website (About Us and/or footer), and consistent on other online listings as well.
- Encourage your customers to leave reviews of your business.
- Geo-specific information should be added to metatags as appropriate, with your site optimized for geo queries.
It’s likely that you’ve been doing most things right with your local strategy. Pigeon will require a second look, ensuring you’re maintaining the best possible website for local rankings. Those trying to benefit from local search without being in that area (i.e., actually local) aren’t likely to benefit much longer. Consider evaluating your current local strategy and revamping as needed based on Pigeon.
The rumored Penguin 3.0 update on the lips of many has yet to surface this summer. Barry Schwartz speculated that we would see an update over the Labor Day weekend, and Mozcast has been indicating fluctuations in the space for several weeks now. We continue to wait… and wait.
Protect your site from Penguin
Ensure you’re not a sitting duck for a penalty by looking for the telltale signs of a Penguin prone site. Ask yourself these questions:
- Do you have over-optimized pages and backlinks with over-optimized commercial anchor text?
- Do you have a high number of total links but low number of links from unique domains?
- Have you purchased links in the past or conducted gray-hat link building strategies such as reciprocal links, text link advertisements and link exchanges?
- Is your backlink profile diversified with a mixture of link types, authority and relevancy?
If you answered yes to #1-#3 you’re not sitting in a good position. If you answered #4 you’re on the right track. Experts recommend reviewing your backlink profile regularly and understanding what a natural backlink profile looks like. Check out this Google Penguin Recovery Kit by Vertical Measures to learn more about recovery tips. To avoid future Penguin penalties clean up past activities and ensure you’re earning authoritative, relevant and worthwhile links from here on out.
Did we miss covering an important piece of summer SEO news? Share with our audience in the comments below.
Editor’s note: Kaila Strong gave a great webinar on how NOT to get a Google penalty. Here’s a link to that on-demand webinar, which includes a good Q&A of real questions from real people: “Did Google Just Penalize me?“