Search engine optimization saw some pretty big changes in 2012. Sure, Google's official blogs may claim that SEO 2012 was just a refinement of what they've been shooting for all along. But webmasters and site owners know that there has been a big shake-up during the past few months! Unfortunately, a lot of businesses are still in the dark as to what to do about it.
Even if you were one of the well-prepared or fortunate few whose site didn't tank in 2012, it's important to review what has changed in the past several months and what you need to keep focusing on.
The Google Panda Update
Google updated its "Panda" algorithm this year. Originally released early in 2011, Panda was intended to penalize sites that have poor or spammy content. One thing that many site owners don't know, however, is that this update wasn't just about written content.
Panda also looks at a site's HTML tags. This includes the "Description" meta tag that many SEOs have long maintained have no effect on rankings. It also includes the Title Tag. It’s important to make sure that your inbound marketing strategies include a review of your meta tags to be sure they are unique across your site.
Overall, Google Panda was designed to make sure you have useful, relevant, non-spammy content on your site. Even well-intentioned content may take a hit in the future if it's not well-written. Inbound marketing strategies, such as blogging on a regular basis and providing user-centered content on your website, will help your business weather the inevitable next wave of Panda.
The Google Penguin Update
Google also rolled out the first wave of the "Penguin" update this year. Penguin cracked down on many link-building practices that had become standard fare for most Online Marketing and Search Engine Optimization firms. Several sites that had enjoyed first-page dominance for years through suspicious link building practices finally had their legs taken out from under them because of Penguin.
You can bet that, just like with Panda, Google will update the Penguin section of its algorithm again and again. You don't want to be caught with links from "bad neighborhoods" like shady blog networks, content farms, or out-of-date social bookmarking sites.
The answer to the Penguin problem is value-added inbound marketing strategies. If you aren't already, you'll want to make extra effort to get links from sites relevant to your industry. Press releases to online news and review sites are one great way to do this. Another time-honored way to build links back to your site is to trade links with others in your industry--just don't do it too heavily!
Social Media and Social Signals
“Social Signals” have become bigger with Google this year, according to search head Matt Cutts. That is basically a way of saying that everyone's favorite search engine will take note if you're heavily discussed on Facebook, Twitter and (especially) Google+. Strategic inbound marketing through social media should be a bigger part of your approach in the last quarter of 2012 and into 2013.
But perhaps the best way to get relevant links pointing back to your site is to generate interesting and exciting content that your customers and colleagues will want to link to! This isn't just good for acquiring more backlinks and social signals. It is, ultimately, the best kind of marketing on any platform, in any medium!