It would be fair to say that Google had a mixed year in 2013. In fairness there are a lot of things they did very well, Google+ being one of them, but when it comes to Google Search, the company has left a lot of people scratching their heads as to just what went wrong and with no clue how to fix it.
Below I’ll identify five things Google need to address in 2014. Urgently, in some cases.
1. Spam Links & Negative SEO
First on my list is link spam and whether you like it or not, spam links still work today. Not in the way they once did, but the smart SEOs have already figured out just how to make those thousands of spam links work wonderfully for you (proof in this article), and just as importantly, how they can make them work to the detriment of your competition.
Google honestly believed that its new algorithms would quell the presence of spam link powered websites in the SERPs, but what the changes actually did was open up an entirely new can of worms. 2013 was the year negative SEO was really born.
Google’s reaction to this was sadly quite predictable. It didn’t take long before the widespread damage was apparent, and the response from Google wasn’t one of a company that took responsibility for a botched algorithm release. Instead we were told this was now OUR PROBLEM.
You don’t want negative SEO to affect your website? Google doesn’t care how it got there. It’s now YOUR job to clean up the mess. All of a sudden we were bombarded with Google sound-bytes such as, “You should disavow any links that don’t appear to be natural”, and “it’s worth keeping an eye on your backlinks often via Google Webmaster Tools”.
Thanks for nothing, Google.
2. Paid Links & Guest Blogging
Almost falling into the same bracket as spam links, paid links and guest blogging were hot items in 2013. I must have received hundreds of emails in the last three months alone asking if I’d be willing to add a little piece of text, or even a page to my website from one of my competition.
Why is this? Because paid links still work.
Forget Google’s promises that they’re able to detect unnatural paid links. If you want to rank highly on Google, all you really need to do is have one dofollow link from as many of your main competitors as possible pointing to your site and the probability is that you’ll outrank them all.
Sceptics may disagree, but this really does work. One of my main competitors for a particular keyword ranks extremely highly using this method alone. After looking through their backlink profile, I was so annoyed by this that I took the time to call them and set up a meeting with them, masquerading as someone who wanted to procure the SEO services they offered.
During our meeting I came clean and had a very interesting chat with the business owner. He wasn’t the evil, black hat monster my mind told me he was, he simply used the system to his advantage.
The company had a £3,000 per month SEO budget, and he used it to contact companies via email and offer them a small sum in return for a paragraph or two about their company, pretending that they were “partners”. Sometimes this was simply a one off fee, while at other times they paid a monthly subscription to their “partners” for the backlink. Either way, it’s a paid link and it’s far from unnatural.
Guest blogging isn’t that dissimilar, and it’s been the subject of a huge boom in the last few months. And yet again, despite Google’s assurances that these articles don’t really factor into the SERP equation, we all know different, don’t we?!
3. Semantic Searching
I’ve invested a huge amount of time into researching semantics and how language relates to Google Search, and if you want to learn the methodology behind it, David Amerland’s book, Google Semantic Search should definitely be top of your reading list.
Whilst David’s book perfectly illustrates the logistic behind Google’s newly adopted semantic way of life, Google doesn’t seem to really understand it in the same way – at least not across the board.
For basic, one-dimensional semantic searches Google will give you roughly what you want, and you can see what it’s trying to achieve, but give the search system some serious thinking to do and most of the time it’s found wanting. In all honesty Google doesn’t even come close when the search string contains some form of complexity or ambiguity.
What you’ll be served instead – as your semantically driven search results – are a broad spectrum of results that aren’t really specific or in direct relation to your intent, but rather a generic list of what you might possibly mean.
This isn’t good enough.
4. Clustering & Duplication
Anyone involved with SEO should be aware of the pitfalls surrounding duplicate content, and Google’s Hummingbird clamped down on this in a big way.
Sadly however, when combined with Google’s new clustering system, you can now see entire websites disappearing from SERPs even with decent, white-hat backlink profiles, and completely natural and authentic SEO.
How can this be?
Clustering for those who aren’t familiar is the practice of grouping similar results together in the SERPs to avoid duplication in the results provided, thus allowing a broader range of possible search results with different possible meanings (necessary due to the semantic mess in point #3).
The way this is now operating means that it’s possible to effectively duplicate your competition’s content and make them disappear from the SERPs – if the right set of conditions are met, that is.
I’ve seen this happen for one of my SEO clients, and it was entirely unintentional duplication from a fairly high-profile third party (who simply wanted to link to my client and vouch for/recommend her services) that was the cause. This has to be fixed.
Which reminds me. Have YOU done this?
Most of us have a number of social media profiles, and many of us in the SEO industry will optimise them and link back to our primary website from our profile page.
Ask yourself however, are these descriptions also unique? I’ll admit this is an area I didn’t really expect to have a dramatic impact, and I simply copied and pasted a block of text from my website in each and every profile. This can actually be a very bad practice indeed.
You’re effectively giving a (typically) very high PR website the same information as you have on your own website and there are no prizes for guessing which one Google will rank first.
If, like me, you fell into this trap of a simple copy+paste to save time, you’re going to need to clean this up and fast.
This also applies to your author profile if you blog on a number of different sites, which brings me nicely on to..
Authorship & Authority
Admittedly, this might not be of the same importance as the points above, but it’s something I feel needs looking at closely.
If we had an A to Z of SEO in 2013 (oh wait, we do), there would be no doubting that Authorship and Authority would be among the A’s emerging from the tail end of 2013, and Google looks set to push these two factors much further in the future.
Metrics and tangible data have started to be collated concerning these, but more and more we’re seeing that the results just aren’t consistent at all. Google doesn’t seem to be measuring the quality of your content as much as it is the quantity, and this shouldn’t be the case.
More worrying still, we’ve also started seeing data that those utilising Google’s paid services seem to be favoured in this respect. Incorrect data? Scaremongering? Either way, it’s worth investigating to provide some definitive results.
Is it really possible to buy your authority level? I wouldn’t have thought Google would be that careless.
Either way, the confusion needs to be removed, and 2014 needs to see much more balance and transparency, enabling the cream of the content to rise to the top.
Your Hopes For 2014?
Whatever your hopes (and fears) for 2014 I’d love to hear about them. What would YOU like to see addressed in the coming year? Please find your voice in the comments below and I wish you all a successful and productive, SERP filled 2014.