Photo via Wilson Loo

If you don’t keep up with the top search engine blogs or Google’s own search blog, then you likely miss out on the news about Google’s search quality updates.

You might be surprised to find out that so far in 2012, there have been three Panda rollouts and over 100 other changes in addition to the notable implementation of Search, plus Your World.

So today, we’re going to take a somewhat quick run through of what you need to know about changes to Google search that might have affected your website’s rankings.

Search, plus Your World

On January 10, 2012, Google announced its incorporation of social search into general search results with Search, plus Your World. This means that when you look up something on Google, you are likely to see search results influenced by your connections on Google+.

You can change these results using the toggle at the top right of your search results page to hide personal results.

Then you’ll get the following results.

These non-personalized results will be what you expect users to see if they are not logged in to Google. But the order of search results are not the only things affected by Search, plus Your World.

Related People and Pages on Google+

You will also see related People and Pages on Google+ for many searches, regardless of whether you are logged in to Google or hiding personalized results.

If you want your own Google+ profile or page to show up in this area, typically shown above Google AdWords ads in the right sidebar of search results, you should follow Google’s tips on how to appear as a related person or page which are as follows.

  • Fill out your profile. When filling out your Google+ profile, be sure to think about the keywords you want to appear in search results for and include them in your introduction, your headline, and your job title if possible.
  • Post about your favorite topics. Keep your keywords in mind when creating status updates – your status updates could easily be included in search results and help boost your profile or page for that keyword.
  • Appear in search results. If you’ve optimized your profile correctly and share useful content on Google+ related to your targeted keyword, you should soon start finding your profile or page in search results.

Google not only suggests people and pages on the search results page itself, but also in their suggested search dropdown when you are typing in a search query.

This could be a great way to nip online reputation management issues in the bud – putting your profile above any other suggestions!

Images Shared by Connections

Regular search results aren’t the only ones affected. Even image search results will be different based on your connections.

This means that getting higher in image search results with your connections is as easy as sharing an image on your profile as a status update or in your photo albums.

Featured Authors

If you do a lot of writing, on your own blog or through guest blogging, then you should work to establish authorship in Google search results using your Google+ profile. There are two methods to claim authorship of your content as detailed in Google Webmaster Tools Support.

  • Link your content to your Google+ profile via a verified email address. This is where you enter an email address with the same domain as the site you write for on your Google+ profile in the contact information and add the sites you write for to your Google+ profile’s Contributor To section. This works well for your own blog or company website, but will be difficult for sites you do not write for often.
  • Link your content to your Google+ profile. This is where you add sites you write for to your Google+ profile’s Contributor To section and include a link to your Google+ profile from your content. Be sure to append ?rel=author to your Google+ profile URL to let Google know you are the author.

Once you’ve implemented one of the two authorship methods, use the Rich Snippets Testing Tool to test your content’s URL. I would suggest you test some of your guest posting spots as some people may not have them set up correctly, which may result in you the author not getting the authorship credit.

The nice part is, once you have this set up correctly, articles that you have written will stand out from others in search results.

And searchers can click on the More by link to see more content by you no matter where you have written it!

As an added bonus, if you use Google Webmaster Tools on the same account as your Google+ profile, you can click on the Webmaster Tools Labs and try out Author Stats. This section shows you search statistics for pages where you are the verified author. This means you can get analytics on sites that you don’t even own so long as you have written for them.

Now, let’s move on to the next big thing in Google search changes.

Google Panda

Photo via Wilson Loo

Unfortunately, we’re not talking about cute and cuddly red pandas, or the traditional black and white pandas either.

Google Panda is the algorithm that first struck in February 2011, sending hundreds if not thousands of sites’ keywords plummeting from search results. Since then, they have made numerous updates to the Google Panda algorithm.

So far in 2012, they have rolled out three minor updates to refresh the algorithm based on current search results, putting Panda’s current version at 3.4.

Was Your Site Affected by Panda?

How can you tell if your site has been affected by Panda? The simplest way is to go to your Google Analytics and run a report from February 2011 until today, then look at your Organic Search visits under Traffic Sources. If you don’t see a significant spike in traffic around the following dates, you should be alright.

  • Panda 3.4 on March 23, 2012
  • Panda 3.3 on February 26, 2012
  • Panda 3.2 on January 15, 2012
  • Panda 3.1 on November 18, 2011
  • Panda 2.5 on September 28, 2011
  • Panda 2.4 on August 12, 2011
  • Panda 2.3 on July 22, 2011
  • Panda 2.2 on June 21, 2011
  • Panda 2.1 on May 9, 2011
  • Panda 2.0 on April 11, 2011
  • Panda 1.0 on February 24, 2011

If you do see a spike in traffic around one of these dates, then your site might have been affected by Panda. If it has been affected in a negative, you will need to do an inventory of your website. Particularly, you will need to be on the lookout for low-quality content that needs to be updated or removed from your website. You will also need to analyze whether you have too many ads, as one of the many updates include singling out websites with too many ads above the fold of quality content.

If you’re not sure based on your own Google Analytics data about whether you were affected by a Panda update, or you want to check to see if another site was affected by Panda, you can use SEMRush. Using a free account (without logging in), you can enter a domain into their search box. For Panda analysis, you will want to look in the left sidebar for the graph under SE (search engine) Traffic and click on the More link.

Preventing a Panda Attack

So how do you prevent your website from being affected by the next Panda update? It’s all about the content.

  • Think about people first. When it comes to creating quality content, it’s easy to do so if you are thinking about people first and not search engines. Would you subject a reader who you hoped to convert into a buyer a spun article or one that is over optimized? Doubtful!
  • Size does matter. While the SEO standard has always seemingly been around 300 words, challenge yourself to go beyond that. Aim for blog posts that are a minimum of 600 words.
  • Cut down on ads. This goes back to thinking about people. Let someone who isn’t familiar with your website take a look at it, and see if they have any issues distinguishing the content from the ads. If they have issues, Google’s next Panda update may have issues with your site.
  • Mix up your media. Don’t just stick to text-based content. Mix in images and video when possible, with a bare minimum of one image per piece of content. This make your content more appealing to people and to Google.

Also, you can take a few tips from some of the article networks that have bounced back from the first Panda update like HubPages.

  • Remove sub-par content. Some article directories, like GoArticles, took it upon themselves to review their articles and weed out any content that did not fit their new, higher standards. You should do this as well.
  • Move sub-par content to sub-domains. If you want to keep your lower-quality content, but don’t want it to hurt your main domain, move it to sub-domains like HubPages did. Previously, users would create articles that would be placed on http://hubpages.com/hub/article-name/. Now, all articles have been moved to sub-domains for each user such as http://username.hubpages.com/article-name/.
  • Keep your content quality in check. Whether you invite people to post articles on your article directory or invite guest bloggers onto your blog, be sure that the content they submit meets high standards. It’s not about having just any content on your website – it’s about having quality content on your website.

Then, you will see a fully expanded view of the site’s number of keywords driving traffic through search. Use this graph and compare it against Panda updates timeline.

If the site has been affected by a specific update, then just search for more information on that update to find out what may have gone wrong.

Keywords Not Provided

Another significant change that began in October of 2011 is becoming more of a trouble spot in 2012. This change involved Google’s implementation of encrypted search for logged in users. When logged in users come to your site via keyword search, that keyword is no longer displayed in Google Analytics. Instead, you will see (not provided).

This graph from Google Analytics shows keyword not provided visits from January 1, 2012 – March 31, 2012 compared to October 2, 2011 – December 31, 2011. Overall, you can see that keyword (not provided) has almost doubled in 2012.

Since Google is encouraging more and more people to create an account with Google for Google+, YouTube, or other features, the not provided keyword is on the rise regardless of whether your overall traffic is or not. This graph from Google Analytics shows the difference in all visits from organic search vs. keyword (not provided) visits from October 2011 until April 3, 2012.

On some days, as the one annotated, the (not provided) keyword visits are almost half! And while, for many domains, this still only accounts for a single-digit percentage of overall visits, that number can still be quite high!

De-Indexing of Blog Networks

Blog networks allowed people to get tons of low-quality, anchor text links through posting articles on automated blogs. In the quest for quality, it was only a matter of time before Google caught up with these huge networks, and now they have. Near the end of March, several large networks like Build My Rank announced that the blogs in their networks where people had been buying links have been mostly de-indexed. Build My Rank, along with other networks, have closed their doors and started processing refunds.

What does this mean for you? Website owners that have been building low quality links are receiving messages via Google Webmaster Tools about unnatural linking practices to their domains. If you receive one of these messages (or anticipate that you will), then your best bet is to start removing any low quality links that you can. Sites like Build My Rank have instructions on how customers can delete all of their links from the blog networks. If you do receive this message, you will have to do your best to remove any low quality links to your website and then submit your site for reconsideration in Google search results.

Going Local

In February’s search updates, there were three particular updates focused on local search.

  • More locally relevant predictions in YouTube. Whenever you search something on YouTube from the United States version, it will suggest / predict results from the US. The same search performed on the Indian version would predict results from India.
  • Improvements to ranking for local search results. Google now relies on ranking of main search results as a signal for triggering local results.
  • Improved local results. The new system can target a searcher’s city more reliably to find queries and documents that are more local to the searcher.

This basically tells what most of us already know. Local search marketing is becoming more important than ever because local results are taking over.

In the above example, a search for plumbers from Seattle, WA reveals a Seattle-based plumbing company at number one, two plumbing directory services, and then seven search results from Google Places before the rest of the organic results. Even Wikipedia finds itself at #6 in organic search results, well below the results pictured above and an additional two Seattle plumbing related pages.

This means you need to take advantage of anything local your website has to offer. If your business has multiple locations, be sure that you have a page dedicated to each location, each with unique content.

The Other 100+ Updates

Want to know more about the latest updates to Google Search? Then head on over to Inside Search – The official Google Search blog. It wouldn’t hurt to subscribe to their RSS feed as they don’t post often – the average is between five to 13 posts per month. This blog will keep you up to date with details about the latest search quality highlights. You can start by checking out the following.

  • 17 Search Quality Highlights: January – Short summaries of other changes to our high-quality sites algorithm, spelling systems, snippets, search preferences, speed, freshness and much more.
  • 40 Search Quality Highlights: February – Google continues to improve many of our systems, including related searches, sitelinks, autocomplete, UI elements, indexing, synonyms, SafeSearch and more. This is also the one where they announced changes to the way they evaluate links, specifically saying that they turned off a method of link analysis they’ve used for several year without specifying which method that is.
  • 50 Search Quality Highlights: March – Another 50 changes to report on symbol handling, sitelinks refresh, autocomplete, password changes, indexing of profile pages, and more.

Additional ways to keep up to date with the latest changes in the Google Algorithm are via the Google Algorithm Change History by SEOmoz and Search Engine Roundtable’s Google PageRank & Algorithm Updates.

Neil Patel is the co-founder of KISSmetrics, an analytics provider that helps companies make better business decisions.

More from Neil Patel on GeekWireSeven signs that you might just be an entrepreneur Eleven things every entrepreneur should know about innovation… 17 things I wish I’d known when starting my first business

 

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Comments

  • Guest

    I’m very disappointed by Google’s lack of transparency. A thoughtful company would at least put up a few blog posts before major changes were to go live. Google, which controls so much of the Internet, ought not to leave these changes up to others to define.

    Google, more transparency please.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/QPMXDGAONEKQKMRII22UL47PIY Brian R Baird

    Giving the share holders what they want could sound like non SEO drivel. This dog will hunt.Only those that adapt will stay in the game. Paying attention is not rocket science at all. Great graphics and easy to follow content.
    Asearchahead Consulting
    BrianRBaird

  • http://chris.pirillo.com/ Chris Pirillo

    Neil is definitely someone I’d trust on these matters… 

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/GULUDUP7A2P5MVC6AN57SDO6AE FOX fm
  • Jhadle

    Thanks! Interesting and helpful post!

  • http://www.onlinepromotionsuccess.com/ Susan

    Great overview along with drilled down detail about what is here and what 2012 looks like for search marketing

  • DemiFiaragin

    Google could do a lot more to be more transparent, though I think it’s obvious why they don’t.

    With that said, why aren’t more startups taking control of their own online reputations? It doesn’t even have to cost you money! There are free tools like Repumatic out there that people are just GIVING AWAY!

  • http://twitter.com/Tudor_Davies Tudor Davies

    I’m not for transparency. If you’re not doing anything black hat then you have no reason to know the inner workings of the Google algorithm. You can still come up with an amazing strategy without Google being transparent.

    • Guest

      So instead of knowing Google’s algorithm, you’d prefer to have so-called professionals guess it for you?

      Black hat or white hat, Google owes its customers more transparent information.

  • http://twitter.com/KenjiCrosland Kenji Crosland

    Great overview, being in web marketing myself the Panda update hit me close to home. I lost my job largely due to the update, but because of it my new job is much more focused on creating quality content than finding ways to build cheap links. I’m concerned about Google’s lack of transparency, but as long as they’re committed to giving their users the best results, I feel confident that as long I stay focused on creating great, quality content Google will reward me with traffic in spite of their myriad algorithm changes.

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