Two Major Changes to SEO this Year

By: Guest | December 8, 2011 | 

Today’s guest post is written by Adam Justice.

SEO has a few basic principles that will never change, but search engines routinely refine their algorithms in ways that usually make any fringe efforts worthless.

Every few months there is a new set of best practices, and another group of web properties are adversely affected by changes.

This year, in particular, has been especially harsh on websites that focused a lot of their attention on SEO.

It’s also the year Google search began to lose some of its power as gatekeeper of unique hits, but gained some of it back with Google+.

Latent semantic indexing

Google has begun to use more advanced algorithms that consider your subject matter in its particular context. The latest addition to the SEO’s toolbox is LSI, or latent semantic indexing, which means your articles will get additional context points when using related terms other than your targeted keyword.

For instance, if you are targeting the term “babysitting,” words such as infant, child, and toddler are now related to your keyword, and in fact are expected.

This is the reason websites that were designed from the ground up to exploit Google’s algorithm have fallen. They would use the term “baby” over and over to increase their keyword density and that no longer works. In fact, it counts against you.

In a nutshell, this means content that is well written, in the same manner normal humans speak, is ranking higher. Google’s major advance, one that made them a household name, was allowing other netizens to choose which content was relevant by counting links back to those articles from other sites.

Technology is finally at the point where it is possible to somewhat discern quality. As more data becomes available, search results will continue to favor well written articles opposed to articles written to take advantage of SEO.

Integration of social media

Another major trend in search is the integration of social media. When Google introduced the +1 button, many people speculated that having a bunch of +1’s would improve your search ranking.

It turns out it does, but not quite in the way you would imagine. I recently misspelled Yahoo! when entering the address in my browser, and was surprised that Bing ranked Yahoo! OMG, their celebrity gossip website, ahead of the Yahoo! domain in the search results.

It turns out I have five Facebook friends who have liked Yahoo! OMG, and it was enough to propel it in front of the Yahoo! domain on Bing.

Google+ works in much the same way. Your website will rank higher for individual users if their friends have given a +1 to your site and not your competitors. It associates your website with your Google brand page, with the relevant tags from which you can gain traction.

You know the algorithm is improving when the best SEOs are using techniques similar to people who know very little about the way Google’s search works.

By producing high quality content and encouraging your readers to share it, you are making progress that has staying power. Search wants your quality content, and as algorithms improve it will be the high quality content that rises to the top.

Adam Justice is a veteran web developer, entrepreneur, and online journalist. He is a Yahoo! Featured Contributor in the areas on technology, politics and autos, and is co-founder and president of Elkhorn Media. You can find more about Adam here.

  • lindyireland

    Excellent post. For awhile, it seemed that SEO wasn’t keeping pace with other changes and deserved the backlash. Appreciate the update!

    • etelligence

      @lindyireland Google hated hearing that Twitter delivered news seconds after it happened. They’ve been working on ways to index tweets and involve other forms of social media in their algorithms ever since people started looking to Twitter for breaking news, but still haven’t caught up in my opinion.

  • SteveCassady

    Nice Summary!

  • zoe201015

    SEO is king still, in my opinion. The integration to take SMM into account within the algorithms being used though has made rankings reflect more relevant content it seems. Hopefully it will be a tweak that holds for awhile. Nice post!

    • etelligence

      @zoe201015 Search Engines will always be relevant when you need to find an exact piece of information. Google has yet to find a better way to rank websites than by looking at backlinks on high ranking pages, but this will allow really good content on low ranking pages to make it’s way higher in SERPs. Especially if you’re searching within a niche that many of your friends are active in.

  • danajlange

    Interesting how good content always seems to win out over those trying to game the system. SEO should never trump good content.

  • It’s good to know that the gimmicks to get businesses to the top of Google are getting a kick in the pants.

  • khenney

    It seems like algorithm updates continue to reward those producing good content and punish those who try to game the system – as they should. Focusing on producing quality content for real people seems like a no-brainer, but there will always be people looking (and willing to pay) for shortcuts.

    • etelligence

      @khenney I’ve run across pages with 3,000 backlinks that have obviously paid someone for shoddy SEO work with a PR 3, and my content site (it links 99% to external pages, most on the associated content domain which is SEO poison) was upgraded to PR 3 during the last update with only 17 backlinks (it’s only 3 months old as well). The rel=author tag may have saved me on the externals, but you’d think people would have learned by now that Google does not reward those shortcuts.

  • ridexc

    As a freelance writer (aka “content provider”) I’m relieved that SEO gibberish is finally failing to pay off. Not that I can’t write with SEO in mind, but I refuse to generate gibberish just to satisfy the search engines.

    • etelligence

      @ridexc I couldn’t agree more. I will not even consider SEO when writing content for the simple fact that content comes out fairly optimized just by following the most basic writing guidelines!

  • These are so important to know when building an online presence, and really helps shine the light on organic SEO as opposed to some of the old “tricks” of the trade, so to speak. And social, as well as local, will continue to become more important.

    • etelligence

      @KenMueller You’re absolutely right Ken. This is a great topic because it’s really what we all wanted. People who actively work at producing great content will usually benefit from changes like these. Social media has always been separate from SEO, and this is just another way that pages and articles on your domain are becoming integrated with your social profiles and the content you’re creating on social networks. Web 2.0 wrapped in a bow!

  • ZacBrown

    I know several people that make a living off of performing SEO for different companies and organizations. I never actually found SEO to be a challenge, but it does take time. I had heard about some of the new SEO methods and “way of thinking”. SEO is one of those things that just gets left behind, for most. Great article, Adam! I’ll pass it along.

  • Jason__Ramsey

    The social media is what really sticks out to me. I know lots of people driving tons of traffic via Twitter and Facebook, which is almost all SEO driven. I agree about Google +, and also think that this will be beneficial in ways we haven’t even begun to look at yet. Great post.

  • ColeRuddick

    While I may not have a great understanding of the algorithms used in SEO, what you’ve written here makes complete sense. It’s good to finally see that genuine, well-written content is being ranked over key-word bloated junk. I’ve always felt that the +1 button was going to be a great thing for site developers & those writing content and it’s awesome to see that Google is making it work on a more personalized level per user when it comes to search. Thanks so much for sharing your valuable insight!

    • etelligence

      @ColeRuddick It was a pretty common assumption that the +1 would affect search in some way, but a lot of website owners wasted money on buying +1s from fake accounts that ended up being of little value because they aren’t friends with real people. It turns out that Google is also well ahead of the curb at identifying and putting a stop to social bot networks and other forms of black hat results alteration. Playing by the rules and focusing on making your content shine is really they only way to go. Long time friends of mine that have used less than ethical means in the past to juice their ranking in the SERPs are using guest posts and blog comments, the same thing that a rookie blogger would do, to increase their back links now. There are still SEO strategies and methods that can give you an edge, but High quality content should definitely be the core of any SEO strategy.

  • Interesting changes, but I think it’s for the best.

  • ellenjharris

    Interesting insight behind the scenes of the Algorithm, especially where Google Plus is concerned. I surmised as much but to have it detailed here illustrates just how much Adam enjoys going under the hood of the engine to help all of us understand how it works. Nice job Adam. Your writing does you ‘justice’. 🙂

    • etelligence

      @ellenjharris Thanks Ellen! I love the pun! The only advantage I have over anyone wanting to look into advanced SEO is that I’ve been doing web development for a long time. It’s kinda funny that I’ve met people playing Mobsters on MySpace that ended up teaching me more advanced tricks than some of my contemporaries in web design, and I always made it a point to get to know competitors, colleagues, and anyone else on the Internet who slowed down enough to be running at the same speed as me long enough to have a conversation. Still, I usually had to figure out stuff for myself, but I would get clues from others who succeeded at whatever I was working on (people generally don’t like to share trade secrets). Even though I was aware Facebook likes would increase your ranking in Bing, it took an accident to see exactly how powerful it was (When you search [one too many w’s] and Their celebrity gossip website comes up first, you know it has some weight).

  • danperezfilms

    @ginidietrich @etelligence Few things get me as excited as semantic indexing! *trying but failing to keep a straight face*

    • etelligence

      @danperezfilms @ginidietrich I’d love to get ahold of those Few things! It must be a hedonistic overload!

    • ginidietrich

      @danperezfilms “Latent” semantic indexing. Jeez.

  • etelligence

    I would say this is the most positive response in comments I’ve ever got from a blog topic. It made me realize just how little there is to dislike about these changes. Most of you will see above average benefits from a change that rewards networking because you’ve put time into networking and expanding your social reach. I’m sure there are people that would like to see SEO stay in the dark ages, but most of them are probably out scamming mobile devices right now, something they can beat the crowd on still. Were there any changes in search this year that adversely affected you? Anything that you’ve wanted to know about the Panda updates?

  • Piyush1689


    I heard about LSI and i am using but it’s not affecting my sites rank, hope in future it will….

    • sanjitsihagjpr

      Same here mate…So I am looking here to some guidence any expert out here can give us @Piyush1689

    • etelligence

      @Piyush1689 I changed some copy on a client’s website in July to replace Keyword heavy articles with LSI content. It helped them climb a few pages in SERPs, but after the last update they lost the ground back. In my opinion it’s because they have any updated content, they display the same 10 articles and never add anything new to their website. Google really likes blogs like Spin Sucks now because content gets added daily. A short rundown of what I replaced, there were 5 articles that ran approximately 5% keyword density, and it read like a sales pitch that was translated from Spanish. I outsourced the content to be re-written by professional writers, and asked that they target 2% keyword density, but still include 7% if you count synonyms and highly related terms.

      You also need to make sure your content is drawing relevant back links. Consider that your competitors are adding backlinks all the time, and from relevant high quality sources. If you aren’t, any gains you can make with internal changes will be lost through your competitors gains. Also I just noticed you said “site’s rank” , are you referring to the Google Page Rank? If so, that is calculated entirely from backlinks and doesn’t consider your content whatsoever. LSI content and optimization within your page is to help optimize for relevance, and relevance is one of the determining factors in where you list in search for any given term, but it doesn’t affect your Google Page Rank.

      • Piyush1689

        @etelligence@Piyush1689 For last more than two months i have been using LSI in my articles and blogs but i do not think it is beneficial. I thought that after certain time my rank rank will improve but it is decreasing continuously. Now i am thinking to do work according to old strategy, i think 4% density of keyword is more reliable.

        • etelligence

          @Piyush1689 Piyush, just from what you’re telling me I am thinking that your SEO problems may have less to do with keyword density than you think. The benefits from using LSI are further reaching than keyword stuffing because your content is of higher quality. Other websites are more likely to backlink to it and people are more likely to share it on social networks. Using LSI removes constrictions that a rigid keyword strategy implies, but if your content isn’t of a higher quality than everyone else, you’re not going to rise in SERPs under this algorithm regardless of editing your content for relevance. For the first time ever I’ve saw content with exact match domains (example fall off the first page for their targeted keywords. Google is targeting content farms and web developers who used SEO to propel sub-par content to the front of the SERPs, and I can say that with confidence.

          Instead of focusing entirely on your stats @Piyush1689 , take a look at what is working for the sites beating you out for certain long tail searches. Run their address through a rank checker to see if they are beating you because of Backlink considerations. Check their keyword density, and note whether they are in fact using synonyms or repeating the keywords over and over. Consider how often they update their site, and you should get a better picture of why they are rising in rankings and why you aren’t. I could take a quick look for any glaring reasons why you’d be falling in SERPs Piyush if you want to send me a link to your website on Twitter.

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  • The first point is quite appropriate – I guess SEO is becoming more about being applicable and useful to users. At some point of time in future, they should also become more about being interesting to users. The second point will take care of it on the long run.

    • @Raj-PB In my opinion, SEO has always been about creating great content for users. Both changes above reinforce that.

      • @Sean McGinnis@Raj-PB Exactly. The search engines want users to find what they are looking for as quickly as possible. if we don’t find it, we try another search engine. Therefore the more natural the process is, the better. Great content is what has always worked, regardless of any tricks anyone tries.

  • I always say, “Write for people, edit for SEO”.

    There is no replacement for quality content, and these two changes have very much improved google by making it much harder to goose SERPs with garbage. The growth rate on my personal blog improved dramatically in February 2011 when the changes started happening, so naturally I would say this, but I have always written for people first and relied on social media to drive traffic. Now google is on my side and I am very happy with it.

    That’s not to say there isn’t a lot of value in making sure that your relevant SEO terms appear once (and only once!) in each paragraph. But this only favors longer, more authoritative works with more paragraphs to work magic on – so it still favors quality all the same. I really appreciate what google has done and I hope everyone else does, too.

  • Hey there Adam,

    Nice overview, sir, and thanks to @ginidietrich for having you on here.

    Been using contextual SEO for a long time, which seems the same as LSI. Far more effective, and (as many commenters have said), keeps away from that crappy robotic SEO that so many companies (and even bloggers) go for.

    Social is going to be such a key factor – you can already see the difference tweets and G+ makes, and now that Facebook is less anal about their closed wall approach, updates over there are going to be important as heck.

    One area I feel many folks overlook is the importance of great SEO in tagging videos. With video ads grabbing a much higher percentage of clickthrough than banners or static ads, making sure your SEO goals are aligned with your commerce ones are key again.

    Cheers, mate, look forward to reading more over at your place. 🙂

    • etelligence

      @DannyBrown@ginidietrich I agree Danny, it’s important to fill in all the blanks. Another area where many websites is lacking is in image tags, anchor text and rel= fields. Alt image tags are important for people who run browsers without images, but it’s also used with the image description for Google to index the photo in Google images. A few months ago I received a large influx of unique visitors on my content site from an Image of a tree being blown in a Hurricane. Turns out there was a story in the news related to the Carolina hurricane about destruction a tree had caused, and people wanted to see pictures. When they searched, they found my picture, and after clicking on it, it brought them to an article I wrote about the Top 5 Carolina Hurricanes. I would have never been in on that trend if I didn’t religiously tag images.

      I know that it will become increasingly possible for searches to interpret images and videos, but using the textual tags and descriptions is very simple, and it’s what SEO was based on in the beginning.

      I look forward to hearing more from you Danny! Cheers!

  • millerj81

    @DannyBrown @etelligence @spinsucks thanks for the info on the SEO changes. I really like the LSI change.

  • Adam, very informative article. Thanks for posting!

  • How can we rank better in a search engine is not easy for us as newbee , your analysis give me new point of view about SEO

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  • willsth45

    There are many ways you make money online and work at home using the computer, just like I am right now. One of the ways to work from home and add an additional income to your family or household is to do what is known as affiliate marketing. That is one of the fastest, easiest ways to start making money online.

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  • delhiseocompany01

    Insightful post! I think every SE professionals should read the post and benefit from it.

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