SEO 2014: the biggest news so far this year

2014 has already been an undeniably busy year in the way of important news. In a blind fit of rage, Solange Knowles attacked Jay Z in a lift, Kim Kardashian got married to Kanye West in a relatively low-key $12 million ceremony, and Prince George played with a ball in an extremely royal manner; one heard it was spectacular.

But in much less important news, there have been a number of interesting developments that have taken place in the ever-changing world of SEO and the Web since the start of 2014. Ranging from title tag modifications all the way to a certain algorithm update of the aviary kind, these changes so far have likely had an effect of some sort on the way you work, whether you’re an in-house SEO, agency side, or running your own business.
So I thought it might be helpful to list a number of the most important developments in SEO and the web so far this year and explain just what they mean for you.

Before we start though, I’ve listed a few bits of news that didn’t make the cut, but may have been on the mouths of many SEOs. These are my honourable mentions.

Matt Cutts went on holiday.

On the 3rd June, Matt Cutts announced that he was going on holiday for three months, citing time off to be with his wife and do a bit of travelling. After almost 15 years of work, he’s now taking some well-deserved time off.

What does this mean for you?
Nothing really, he’ll be back before you know it and has left a capable team in charge, so no spammy activity please.

A blogger was fined for a review

Back in July, a French blogger was fined for ranking too highly in Google. After writing a scathing review about a local restaurant, the restaurant owner sued the blogger as the page ranked highly in Google and according to the owner had a negative effect on business. It went to court and interestingly, and in my view surprisingly, the Judge ruled in favour of the restaurant owner. The blogger was fined and ordered to change the title of the piece.

What does this mean for you?
Hopefully nothing, and it would be a shame to have to worry about writing a negative post. But who knows, we’ll have to wait and see if any more cases like this arise. So at the moment I don’t think it’s anything to worry about, write negative stuff, it’s your right.

Orkut is closing down

As of the 30th September, Orkut, once a social media force to be reckoned with, will close its web gates to the public after 10 years.

What does this mean for you?
Nothing. Unless you use it… You do? Oh. Sorry.

Right now that’s out of the way, let’s get on to some real news shall we?

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The ‘mighty’ Pigeon landed

On July 24th, Google released its most recent algorithm update. ‘Pigeon’, as it was dubbed by Search Engine Land, was released with the aim of providing more accurate and relevant local search results. It also aimed to return results that were tied closely with search ranking signals of the more traditional kind.

According to Search Engine Land, Google told them that ‘Pigeon’ tied deeper in to their search capabilities and incorporates many of the ranking signals that they use, such as synonyms, and spelling corrections, as well as the Knowledge Graph. It also apparently improves distance and location ranking parameters.

From what we can tell, Google seems to still be testing the algorithm, as users were reporting rankings as well as page layouts changing on a daily basis, and they couldn’t understand why.

What does this mean for you?
If you’re English, fortunately nothing at the moment, as it currently only affects US English search queries. For US businesses, it’s a rather drastic change it seems.

As Search Engine Land reported, the changes were mostly behind the scenes, but the algorithm was said to “impact local search results rankings” and that “local businesses may notice an increase or decrease in web site referrals, leads and business from the change”.

It’s unclear when this ‘Pigeon’ will migrate over to the UK, but hopefully it won’t happen before Google has worked out the kinks in the current version, which listed Expedia as a hotel. So for now, keep an eye on the updates and ensure that your local SEO is in check, just to be on the safe side.

The fall of guest blogging

Besides ‘Pigeon’, this was arguably the biggest news to have hit the SEO world so far this year. On 20th January, Matt Cutts wrote a blog post all about how it was time to stop using guest posting websites for SEO purposes. Then, on March 19th, Cutts took to Twitter to announce that they had taken action against a large guest blogging website; MyBlogGuest as we soon found out.

As we’ve seen before, this was yet another once-legitimate link building method that, alas, began to be manipulated and abused. Previous examples include:
– Directory links
– Forum links
– Link exchanges
– Article marketing

As with all link building tactics that are manipulated and abused, Google stood up and said that it had had enough.

While the number of penalties handed out as a result of the hit on MyBlogGuest can only be guessed at, it was evident that a large amount of web masters found themselves suddenly stung as a result of Google’s action against guest blogging. Even we didn’t manage to escape the Google penalty furnace, as you can read in a recent post by Charlie Williams all about the lessons learnt.

What does this mean for you?
Guest bogging for SEO is dead, that much can’t be denied. But it doesn’t mean you should completely shy away from it, especially if you want to get your voice out there and share your expertise on a subject. If you get the offer to write for a great website you’re obviously not going to turn it down; it can be a great way to get your name out to a large audience, and even drive some of their traffic over to your website.

You have the right to be forgotten

As you may know, during May, Courts in the European Union decided that people have the “right to be forgotten” on the Internet. This means that people in 32 countries now effectively have legal grounds to make it more difficult to find inaccurate, outdated, and even embarrassing information about them online.

The number of rules, set out by Google, include insisting that you are a resident of one of the 32 countries, the need to provide photo ID, and the fact that the website that you want forgotten must be “outdated, inappropriate, or irrelevant” to named searches for you.  Google will then review the request and approve or deny it, depending on whether it fits the criteria.

The irony of the whole situation can not be seen better, than in this rather comical case of Mario Costeja Gonzalez, the man who went to court to have his actions removed from the internet as he felt they were damaging his image. The only problem, this made him famous, now everyone knows what he did, which I can only assume he knew was going to happen.

What does this mean for you?
It will probably not have a huge impact on SEO at this current time, unless your website contains information that someone might want removing. The only businesses that are likely to be affected by this are newspapers and magazines, or other publishers of similar stories.

So don’t worry about it for now, but just be aware that requests could disrupt search results, so keep an eye out for posts of yours that could be affected.

As more and more businesses spring up with the sole intention of filling out the right to be forgotten form for you, it will be interesting to see how the number of requests rises.

 

Google’s SERP makeover/under

In March this year, Google rolled out an updated design of their SERPs. The changes weren’t drastic, but there were subtle changes that are still important.

Possibly the most noticeable change was the size increase of the title tag. Instead of the standard 50-60 character limit, it’s now important to take pixel width in to account. For instance, capital letters take up a higher pixel width, so the more you use, the shorter your title tag can be.

The second interesting change we witnessed was that Google removed the peach/orange background for the ads and replaced it with a small yellow ‘Ad’ button.

Besides these two changes, the rest were mostly slight size increases in text and the removal of underlining for all links, as you can see below:

new serp

What does this mean for you?
The main factor to be aware of is the change in title tag limits. If you’re using all capitals in your title tag, you can expect to be cut off below the 55 character mark, so keep this in mind when updating your meta data; you can even use this handy online tool for previewing and checking your title tags from Moz! Besides this, you’re all good.

New robots.txt tester

As of July, the Google Webmaster Tools robots.txt testing tool received an update designed to help it highlight errors that caused Google to be unable to crawl certain pages on your website. The update also lets you edit your file, test if any URLs are blocked, as well as allowing you to view older versions of your file.

The updated robots.txt tester will now let you test whether you have an issue with your file that’s blocking Google from crawling a page, or a part of your website. As you may well know, this part of GWT used to be called Blocked URLs.

What does this mean for you?
This makes it even easier to test your robots.txt files to ensure that it contains no errors. And if it does, this update allows you to edit and fix the file. You will just need to upload the new version to the server for the changes to take effect.

In a post on the subject, Google’s Jon Mueller explained that you should check your robots.txt file, even if you believe it’s fine. He also wrote that you should “double-check how the important pages of your website render with Googlebot, and if you’re accidentally blocking any JS or CSS files from crawling.”

Google removes people’s faces

Back in June, Jon Mueller shocked a few SEOs by announcing that Google were going to be removing the images from the search results, or as he put it, “simplifying” the way authorship is displayed in search results.

This change was met with mixed results, since including the image next to an article was supposed to increase click through rates. But on the other hand, some claimed that the authorship image tactic had, like so many other SEO tactics, been abused. So Google removed them all.

But wait, did they?

No, not all of them as it turns out. In a move that we might have expected by Google, they removed all of the authorship images from external sites, so the only images that now show up are from Google+ posts, only if you’re logged in it seems.

While some might not be happy about this move, it must be said it’s an ingenious way of drawing attention, and engagement, to Google+. The only downside I seem to find is that these images will only show up if you’re connected to whoever wrote the post on Google+. So someone like myself, who neither uses or entirely understands Google+, I rarely see authorship images anymore.

What does this mean for you?
Firstly, although the images are gone the author links are still present, meaning users will still see who wrote it, providing the writer with at least a certain level of credibility. So it’s definitely worth implementing authorship if you, or your clients actively blog.

Secondly, the authorship images will show up for those that you are connected to on Google+, which is good if you’re inactive user who is connected to every single person… But this does encourage you to get more involved on Google+, and in a y case, there’s no reason not implement Google authorship on posts that you publish.

In my personal opinion, this seems quite harsh on those that have put in the effort to have their posts, and faces, appear in the search results. While this might not change the rankings drastically, it’s quite evident that authorship images have a certain amount of power over what a user might click. This change simply seems to make it easier than ever to have your authorship image appear in the SERPs for people that you’re connected to.

Bottom line: Google+ isn’t going anywhere, so it’s more important than ever to look to see Google+ as an asset an actively utilise it to benefit yourself, your business, and your clients.

Have you had experience with any of these changes? Have I missed anything? Do you have any predictions for the latter part of the year? If so I’d love to know, as there is a very good chance I’ve missed a crucial update or piece of news and I’d love to update the page if more ideas come in! Feel free to comment below, email me on bobby@white.net, or simply tweet me @robertjmcgill!

Featured image credit: Armando G Alonso ✈︎ via Compfight cc

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