March SEO Roundup: how search evolved in March 2012

When I sat down at the end of February to write an SEO roundup, the subject matter really didn’t inspire.  Some posts just don’t deserve a publish button. March on the other hand was full of intrigue with promise of more change on the horizon.

Blog network armageddon

Before you read this as Google penalising blogs, please don’t.  This is something very different: it’s a crack down on networks of blogs created specifically for the purposes of achieving rankings.

As explained here, for the vast majority, this really isn’t a big deal.  This is NOT a few people getting together and agreeing to promote each others’ content from time to time.

It IS serious scale and involves the exchange of cash – if you are running your own SEO you will likely know if you are involved in such networks (even if you only know it as a SEO secret weapon).  If you have outsourced your SEO this is a timely reminder to ensure you fully understand the tactics being used on your site.

If you are still nervous then this very long presentation will give you all the background you need to know.

Other changes

Google’s monthly blog post on algorithm changes this month detailed 50 changes. Here’s some highlights from my perspective at least:

  • better comprehension of the # symbol (good news for tweeters and those wanting their hash tags to be found)
  • increased focus on more recent videos
  • 2 x anchor text tweaks including “Better interpretation and use of anchor text” (anchor text is the words within a link – in my view one of the most over valued ranking signals but that’s a discussion for another day)
  • freshness (i.e. newer content getting ranking boosts over older content) is now impacting a much greater percentage of listings, if not all listings. And they are getting better at detecting old pages (which rightly or wrongly I interpret as them getting better at detecting pages that have been made to look new but may not actually be new)
  • A lot of reduction in synonyms use – good news for old school SEO copywriting (that’s not an endorsement by the way!)

We have also seen massive changes to local results this month with Google adding local results to what we might normally deem to be national searches (e.g. A search for SEO, when conducted from Edinburgh, now includes a couple of results that would normally only appear for a search for SEO Edinburgh)

More to come?

It looks like there may be  further action against search engine spam on the horizon as on March 16th, Google promised us that an over optimisation crack down is coming “within weeks”  (so likely to happen whilst I am on my Easter break writing this then!)

Semantic search

Looking a little further forward we can expect Google to increasingly answer our questions directly on the search results page, at least according to this interview with a Google engineer in the Wall Street Journal.

 the search engine will better match search queries with a database containing hundreds of millions of “entities”—people, places and things—which the company has quietly amassed in the past two years. Semantic search can help associate different words with one another, such as a company (Google) with its founders

Under the shift, people who search for “Lake Tahoe” will see key “attributes” that the search engine knows about the lake, such as its location, altitude, average temperature or salt content. In contrast, those who search for “Lake Tahoe” today would get only links to the lake’s visitor bureau website, its dedicated page on, and a link to a relevant map.

( Larry Page and Sergey Brin)

As part of getting ready for this check out Attacat Joel’s post on getting started with microformats

Looking even further ahead

Might Google Glass be the future of the search results page? (Perhaps with Siri (voice control) as the search box)

Is Google’s biggest threat Google?

The above of course assumes that Google continues to dominate search.  However with seemingly increased disastisfaction with personalised or “social” results, disgruntled ex-employees ranting  and rumours of Facebook developing a search engine (or at least improving it’s currently diabolical internal search) increasing, it just may be we will see a significant shift in power in the coming years.

SEO industry naval gazing

Internal industry debate should usually remain, well, internal.  This month in addition to the now usual SEO being dead/morphing into inbound marketing debates, there has been one almost surprising debate: outing SEO tactics is immoral

This is the idea that revealing the use of spammy tactics in public forums is not helpful to the industry.  The argument put forward suggests that all it achieves is people losing jobs and that dealing with Google spam should be a job for Google only.  Although I can sympathise with aspects it is far too extreme a view for me.

Useful resources

If you are starting to get to grips with SEO for mobiles, here’s some thoughts on google-bot-with-mobile-hat-on 

The old (but still excellent) Web developers SEO cheat sheet first released in  2008 has received an interactive update.  (If you like tools like that you may also be interested in Attacat Ben’s url builder spreadsheet)

Intelligent speculation

Inevitably the one thing that moves my understanding of SEO on the most in any month is speculation from those I admire in the industry.  This month it was a key but simple message coming out of the London LinkLove conference: “Link building is here to stay”. (You can read Joel’s comprehensive notes from the conference here)


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