Few news headlines send shivers of the spines of SEOs like, Google Rolls Out Algorithm Update. That’s because almost every update sweeps away some commonly used SEO practice and replaces it with a couple of vague lines of instruction from some Google drone.

In 2013, Google algorithm updates weren’t quite as disruptive as they’ve been in years past, though that’s a matter that could be vigorously debated. If you’re still in post- link clean up hell, new updates were just trouble piled on trouble. If you’ve been a good boy and embraced white hat SEO like Matt Cutts says, you probably came out all right.

Here are the highs and lows of the 2013 Google Updates.

No News for You

The biggest development for SEO watchers this year might have been Google’s decision to stop publicizing algorithm updates and refreshes.

Though Google seemed to release fewer updates in 2013 than in 2012, they seemed to feel bound by the spirit of that statement rather than the exact wording. After all, 2013 saw multiple updates and Hummingbird, as we’ll see later, was introduced with a name and everything just a couple months ago.

Panda, Panda

The Panda update of February 2011 changed the way SEOs look at content in a big way. Since then, most web publishes have familiarized themselves with the principles of high quality content, but plenty of them are still looking for shortcuts.

Most Panda updates since then have impacted only a small fraction, less than 1%, of search queries but have been regular occurrences on the SEO front.

In 2013, Google decided to make Panda updates more subtle and ongoing. Cutts describe the new Panda approach as follows:

Rather than having some huge change that happens on a given day you are more likely in the future to see Panda deployed gradually as we rebuild the index. So you are less likely to see these large scale sorts of changes.

From here on out, Google Panda will be silent, but deadly.

Penguin 2.0
Cutts teased SEOs with the prospect of something really awful in the final product wasn’t really all that bad. (Hey, what could be worse than the original Penguin, right?)

What Penguin 2.0 brought to the table was a greater focus on authority issues, especially in niche markets. Google, as always, is looking to reward sites with beefy content. That focus on quality also extended, as you might expect, to backlinks as well.

Though around 2.3% of English language queries were impacted by Penguin 2.0, casino affiliates were largely spared from its wrath.

Hummingbird
Though the initial impact of Google’s Hummingbird update seemed limited, its long-term impact could be pretty profound. At its simplest, Hummingbird is all about allowing end-users to get better results to question queries like, “What poker site has the most free rolls?”

As the months have rolled by, SEOs have learned that Hummingbird is also the harbinger of a more robust set of social signals, and may even beef up the value of authorship tags.

Hummingbird is still a bit of a mystery, so expect to hear a lot more about it in 2013.


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