Looking Back on 2013

Looking Back on 2013 – How Cuddly Animals and the NSA Shaped Search in 2013

As 2013 reaches its conclusion, SEOs find themselves in an almost identical situation to this time last year. Google still has a fetish for cuddly creatures (Panda’s, Penguins, & Hummingbirds), the phrase “content is king” is still echoed to the point of nausea, and the semantic revolution is still actively transforming the search experience. With that said, it’s important not to grow too comfortable with the status quo. After all, the key to SEO success is the ability to adapt and ride the winds of change. To assist you in this endeavor, here are the most important search developments to transpire over the last year.


The War Against Push-Button Internet Marketers Rages On

Once upon a time, it took very little effort to game Google’s search algorithm. A few keyword stuffed articles written in broken English and a Xrumer blast were enough to dominate a large amount of search queries. As Google became a Wall Street darling, it began feeling enormous pressure to once again innovate the search experience. As a result, a war against push-button Internet marketers was declared. The first shot was fired with the introduction of Panda, an atomic bomb of an algorithm update that slayed the scourge of awful content cluttering the web. Penguin was next and laid waste to classic search tactics such as exploiting exact match anchor text. The newest addition to Google’s adorable line-up, however, has very little in common with its brethren.


Stealthily impacting 90% of all search queries and going under the radar for over a month, Hummingbird has emerged as the most drastic change to Google search since 2001. Much like Caffeine, Hummingbird is an entire overhaul of Google’s algorithm. Named for its precision and accuracy, many see it as a huge step forward in the semantic revolution.


Slowly but surely search results are moving away from strings of keywords to recognizing entities(people, places, concepts), thereby breathing life into the semantic web. Until this overhaul, search results were delivered based largely on educated guesses. Now, however, Google is beginning to utilize it’s Knowledge Graph in order to comprehend the contextual meaning of words.


Conversational Search and Long-Tail Keywords

Thanks to knowledge Graph, Google understands more than 250 million concepts, allowing it to better decipher the many nuances of human conversation. This provides a huge benefit to content producers as it’s now possible to rank for long-tail keywords without having to specifically optimize your page. Considering long queries convert up to 2.5 more times than shorter ones, Hummingbird has the potential to deliver steady streams of highly targeted traffic.


As with any algorithm change, sensationalism soon drowns out reason and many SEOs go out their to way to game the system. Be that as it may, with Hummingbird that isn’t necessary. As long as you’ve been focusing on the fundamentals of good content marketing, the algorithm will take care of the rest. Quite frankly, it would be extremely counter productive to edit all of your old content so that it’s filled with keywords that are awkwardly placed in the form of a question. To benefit the most from Hummingbird, simply write your content as if you were sitting face to face with readers, making every attempt to answer their questions in a coherent and easy to digest manner.


Author Rank Isn’t Dead

Since the introduction of Google Authorship, the blog-o-sphere has been filled with predictions, theoretical implications and out-right fantasies about how it will be integrated into Google’s search algorithm. Out of this speculation, Author Rank was born. In principle, the concept makes perfect sense. Furthermore, it’s also backed up by plenty of anecdotal evidence. For example, Eric Schmidt has claimed that eventually the consequence of staying anonymous will be irrelevance. Combine this with patents for Agent Rank and a concept-based knowledge base, and it becomes clear that Google is keen on making something like Author Rank a reality.


The most obvious roadblock to the implementation of Author Rank is the fact that both Google+ and Authorship have failed to attract adequate adaptation by prolific writers.  Semantic search, however, provides Google a way around this. Now that Hummingbird is in full effect, Google’s  algorithm is capable of learning about entities.  A writer, of course, is an entity that usually leaves behind a lot of digital footprints. Obviously, this provides Google a window of opportunity for figuring out who prolific authors are in a certain niche.


Social Signals

Despite the claims of blowhards, social signals have been shown to have an utterly lackluster impact on search performance. This is largely due to the technical difficulties involved with implementing inherently unstructured social data. Another huge hindrance to the counting of social links, of course, is the fact that they can be gamed just as easily as backlinks. Social accounts are free to create and a multi-million dollar industry already exists for effectively faking social proof. For this reason, links still rule the day. With that said, many respected SEO insiders believe that Hummingbird has laid the foundation for finally making social signals a legitimate ranking factor.


Secure Search

Let’s not forget, Google isn’t just waging a war against spammers. In all honesty, the biggest threat to Google’s integrity spawns from government intelligence agencies. With PRISM being revealed to the world by Anthony Snowden, global consumer backlash against Google and other tech giants reached a boiling point. To calm the masses, Google is fighting to make public the full extent of data requested by the federal government. However, the latest secret program to be revealed makes Prism look almost harmless in comparison.


Going by the name MUSCULAR, the NSA and it’s British counter-part, the CTQ, secretly hacked into the massive data centers of both Yahoo and Google. In doing so, they gained access to unencrypted data, including full view of emails, Google Drive files and Gmail chats. Keep in mind, this is all without a FISA warrant. Google’s engineers immediately responded by posting profanity on Google+ and then encrypting Google’s entire internal network. This strategic move ruined years worth of work by the NSA and served to stop MUSCULAR dead in its tracks. Unfortunately, it also ensured that Google Analytics will no longer provide keyword data.



With affordable smartphone devices being mass marketed the world over, 50% of all searches are now mobile based. Not surprisingly, Google’s made a point to express how Hummingbird allows mobile users to more effectively answer their questions. It accomplishes this by streamlining relevant information and optimizing the SERPs for touchscreens. Furthermore, Hummingbird’s objective of tailoring results to meet the demands of conversational search is in large part due to the emergence of mobile voice technology.


Apple has long understood that the future of mobile search is voice, and Google is going to great lengths to provide their own version of SIRI. Although Google Voice has been live for over 2 years, 2013 saw vast improvements to its functionality. When coupled with the impending roll-out of Google Glass, the importance of creating an enjoyable experience for mobile users becomes tremendous.



If 2013 has taught us anything, it’s that Google has big plans for conversational search and the semantic web. Although none of the changes made this year had a cataclysmic impact on the SERPS, they have all served to assist Google’s goal of taking the search experience to the next level. In the end, it all boils down to the cliche “create content for people, not search engines.” It’s abundantly clear that producing strong content and cultivating an online community is the only sure-fire way to ensure longevity.

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