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SEO Predictions for 2012 – Which ones came true?

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Catherine Mansell

Senior SEO Analyst

At the beginning of 2012 we made some predictions for the year ahead, so with 2012 coming to an end we’re reflecting on a busy year in SEO and what changes did and didn’t happen.

Prediction:

“We know that Google can now execute Javascript and the instant preview tool shows that it can detect where the fold is – I predict that an announcement that will be made that will lead to usability outwardly becoming a much bigger factor with regards to ‘onpage’ SEO.”

Did it happen? Yes.

Back in January, Google rolled out its page layout algorithm with a post on its Inside Search blog stating, “We’ve heard complaints from users that if they click on a result and it’s difficult to find the actual content, they aren’t happy with the experience…So sites that don’t have much content “above-the-fold” can be affected by this change. This effectively meant that sites that were top-heavy with ads and lacking content were devalued and lost rankings.

Prediction:

“The semantic web is on its way and major search engines have made signals for supporting this in the SERPs, but an industry wide standard is very much in its infancy. I expect major developments in 2012 with big changes in the way the SERPs look for the three major search engines.”

Did it happen? Yes - it's ongoing.

Rich snippets have become more prominent in the SERPs with author photos and product reviews and ratings, in particular, becoming much more common place. Rich snippets in the SERPs increase the CTR for organic results and are a way for businesses to display products, reviews and prices before the user has even clicked through to the site. For businesses, having and maintaining a Google+ page has become increasingly important as Google+ and Google’s SERPs become intrinsically linked.

Prediction: Further development on how Google views text within links - “There is definitely more that can be done with this, with regards to improving results by giving more value to natural links. This will go beyond keyword specific links etc. in a more noticeable way. For example you can be 90 percent sure that image links with an alt attribute that contains the word ‘logo’ (whether combined with a brand term or not) are going to be paid sponsor links and Google’s weighting will (or should!) begin to reflect this.”

Did it happen? Yes!

Google rolled out its first Penguin algorithm update on 24th April. This update impacted websites with a link profile deemed to be manipulated or unnatural. One of the main factors for this is a high percentage of keyword specific anchor text. The result is a devaluation of links with keyword specific anchor text and rankings for those keywords dropping.

Prediction: “There have been rumblings in the industry regarding the benefits of using an exact match domain (EMD) for years and some minor updates happened in 2011 to reduce the positive effect of using an EMD. If Google can go further to identify brands outside of how many searches there are for their brand name (domain name) they should be able to completely remove the benefit of using an EMD in cases where the domain and brand are not aligned.”

Did it happen? Yes.

In September, Google announced its EMD update, the aim of this update was to reduce the number of low quality websites ranking well in Google’s SERPs purely because they have an exact match domain. The EMD update will be updated periodically allowing sites that have improved their content to recover and catch any domains that may have slipped through the net previously.

Prediction: “Google openly admitted that they had taken their eye off the ball with regard to SPAM so expect a surge in anti-SPAM activity in 2012 in terms of content and back-links. If you haven’t already got your house in order you may be in for a bumpy 2012 as new boundaries are applied to penalty filters and links begin to get devalued.”

Did it happen? Yes

As well as Google’s Penguin updates target manipulated link profiles, Google’s Panda updates have continued to be rolled out periodically through 2012 targeting sites with duplicate or thin content. For the first time, Google has openly advised domains about any issues with their site via Google Webmaster Tools so whilst it has cracked down on web spam; Google has at least made it a little easier to identify issues with your site which can then be addressed.

Prediction:

“Google is gathering a huge amount of data from Google Plus and Google +1 button usage. I would be stunned if they don’t attempt to integrate this in some fashion into their ranking algorithm next year. Maybe not full blown social integration, but a few under-the-radar tweaks and tests look a dead cert for 2012.”

Did it happen? Almost - slowly but surely!

Although there isn’t a direct correlation between Google Plus and +1s affecting rankings, Google +1 stats have been added to Google Webmaster Tools. These stats show how +1s have impacted your traffic; giving some indication of where Google wants to take Google+ and +1s. As with Facebook “likes” and tweets, +1s help to build a brand online. Social mentions and brand presence online impact on search rankings and in this way Google+ will become increasingly important.

Prediction:

In July, Google released further information to website owners flagging that Google had detected unnatural links. In response to this we predicted “The next logical step is the lonely rumoured disavow tool. Bing recently announced its disavow tool, further putting pressure on Google to release something that gives control back to webmasters.”

Did it happen? Exactly like we said.

Google introduced its disavow tool in October. This doesn’t mean that a webmaster can simply submit any problematic links and a penalty will be removed. In reality, you’ll still need to show you’ve contacted sites and removed as links manually before submitting a disavow request. Even then it could take weeks or months for a penalty to be lifted.