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Changes To SEO in 2011

Changing landscape for online marketers in 2011

2011 has seen a number of significant changes in the world of search engine optimisation (SEO) and online marketing, posing new challenges for internet marketers in Australia and around the globe.

Search powerhouse Google has led the way with changes in 2011 – aimed at enhancing the user experience for searchers and delivering better search results faster than ever. These changes have been predominantly favourable for search engine marketing companies looking to deliver quality search results to users.

Over the course of the year Google will have tested over 13,000 updates with roughly 500 set to remain permanent going forward. Such changes include colour and layout changes to SERPs, changes to instant previews and expanded site links appearing in search results.

Quality and relevance have proved key in 2011

At the start of the year we famously saw JC Penney and overstock.com severely punished for black hat SEO practices before the first rollout of the Google Panda. The Panda update in February became the first major development of the year and one of the most talked about changes of recent years.

There have been several updates of Google Panda since February but none as severe as the first – by and large, the efforts of honest online marketing campaigns have not been adversely affected.

Beyond the previous factors Google looked at to determine rankings – such as PageRank, title tags and in-bound links, the Panda update looked to user satisfaction metrics including the bounce rate, the average time users spent on site and social signals, which came into consideration late last year.

Another significant development in 2011 is the ‘freshness’ algorithm update which aims to deliver the most recently relevant search results for time sensitive queries. This isn’t likely to affect most online marketers all that much – unless you are marketing seasonal products or a high profile new release product like the iPhone4s.

Changes to Google search results are not the only changes from Google. Their Analytics interface, the new social media platform Google+, and the +1 button is further evidence of them driving relevance and consumer endorsement.

Google SSL and the privacy issue

One change from Google that has not impressed marketers worldwide has been the recent introduction of Google SSL as the default search engine for signed-in Google users. SSL is a secure platform which doesn’t pass referral data to third parties including Google Analytics. This has affected Analytics data by anything between 0% and 30% of organic search results – represented as (not provided) in Analytics keyword data. At present it does not affect google.com.au but expect that to change before the end of the year or early next year.

Google have touted SSL as a significant privacy benefit for searchers but marketers who rely exclusively on organic search in their marketing campaigns are particularly irked by the fact that the ‘private’ data is still available to Google’s AdWords customers.

How do Australian businesses adapt to the changes?

Online marketing is only going to become a more competitive landscape in 2012 and beyond – businesses need to think about how they can maximise their visibility online and get a favourable return on their marketing investment.

Now more than ever, businesses must consider a comprehensive approach to online marketing. This requires a tailored mix of SEO, social media channels and Adwords advertising & conversion optimisation to build and maintain a strong brand and a loyal customer base.

For these efforts to be effective, marketers and SEO professionals need to think about the end-user – the customer. Marketers must consider how they can better deliver what the customer is searching for, and also reinforce brand awareness and their unique selling proposition through appropriate social media channels.