The Evolution of Organic Search & Content Performance

Tracking The Major Updates Impacting Content Performance

Search engine updates directly affect the way businesses market and maintain their websites. We recognize the importance of understanding what these major changes mean to brands, so we’ve assembled some of the most influential search engine updates over recent years, what they mean to your website and how to deal with them.

Encrypted Search (2013)

Google’s encrypted search ( popularly known as secure search) was launched in beta in 2011 for those browsing the Web who were signed into Google. This feature aimed to further protect the privacy of search engine users, and resulted in the “(not provided)” message marketers would see in their analytics when looking at keyword data. In 2013, Google announced it would be operating in a 100 percent encrypted search environment, which meant little to no access to keyword data in analytics moving forward.

Tips for dealing with encrypted search:

  • The switch seemed to be a part of Google's aim to take the focus away from just marketing around keywords to marketing around content.
  • Measure your efforts at a page level in order to better understand how that content is contributing to your website’s overall return on investment.
  • Leverage pre-existing keyword data, social keyword research, Google Webmaster Tools keyword data, and keyword search volume and trends to help create content that people are looking for.
  • Follow the simple framework involving 3 steps and 2 enablers ilustrated below:
To get a detailed understanding of the framework, read the Secure Search White Paper.

“Hummingbird” (2013)

Google’s “Hummingbird” is an infrastructure change that aims to improve its semantic search capabilities to cater to the way people search today. As conversational search becomes the norm, Hummingbird helps the search engine better understand queries – especially long-tail queries – even if a page is not optimized for those keywords. Now, pages may have a better chance of being found for certain queries now than ever before.

Tips for a post-Hummingbird world:

  • Focus on the content, not just the keyword. While keyword data and optimization is still useful, it’s a small piece of what goes into making content successful.
  • For many practitioners, it’s business as usual. Continue to concentrate on making your Web pages as useful to your audience and the search engine as possible.

7-Result SERPs (2012)

Google unleashed a new search engine results page that showed only seven results, rather than the traditional 10 results for several keywords. What would normally be No. 8 on the first page of the SERP would now be No. 1 on the second page for many. BrightEdge research in 2012 examined a sample of 26,000 keywords, showing a total of 8 percent of keywords impacted by this update.

How to handle the 7-result SERP:

  • Monitor your rank and if needed, adjust your rank reporting to reflect a Page 2 designation for positions eight through 10. Adjust your rank goals to move No. 1 and No. 2 on Page 2 to the first page of the results.
  • Make sure you’re optimizing for blended search results, as research shows the seven results do not include Universal search results (meaning images, videos or news could show up on Page 1 in addition to the seven results).

Search plus Your World (2012)

The Google search results experienced another dramatic makeover with Search plus Your World (Search+) in 2012. This update pushed Google’s social network content, Google+, into a user’s personalized search results. At the same time, Google offered a toggle function that allowed users to see non-personalized results with the click of a button. This shift was the first major event that pushed brands to participate in Google+ for increased visibility in the results.

How to win with Search+:

  • As a business, create a Google+ page, making it as complete as possible, and linking it to and from your website. Share content regularly, and don’t forget about adding the +1 button on your website content.
  • As an individual, make sure you complete your Google+ profile. Bonus: If you’re blogging for a business or website, link the profile to and from the website, and apply for Authorship.

Freshness Update (2011)

Google updated its algorithm in order to find and serve the newest results possible for queries that typically demand the freshest SERPs. This includes queries surrounding recent events or hot topics as well as regularly recurring events (for example, the presidential election). It also aimed to include fresh search results for queries that require updated information, like “the best SLR cameras.” 

How you can keep it fresh:

  • Make sure your Web pages are “evergreen” – hosting the most up-to-date content as possible, especially when it comes to topics that people are still searching for today and where the information could be updated.

“Panda” (2011)

The release of Google’s “Panda” algorithm was among the biggest shifts in recent years, and targeted low-quality sites, particularly spammy sites and sites with “thin” content. What that meant is websites that weren’t adding value to the search results – or worse, devaluing the search results altogether – were on Google’s radar to be stripped of their placement in the results. Since 2011, Panda has undergone multiple iterations, many of which were documented and announced before Google rolled Panda into the standard algorithm in 2013 and stopped announcing the manual refreshes. 

How to survive Panda:

  • Make the quality and usefulness of your business content a No. 1 priority on your website and in your social networks.
  • Ensure you are tracking the content on your website and elsewhere, setting metrics that indicate which content is resonating with users and providing a return on investment.
  • Analyze your website content regularly to identify thin or duplicate content that needs a refresh. 

Social Signals (2010)

Major search engines like Google and Bing confirmed what many marketers had suspected for some time: search engine algorithms used social cues to rank Web pages in the results. While having a social presence was increasingly important at the time this was confirmed, it established the benefits to being a social business online. Today, content from social networks like Google+, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Klout can all show up in the search results, depending on the engine.

How to leverage social for search:

  • Make sure you’re participating in the social networks your audience participates in. It varies from business to business, so do your research. One exception is participating in Google+ even if you don’t have a large captive audience.
  • Make your website social by integrating social features like share buttons and follow buttons.
  • Track shares on your content and organic traffic back to your site from social media to get a picture of how organic social marketing efforts are contributing to your visibility on the Web.