2013 was a turbulent year in the world of search to put it mildly. According to Moz’s tally there have been 13 officially acknowledged updates to Google’s algorithms alone and who knows how many more that have happened behind Google’s increasingly closed doors. There was widespread speculation of 2 other unnamed updates in late-July and mid-November after sudden spikes in search result fluctuation but if anyone knows what caused it they’re not telling. Panda and Penguin were joined by Hummingbird while Google announced back in March that they would no longer be officially announcing updates to Panda but would be pushing them out gradually going forward while Penguin got a major upgrade to Penguin 2.0. 2013 was a big win for Bing with its share of US search engine traffic growing to almost 18% at the last tally while Google remained riding high with a steady 67% with most of Bing’s gains coming at the expense of Yahoo, Ask and other smaller search engines. Bing scored another big win outside of direct internet searches when Facebook made the decision to bring Bing on-board for social search integration in the largest social media in the world. Like Uyen and Elisa both said last week, Google may still be the king but Microsoft seems up for a fight and they should figure in everyone’s SEO plans. Whatever happens, we’ll be keeping a beady eye on these two titans in 2014. Outside of algorithm updates Google made several notable changes to their online toolkits that dramatically effected the online search landscape. Perhaps the most notable of these was when they disabled the much beloved keyword tool and replaced it with the Adwords Keyword Planner, possibly in an attempt to stop the confusion that the data discrepancies between the two caused. There has been widespread speculation in the SEO industry that this was an attempt to try and drive sign ups to adwords itself. Regardless of the real reasons this happened at around about the same time as webmasters all around the world started to see an increasing percentage of organic keyword search data in Google Analytics being sequestered behind the screen of (not provided). At the start of the year it was not uncommon for (not provided) to account for only 10% – 20% of total organic data, a volume that was steadily on the rise all year until late August and early September when it rose to its current norm of over 80%. This has happened as Google pushes more and more searchers through their automatically SSL encrypted search page which strips away much of the data that came along for the ride when searchers clicked through to a website. This has been great for privacy and user security but not so great for webmasters who used this data to refine their online campaigns. Though there are alternatives in Bing’s analytics and Google Webmaster Tools data neither quiet match the data provisions that we saw in early 2013 from Google Analytics. There does not seem yet to be any easy way to get this data back and though the rate seems to have remained stable for the last few weeks webmasters the world over are watching with baited breath in case Google closes this door like they did the Keyword Tool. As for the future, if Google knows what’s next for the ubiquitous (not provided) they’re not telling. All of this has added up to a challenging year for SEO particularly alongside Google and Microsoft’s well publicized take-downs of several major spam and link networks. The end goal for everyone is a cleaner, higher quality, more honest web but that’s small comfort for webmasters caught in the cross-fire. In the end, while specific SEO tactics fall in and out of favor the best SEO advice remains what it has always been. Have a website with good quality content that offers a user experience worthy of page 1 and you’ll stand a much better chance of actually being there.
Is the Keyword Tool being replaced? Well… Wait, what? The highlighted box in the bottom right says, “In the coming months, the external Keyword Tool will no longer be available. To get keyword ideas, sign in to your AdWords account and try Keyword Planner.” I actually had to read that a couple of times, because I think I was in the denial stage of grief. “No. That can’t be right. They can’t take my precious keyword tool away from me.” I mean, it’s not like people don’t use it… From a search engine optimization services perspective, it is a vital tool used during keyword research and evaluation. I moved swiftly past “denial” into anger. I mean, why? Why would they disable such a popular tool? Of course, the answer is pretty obvious; it’s right there in blue hyperlink text. They are taking away this tool to encourage people to use the “Keyword Planner” because… well… So, in essence, they made changes and launched a new keyword tool that very few people asked for and now insisting that people embrace these changes. Don’t get me wrong, the Keyword Planner has functionality that is definitely lacking in the Keyword Tool and that could be really useful for search engine optimization services. For example, where the Keyword Tool only gives you a general idea as to how many times a keyword is searched, the Keyword Planner also gives you traffic estimates including clicks and impressions. That’s pretty sweet. And as much as I was happy to stew in my anger and feel hard-done-by, I have to admit that the more I read about the differences between the two tools, the more I had to admit that the Keyword Planner was simply better for search engine optimization services than the Keyword Tool. For example, the search stats aren’t separated into “global” and “local” anymore. In the Keyword Planner, they are combined in one column: “Average Monthly Search.” From what I can see, the information will be specific to your targeted settings (country, city, etc.) and this should ensure greater accuracy in keyword research. Unfortunately, this keyword still has the column labeled “Competition” which has been known to cause confusion with clients from time to time – namely, that people think that the competition level in the keyword tool/planner is an accurate assessment of the competition of those keywords from an SEO point of view. But then, they never marketed this as a search engine optimization services tool.