The past 2 years have brought in a tremendous amount of change in the world of search, and 2013 will be no different. More Panda releases, Penguin, The EMD update, top heavy ads, and the DMCA update all mark a shift in capabilities for Google. There is more to come.
Today I'm going to take a shot at six predictions for 2013. Some of these predictions may relate to things that you already suspect or believe, but for which tangible proof will emerge. Others may be a bit more controversial. Here goes.
1. We'll get confirmation that steering anchor text in links you get is bad.
Many have suggested that the initial Penguin algorithm included some adjustments for anchor text mix, but I think the surface has barely been scratched on that one, and I believe that Google will do a lot more to discourage artificially created anchor text.
Here is one idea of what they might do with it – instead of penalizing abusive behavior they could simply downgrade the weight of anchor text in ranking. That presumes that they have alternative signals, but I think more and more of those are becoming available (see below).
2. The relevance of a linking page will carry increasing weight.
Many of us already believe that this is a big deal, but it is still really easy to find publishers who obtain strong rankings with lots and lots of links from sites with low relevance. If you believe in links being treated like academic citations, valuing low relevance links doesn't make sense.
One possibility is that this may be driven by a shakeup in the world of guest posting. I don't believe that guest posting will become a bad practice, as there is there is a lot of value in people producing great content and having it carried on high authority sites. Such sites publishing that content does represent a legitimate endorsement of the author's expertise. However, guest posts on sites with low relevance to the topic could start to hurt the site taking the post, and stop helping the publishers that provide the posts.
3. People will finally accept that +1s are not treated by Google like a link.
Matt Cutts has stated it many different times, and in many different ways. Here is what he said in an October 2012 Google+ Hangout:
"In the short term, we're still going to have to study and see how good the signal is, so right now, there is not really a direct effect where if you have a lot of +1s, you'll rank higher."
However, we will see published proof that Google+ shares and +1s influence discovery (i.e., if you create new page, don't link to it, but then +1 it, the page will be crawled and indexed). I also think we will see specific vertical ways that +1s influence ranking, but it just won't be "like a link".
So how else are social signals going to be used in the near term? Read on!
4. Rel=author will become a ranking signal
In the same Google+ Hangout, Cutts has made several references to authorship data as a signal. Here is one of the more recent comments he made:
"...over time, as we start to learn more about who the high quality authors are, you could imagine that starting to affect rankings."
This will be the big new ranking signal for 2013. Not only that, I bet that this will go well beyond the rel=author tag. We have already seen evidence that Google is looking for more signals to flag authorship. Consider this erroneous authorship tagging example:
The article is tagged as being written by me, yet it was written by Stephan Spencer, and even says so in the snippet: "About The Author: Stephan Spencer ...". The page is properly tagged with Stephan's rel=author tag as well, pointing to his Google+ profile. Yet Google picked up my name from the bio reference to The Art of SEO.
This may in fact have something to do with my Google+ profile, and could represent tangible evidence of Google+ as an SEO signal. I believe there are lots of other ways that Google+ activity and authorship will end up interacting.
5. Google+ will begin to show some of its true influence in search results
Not just an indication that someone I know +1'ed or shared an article, but in other ways. Consider the role of Google+ in validating what other signals are saying. Imagine two sites with strong link profiles, but differing social interaction:
For this discussion, assume that all the links referenced have exactly equal value, the link signals would suggest that Site A is the better site. However, Site A has no social activity related to it.
Even if they have no active Google+ promotional effort, there should be some pulse there for a site with such a strong link profile. It just doesn't look right. It certainly seems to me, at least, that Site B is a better site which is far more likely to have earned its links naturally.
6. The industry will start to talk about the role of landing page optimization in SEO
If you stay on the article for a period of time (believed to be 2 minutes) and then to back to the SERPs, the results are altered:
The altered result displays a list of other articles I've written. This shows us two things:
- Google is measuring time on site via time delays in interaction with the search results.
- Google considers a longer time on site to be an indication of interest in the site by the user.
While this shows Google modifying the presentation of the results, not altering the order, there are many in the industry, including myself, that believe that Google tracks users who bounce back to the SERPs and click on a different result as a potential negative ranking signal. This would be especially true if the bounce back from the initial click happens quickly.
These are strong indicators that the user experience on your site is an SEO factor. Put simply: Want better rankings? One element of doing this is improving the user experience on your site!
These are a few of the things I expect to see in 2013. One thing is quite certain – many changes will take place.
Expect another big update from Google in the first quarter of the year, and ongoing activity throughout the entire year. As always, learn to focus on serving the needs of your audience as your first priority, as this is one of your most important SEO tactics.
Let me know what else you think may happen in 2013 in the comments. Happy New Year!
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