SEO and Search Marketing in general have both seen many changes in the past 24 months. As a webmaster or digital marketer, you are surely familiar with the two major algorithm updates, Panda and Penguin, which Google introduced in February 2011 and April 2012, respectively.


Both of these major changes were not events, but rather the beginning of a new way to rank websites. Both Panda and Penguin undergo “refreshes” on a regular basis, monthly in the case of Panda.

As a refresher, the two updates were focused on the following:

  1. Panda: The quality of content on a website itself
  2. Penguin: The quality of (i.e. lack of manipulation) of off-page authority metrics such as links

See the common thread? Quality, not quantity. Google is working hard to improve the quality of their SERPs. This is imperative to their ongoing success. This is also why the updates will keep coming.

Web marketers and SEOs have invested countless hours in reacting, adjusting strategies and adopting new ways of managing their online presence. The majority of us have finally accommodated the impact of these two mischievous little zoo creatures.

2013 is under way, and we have already seen the first Panda refresh of the year. Rest assured that Google has more up its sleeves. Let’s take a few moments to consider where they might focus their attention between now and December.

SEO Hot Points in 2013

Although Google rarely gives advanced notice of major updates, it has been very consistent in its overall SEO guidance over the past couple of years. It is adamant about avoiding shortcuts and earning rankings through hard work.

Content alone won’t cut it, though. There are several areas that all web owners need to keep in mind to maximize their online exposure potential.

Author and Publisher Authority

I covered AuthorRank and how that influences Author Authority in a previous article on CMSWire. Savvy content authors and SEO professionals should already be on board with authorship markup and the role of Google+ in establishing credibility and authority for individuals.

AuthorRank is only part of the story. Many of us write for established brands, perhaps as one of many contributors to a company blog. It is important to understand that the various authors are part of the publisher brand.

To help manage this interdependency, Google also considers PublisherRank. To put it simply, Publisher Authority ties your Google+ business page to your website.

Google has not revealed exactly how it will use rel=publisher markup in the SERPs. But it will at some point in the coming months, just as they did with rel=author once they reached a reasonable level of critical mass for adoption.

For this reason alone, if you have not yet claimed a Google+ page for your brand, make it happen today. It will be important to own that brand presence moving forward, even if you choose to leave it dormant until we learn more.

More Focus on Social Signals

To remain relevant in the long term, Google knows that it absolutely MUST figure out a way to incorporate social media signals into rankings. AuthorRank and PublisherRank are key pieces of that puzzle without question.

However, both of these metrics are unique to Google’s own social platform. Overall social shares, which have reached massive volumes on a daily basis, need to be considered when determining page authority and quality of content. In response, Google has worked hard over the past year to incorporate more broad social signals into their existing algorithm.

So if Google already uses social signals for ranking, what more is there to add? Similar to Panda and Penguin, Google is almost surely cooking up a method to differentiate between high and low quality (i.e. spammy) social media behaviors.

If it stays true to its pattern from the past two years, we will see a major update in the first half of 2013. There have been rumblings of a “Zebra” update, focused specifically on social signals. While this smells of pure speculation, no one should be surprised to see one in the coming months.

Mobile Optimization

With the massive global growth of smart phone and tablet adoption over the past couple of years, webmasters can no longer ignore mobile. Various sources have reported that mobile internet usage will surpass desktop in the next couple of years.

The search engines know this, and mobile optimization is a growing priority for ranking. The days of having a single static website are numbered.

Responsive design or templates have been hot topics for months now. The buzz is warranted, because user experience plays a significant role in ranking. If your site does not easily adapt the UX based on platform (i.e. desktop/laptop versus smart phone verus tablet), you will start losing ground to sites that do.

Ranking Based on Semantic Signals

The search engines are becoming rather adept at ranking based on semantic signals. Semantic signals aim to connect content with user intent, rather than individual keywords. By using these signals for ranking, the search engines are able to serve up higher quality SERPs regardless of exact match to a search term.

What does this mean for SEO? Essentially, hyper-optimization for target keywords will decrease in effectiveness.

SEOs now have to consider synonyms, alternate spellings and paraphrased content as variables to monitor. They have to understand how the knowledge graph helps add context to keywords, particularly for slang or colloquialisms.

It also explains why Google included an over-optimization penalty in the Penguin update -- semantic variations on keywords are more likely to appear in a natural link profile.

If you are unfamiliar with Semantic Signals, take a few minutes to read the following post on the SEOmoz blog: Semantic Web and Link Building without Links.


Now is an exciting time for search marketers and SEOs. We are in the midst of a transformation of how websites rank. The end result should be better quality of search results.

What other developments are you watching in 2013?

Image cropped from original by More Trendy Design here (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: To read more by Tommy, check out The Future of SEO and Content Marketing: Author Authority