The SEO landscape has changed quite a bit in 2016, and even bigger changes are coming. To that end, I want to recap some of the big stories in SEO from this year and preview the one big change that can have a massive impact in 2017.
Google is updating Penguin in real time with a focus on devaluing links, not sites
Penguin is Google’s name for their “link spam” filter aimed at websites that try to influence their Google rankings through paid links or link schemes. Last September, Google updated its filter to become a part of Google’s core algorithm. From this point on, the filter will be updated in real time instead of during periodic rolling updates as it has in the past. This will lead to both faster penalties and recoveries from bad links.
Also with this change, Penguin no longer devalues entire sites automatically. Instead Penguin now devalues the ill-gotten links with a target on specific pages (although most of the time link-spam is to the home page of a website, which tends to be the strongest webpage from an organic ranking standpoint). While Google has not stated that they will not penalize websites as a whole, this seems to be less of a focus for the new Penguin. Of course, those who thoroughly abuse Google’s Webmaster tools could still get a manual penalty for their website.
Public PageRank scores are gone
Google’s PageRank score was a number from 1 to 10 that first showed up in the Google Toolbar back in 2000. The idea was to give users a glimpse of what Google thinks of the sites you visit. Unfortunately, while Google never claimed that the PageRank score that showed up on the toolbar was directly related to the Page Rank algorithm, the rumor quickly propagated around the web (having the name be so similar surely didn’t help).
Sites with high PageRank scores were often inundated with spammy attempts to add links, while sites with a low (or no) PageRank score were publicly shamed even though there was nothing actually wrong with them. PageRank is a relic of the past, and now that Google has gotten rid of the public score, people can focus on what is actually important in online marketing. In particular, you still want to get free high quality links from legal websites, such as the Justia lawyer directory.
Google Continues to Push HTTPS
If Google has their way, the first celebrity death of 2017 will be an old friend who has seen you through every day you’ve spent online:
http://. If not killed,
HTTP will at least be punished.
Google has not been quiet about their desire to move the web towards being fully HTTPS. In addition to using it as a ranking signal in the search results, this year Google has raised the stakes by announcing that starting in January, with Version 56, Google’s popular Chrome Web Browser will mark non-secure pages that have forms that collect either credit card numbers or passwords as insecure. Their long term goal, however, is much more ambitious:
In following releases, we will continue to extend HTTP warnings, for example, by labelling HTTP pages as “not secure” in Incognito mode, where users may have higher expectations of privacy. Eventually, we plan to label all HTTP pages as non-secure, and change the HTTP security indicator to the red triangle that we use for broken HTTPS.
Most people have hit an improperly configured HTTPS page at some point or another and seen what insecure warnings look like. If Chrome, which has over 55% of the market share of browser usage, starts marking otherwise normal HTTP pages as being as insecure as a page with a broken SSL Certificate, it is the beginning of the end for insecure pages on the internet.
When looking for a marketing firm to handle your website and blog, make sure they are prepared to make your site secure with HTTPS, as insecure pages could cost you business.
The Mobile Web gets faster with AMP
Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages project made great leaps forward in 2016. Google’s goal is to deliver instant loading web pages to mobile users by featuring websites configured with AMP support in their mobile search result pages. I don’t want to go into too much detail about AMP right now as it is a big enough topic for its own post, but expect AMP to become a vital part of online marketing in 2017. To that end, Justia is working on an ambitious project to add AMP support to all of our client websites and blogs, which we expect to complete very soon.
AMP Up Your Website in 2017
In 2017, law firms should focus on delivering the best user experience on mobile devices for their websites. Google has accelerated its push to mobile by splitting its search engine into mobile and desktop versions. If you want your website to appear in the fresher mobile search index, make your website mobile-friendly and AMP optimized.
Google is splitting its index
During a keynote event at Pubcon back in October, Google announced that they will be splitting their search index into separate mobile and desktop indexes. Their new mobile index will become their main index, and this index will emphasize content that is mobile friendly and fresh over older or non-mobile-friendly content. If you have not yet optimized your site for mobile, your rankings may soon suffer. Be sure you work with companies that provide responsive designs and/or AMP Optimized websites.
Justia makes sure all sites and blogs we create implement responsive design principles, and we are adding AMP support to all of our client sites to take advantage of the benefits from the AMP project.