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Google is seemingly involved in a never-ending battle to fight spam and underhand SEO tactics affecting its search results.
In 2013 we've had several updates and warnings, Hummingbird being the most obvious, but what will Google target next?
I have a few ideas on this, and I've also asked SEOs for their views on the areas where Google is likely to focus...
At the moment, there are some easy wins in local SEO. For example, just setting up a Google Local profile with your business details will have a major impact on local (and mobile) search visibility.
According to LBi's Andrew Girdwood though, there is room for abuse:
I see Google cracking down on local spam. As Google progresses in social it will move to ramping up local. The two are connected. 'Social Local' is a step towards crossing the divide from digital to physical space and that is hugely tempting for Google.
Abuse of structured data, especially reviews
Reviews, and associated structured data such as author markup, can give sites an edge in search, as well as PPC listings.
However, any tactic that gives sites an edge is likely to be abused, so Will Critchlow believes that this is something Google is likely to keep an eye on over the next year.
Last year Google clamped down on anchor text on press releases, something which had some claiming the 'death of PR', and we can expect more of this in 2014.
According to Kevin Gibbons of Blueglass:
Links have always been the focal point from an organic algorithm perspective. So I'm sure Google will continue to monitor anything which looks like an SEO footprint. This again is another good reason to focus on integrated marketing and online brand building.
Julia Logan of Irish Wonder believes this focus on links may be disruptive:
Where Google is going with links and trying to police them is another tendency to watch of course. It is being very disruptive to the very nature of the web, which is by definition a system of interlinked web pages.
We can expect more link based penalties but in terms of the big picture, I don't think it's going to eliminate spam or result in better SERPs.
There have been a few hints that Google is looking at crappy guest blogging, and we can expect more of this in 2014.
I wrote about the risks of guest posting earlier this year, as we have invited guest bloggers since the blog started in 2006 and we value their contibution and insight.
Obviously, there is a quid pro quo where we have interesting content to publish and the blogger has the exposure to our readers. Where there are links involved, you can see whay Google would be suspicious.
As the tactic has become more popular (look at the number of SEO agencies offering guest posting services for example), then the number of requests we receive for guest blogging has rocketed, while the quality has fallen.
As such, we're becoming more choosy now, and I do think that quality guest blogging will survive, while the 'it's obviously just for the link' stuff will come under fire. Personally, I'd be targeting the kind of guest blogging where the exact same post is hawked around and used on various different sites.
Here Matt Cutts explains more:
Will Critchlow from Distilled:
With (not provided) in place, tools providers are more and more reliant on data gathered from elsewhere. We have seen a few moves from Google to remove AdWords API access and use other means to shut down services that attempt to gather competitive intelligence information. It'll be interesting to see where it goes with that in 2014.
Mobile is massive for Google, and it's likely to continue its 'carrot and stick' approach to mobile optimisation, and this includes using mobile page speed as a ranking factor.
Chris Liversedge explained this in his 'Mobile SEO timebomb' post this week.
It has previously outlined a number of things it doesn't like on mobile sites, such as those annoying 'download app' pop ups, so we can expect more of this in 2014.
Google Play spam
As Android becomes more important to Google I suspect we’ll see a clamp down on Google Play spam too. There are too many non-official and non-navigationally appropriate apps surfaced that look official in response to big brand searches. That’ll harm Google Play and so needs to be fixed.
With social signals becoming more important in presentation of search results, even if we don't know exactly how they influence rankings, then SEOs will naturally look to use social to influence search rankings and CTR.
There are plenty of ways to manipulate social - leaving fake reviews and comments, buying Twitter followers etc - so if Google is going to use social signals it will naturally look into manipulation of this.
A broad based SEO strategy is the way forward, so says Dr Pete Meyers, Marketing Scientist at Moz:
Expect single-tactic SEO to get hit hard. Google has to move toward corroborating signals and stop viewing any signal in isolation. In other words, if every link you have is from a guest blog post, you may be in trouble.
If you have thousands of +1s but no links, no tweets, and no Likes, you may be in trouble. If you have thousands of links, but no traffic or social signals, you may be in trouble. Real sites with real marketing don't look like that, and Google knows it.
What do you think? Which nefarious SEO tactics will Google be looking at over the next 12 months?