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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...

Local spam

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. 

Links, obvs

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. 

Guest blogging

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:  

API/data access? 

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 optimisation

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

Andrew Girdwood: 

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.

Social manipulation

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. 

Single-tactic SEO

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? 

Graham Charlton

Published 12 December, 2013 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

2565 more posts from this author

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Oliver Ewbank

Oliver Ewbank, Digital Marketing Manager at Koozai

Nice post. I think low quality guest blogging will certainly get chopped. I think 2014 will be a big year for authorship. If you have a credible Google+ profile the content will always be safe.

over 2 years ago

Richard Baxter

Richard Baxter, CEO at Builtvisible

Hi Graham

I think Google have already made a big dent in the prominence (and abusiveness) of rich snippets and review ratings in non-commercial sites, although nothing like far enough. You can track the proliferation of various features in Google's search results using the new Mozcast feature: http://mozcast.com/features

What we are seeing is a reduction in the number of video snippets combined with organic results. In the verticals we're working in, these have been abused a lot recently. Also (and quite weirdly) there's *still* something odd about the way Google will lock a video snippet to an organic result even if the sitemap's been removed, the video has been taken away from the page content - even if the page has been redirected, the snippet lingers on. Google have got to fix that in 2014 because it's so open to abuse.

Take a look at this search result: https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=victoria's+secret+uk

The biggest thing Google need to get their act together is at scale link spam - this site ranked after about a week - take a look at how fast links were acquired to the domain (www.victoriasecreteuk.co.uk).

https://ahrefs.com/site-explorer/overview/prefix/www.victoriasecreteuk.co.uk%252F%25E2%2580%258E

No shame whatsoever! Before the Mafia come and get me for outing one of their spam projects I'll just wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year...

Thanks

Richard
CEO - SEOgadget.com

over 2 years ago

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Paul Gailey

Rich snippet review spam has already seen some clamping down as previously sanctioned aggregator sites lose their merchant status from Google. Native Google Local reviews will become more popular as they receive preferential treatment for Android users. Authorship snippet spam (stock images of fake profiles), despite the recent claimed reduction in the display of authorship per SERP, still exists in spades, especially in visually uncrowded SERPs.

I'd expect to see more G+ profiles and posts to appear in SERPs with more weight to the credible/active profiles whereby but this will differ by geography or at least by maturity of critical mass of G+ relative to the SERP.

over 2 years ago

Heledd Jones

Heledd Jones, Head of Search Marketing at Confused.com

Nice article Graham - re: links, one area I'm predicting Google will clamp down next year is the 'no:follow' area.

This year we saw lots of buzz in the industry around using this attribute more frequently (e.g. PR, advertorials) and of course, as a result, I'm seeing lots of examples of companies 'buying' their way up the rankings, all within the google guidelines of making the links 'no:follow'
i.e. seems to be the new way of buying links.

I'm sure *hopes*, Google will take action.

over 2 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Hi Graham,

Thanks for posting.

IMO based on the last 2 years, there are 3 key drivers for Google's strategy:

1) Protecting revenue - NP is a good example as it's clearly not about privacy but obscuring organic data to make paid data look more essential than ever

2) Maintaining the best possible UX for searchers - this protects its market share which underpins 1).

3) Closing in the walls of its ecosystem - G+ being a key cog here for people and business.

So how does this translate into action?

As the others have alluded to, expect continued crack down on spam to de-clutter organic results and surface the 'best' quality webpages and content. As long as Google provides quality, people will continue to use it over competitors.

I'd expect the content in G+ and local reviews to become increasingly important as @Paul points out. Native Google reviews are surely going to be more influential.

There is also the experimentation with making paid search ads look more like organic results with simple badges + using the Knowledge Graph area for extended ads. The hook for brands is to increase search real estate pixel coverage with paid ads, which given the NP challenge is likely to attract more investment.

Or perhaps i'm just a cynic who believes Google's motivation is more than altruistic:)

cheers and happy christmas everyone
james

Thanks
james

over 2 years ago

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Fergus Clawson

Google will hit link spam hard in 2014. The main offender, anchor text manipulation, hasn't gone away. There are numerous 'big brand' sites still being propped up by link spam. Google will turn up the Penguin dial and will downgrade these sites. I predict we'll see more high profile 'Interflora' causalities in 2014.

Diversification of the link footprint is key. Guest blogging is too obvious and a one trick pony. PR article links are pretty useless and lack power. Wins are to be had with great content and relationships with key influencers. Build up the brand, earn your links and the rest will follow. My top tip is to create content hubs (and hub sites) and flow the link juice into the key money pages.

over 2 years ago

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Kevin

I think SCHEMA especially is going to come on in 2014 with Google announcing many more things which can be marked up. I also think the core thing will still be high quality content within your own domain which is well written and solves the users problem.

over 2 years ago

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