It's been another eventful year in search, mainly thanks to Google, and the role of the SEO has changed, even in this short time. 

We've had Penguin 2.0, the under the radar Hummingbird update, as well as the removal of the last remaining keyword referral data. 

I've been asking folks in the industry about their thoughts on SEO in 2013, and the most significant events over the past 12 months....

What have the most significant developments been for SEO in the last 12 months?

Julia Logan, Irish Wonder

Most people will probably say it's the complete loss of keyword data from Google, but that was coming and we all knew it would eventually get to this.

What seems more striking to me, however, is Google admitting its helplessness in some verticals to an extent where it just introduced handpicked whitelists of what can rank in those verticals.

Dr Pete Meyers, Marketing Scientist at Moz

Not to be unoriginal, but I think [not provided] has to lead the list for me. While good SEOs take a broad perspective, keywords are still a big part of our job, and this one really hurt.

As a tool provider, it's reshaped many of our conversations. That's good and bad, but it was certainly jarring. I think Google's radical push to redefine mobile has changed our world much more than we know.

It's terrified of how mobile consumption could (and has) impact ad revenue, and mobile features are now leading desktop features. It's a big shift in direction that will have profound implications next year.

Kevin Gibbons, UK MD at Blueglass:

The integration of SEO being driven by marketing strategy has been the biggest shift I've seen. I wrote about how agency models are changing earlier in the year and we've seen lots of people edge away from SEO over the last year.

This is not so much because SEO isn't important anymore, (as long as there's organic search is sending traffic/sales it's always going to be valuable), but as the lines become more blurred SEO is now more commonly being viewed, quite rightly, as a single channel within a wider strategy. 

Andrew Girdwood, Media Innovations Director at LBi

There has been very many but the one which feels most important has been the changing numbers among the SEO tribes.  

This isn’t a scientifically researched observation but my perception is that the number of agency and in-house SEOs who embrace the earned model with outreach, engagement, content, editorial pitches now outnumber those who cling to the more ‘traditional’ model of process based link building.

A number of developments are responsible for that swing. I’d suggest it’s the combination of Panda (to identify bad content), Penguin (to punish you for too many links from bad content) combined with Google being more transparent or verbose about action that has caused this change.

Will Critchlow, Founder and CMO at Distilled

I'd call out three things that are significant in different ways:

  • The rapid change to 100% (not provided). Although the writing was on the wall before this year, it was easy to believe that Google would find some way not to take away the last shreds of organic keyword data.

    I don't buy the public reasons given for the change or like the alternatives they talk about. I think this is almost purely an anti-competitive play.

  • Hummingbird has had a negligible impact on actual search marketing strategies (at least for anyone who had been looking to the future before it dropped). It deserves a mention though as we believe it will be ultimately as significant as the changes enabled by the Caffeine update. You can see more of our thoughts on this in this video discussion.
  • Google's ongoing PR offensive and treatment of businesses under penalty has continued through 2013 and has really started reaching the mainstream marketing consciousness. We're seeing fewer requests for the shady stuff. Previously we would see a lot and we would have to talk them out of it, now fewer businesses are keen to go down that route.

Teddie Cowell, Director of SEO, Mediacom:  

Hummingbird was a major overhaul of the underlying algorithms that power Google and an important milestone in the evolution of search. Instead of being based on design concepts that were around over 10 years ago, the new infrastructure is designed to enable Google to evolve and do want they want in the next ten years.

The key components of Hummingbird are its ability to understand information better and return ‘answers’ to questions much more quickly.

It also opens up the possibility for a more natural ‘conversational’ style interaction with Google search, which will be required to break out of the current search box paradigm and enable hands free search experiences on mobile and Google Glass etc.

Matthew Barnes, SEO Executive at Stickyeyes:

There’s been a lot of discussion over the last 12-months about keyword data being made unavailable to the masses, making it more difficult for SEO marketers to define and set the most effective strategy for their clients across unbranded keywords.

This challenge will force agencies to work smarter and more closely with their insights, content, social, paid search and strategic insight teams.

However, the most unappreciated changes are yet to come. Recently many Google users have experienced the paid search results which look almost identical to organic results.

This, combined with various other elements such as knowledge graph, in depth articles and news, is starting to take the attention away from organic search, increasing the competitiveness to grab the all-important click-through.

Richard Baxter, CEO at SEOGadget

Developments in SEO have very obviously been fuelled by changes to the way Google’s working. I think I have to reflect on how my agency has changed in the past 12 months to answer this question.

We started the year, pretty much like any other agency – building links with mostly articles and infographics, cranking out audit work, keyword research, all the usual things you’d expect, with a bit of bespoke consulting for more difficult projects with a sprinkling of USP for good measure.

Then, this thing happened – we decided we wanted to enjoy the work a little more beyond simply 'building quality links for rankings'. At the same time, and somewhat fortuitously, Google were starting to really grind away at low quality link profiles, penalising sites left right and centre.

I think our evolution is clearly tracking in response to how SEO has been pushed to develop in the last 12 months. We have such a general content marketing, revenue led focus to the work we do and that’s definitely because of Google.

We’re not an industry of link builders anymore. We’re an industry of aspiring marketers, longing to find that sweet spot between attracting hundreds of links to our clients sites while converting the traffic generated to our new assets into sales.

It sounds an awful lot like advertising and I think that we’re looking at the big ad agency guys in some detail for inspiration on our company structure, creative capabilities and marketing channels.

Jimmy McCann, Head of SEO at Search Laboratory:

The improved transparency and communication on Google’s Webmaster Tools. Over the last 12 months the communication has really opened up on here, which is good but could still be better. It’s definitely a start though.

Graham Charlton

Published 16 December, 2013 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is editor in chief at SaleCycle, and former editor at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin.

2566 more posts from this author

You might be interested in

Comments (12)

Save or Cancel

Fergus Clawson

I agree with Dr Pete Meyers - The Not Provided issue has forced SEOs to change the way they measure and interpret SEO - Dr Pete Meyers was one on the main contributors in a recent blog post - It’s All Going “Not Provided” – 9 Industry Experts Share Their Thoughts - Well worth a read -

over 4 years ago


Chad Hyett

"We’re not an industry of link builders anymore. We’re an industry of aspiring marketers." Enough said, yep.

over 4 years ago


Depesh Mandalia, CEO & Founder at SM Commerce

All points are valid and important but for me it has to sit with Hummingbird if we're talking about the most significant development *in* 2013, not necessarily that affects 2013.

I think we'll start to see the wider impact of Hummingbird in 2014 leading into the next 2-3 years as mobile device usage patterns evolve (ie voice searching via your Smart TV, Smart watch, other Smart-wear or Internet enabled car)... and more reliance on structured data which can be fed back either via audio or visual...

over 4 years ago

Chris Fossenier

Chris Fossenier, Founder / CEO at Rocket Inbound Marketing

It is interesting to me that when we are talking SEO it is always about Google and what they are doing.

As each month passes, Google seems to be testing the envelope of what they can get away with in the name of "a better user experience".

Of course we all have to focus on Google when helping out clients, but I cannot help but hope for an underdog search engine to figure out the "wechat" answer to search. An important point to make is that this new underdog can "dodge" the Google buy-out unlike Aardvark!

I was amazed at the passive "what are you going to do" response to Google's move to increase the number of keywords not disclosed while at the same time allowing anyone to see those very same "secret keywords" in their Adwords campaigns.

Let's see what 2014 brings!

over 4 years ago



All the points raised seem relevant. In particular, I agree with Richard Baxter: SEO is marcoms channel as well as a route to direct conversion. If you understand your clients' brand position then you can implement SEO tactically to help them achieve their communications objectives and it's a lot more fun than cranking out low quality links.

over 4 years ago


Louis Rix

With the release of hummingbird i really believe Google is gearing up it's search to return answers to longer "speech" based queries.

I can really see "Search by Voice" taking off over the next year or so. As a site it's imperative (in my mind) to have in-depth research to any query a person could ask about your product and/or service.

Does anyone know where we can find any data on the amount of people using "search by voice"? I'd be interested to see if this is taking off yet.

over 4 years ago


Dale Cooper

Richard Baxters commentary is spot on. It's always been about the end user (or the customer). Traditional SEO has evaluated the behaviour of the end user predominantly through the prism of keywords and (sometimes pseudo) algorithmic analysis. While I saw value in it, for me it was a small part of the puzzle.

Marketing/Advertising can be informed by keywords, content consumption and data picked up from social media, but at the end of the day you need to the ability to translate that and really understand what motivates, scares, entices and titillates the human being at the other end of tat smart phone tablet or laptop. Find it in data, ask people, ask client facing people who work in the industry find it on social - doesn't matter where you find it.

The big guns in the Ad industry (especially direct marketing) have known this for a long time. I think the removal of keywords, while reducing the available dataset is in fact a good thing. It forces marketers and agencies to do some real analysis and develop true insight.

over 4 years ago


Rubén Martínez

It is ironical that we all blog less just when outreach and editorial marketing are becoming so important. Blogging did not manage to find a viable business model when Twitter made it less relevant. Remember Google discontinuing Google Reader in March this year?
Not a week goes by these days without me deleting one or two feeds for lack of activity from my extensive list of blogs. On the other hand, this is probably good: only the persevering authors and the best content will cut through.

over 4 years ago


Michael Bian

Thank you this is the most useful article I've ever read.

over 4 years ago


Michael Gough

This year we've come to see SEO and brand-building as essentially the same thing:

As a branding agency it's an exciting time for us, and we're looking forward to how Google (new & improved!) will help to promote great work.

over 4 years ago


Gail M

Google's continual updates - not only to the search engine results but its own tools keeping us SEO types on our toes in 2013 was a challenge.

Agree not provided keywords was the biggest challenge last year followed closely by generating enough well written and useful content about each client to interest/engage users online.

For 2014 I can't help feel Google will manually intervene more in the organic results as it continues its push to integrate adverts and other universal results into the first page leading us all into more content and more social platforms.

over 4 years ago


John Wood

I agree with the loss of keyword data cited by several contributors at the beginning, but, like Jimmy, have discovered Google's Webmaster Tools as a (poor) replacement.

Will we see its functionality improve in 2014?

over 4 years ago

Save or Cancel

Enjoying this article?

Get more just like this, delivered to your inbox.

Keep up to date with the latest analysis, inspiration and learning from the Econsultancy blog with our free Digital Pulse newsletter. You will receive a hand-picked digest of the latest and greatest articles, as well as snippets of new market data, best practice guides and trends research.