Following on from our piece on this year's PPC changes we thought it would be a good idea to do the same for SEO, after-all Google's algorithm changes over 600 times a year so can be difficult to keep track of.
By far the biggest update from Google this year was Hummingbird, named this because it's aim was to be fast and precise.
Hummingbird is essentially a change to a new search algorithm, as appose to Panda and Penguin which were element used by the previous algorithm. This isn't to say any previous updates such as these are still not in use, they new algorithm still uses these too (along with another 200+ ranking elements).
One of the big elements of the new algorithm is Google's understanding of 'conversation search', rather than picking up keyword from a sentence you search for and matching results Google is trying to understand the sentence and delivery results based on its understanding. For example if you searched for 'Where to buy a new laptop close to home' the old algorithm would like serve you the strongest results based on keywords like 'new laptop' or 'where to buy a new laptop' but now it is attempting to put the elements of the sentence together so that it will understand 'close to home' means you likely want a physical store and using it's knowledge of your location serve you local computer stores. It's very hard to understand if Google has achieved this aim but did give some example upon launch which showed certain improvements.
Although this has been one of the biggest Google updates in a long time it's impact has been fairly low key, there hasn't been the usual outcry from SEO's and business owners about it's effect and Google themselves say this shouldn't change the way SEO should work, it just gives them a better understand of what the user wants.
I won't go into a lot of detail on this here because we covered the subject in a previous post but if you are an Analytics user you will almost certainly have noticed that organic keyword data from Google has stopped coming through, this is because all searches in Google are now encrypted. (If you didn't already know about this I recommend you click here to read more).
Updates for Panda and Penguin this year have been plenty and it is clear that Google fight against low quality sites and links will only ever get stronger. The grey or even black hat tactics of cheap SEO companies are almost entirely a thing of the past, as 'gaming' Google becomes evermore complex it would seem clear to most that providing quality content both on and off site is the only way to make continues strides forward in SEO.
2013 has seen a huge rise in mobile search and web browsing and 2014 is predicated to be the same. If you haven't already it really is time to start thinking about how you site looks and reacts to mobile. Mobile site speed could well be a good size ranking factor in 2014 (as desktop sitespeed is now).
The ties between social media and SEO are only going to get stronger, as they did this year. Previously social media had always been 'an optional channel' for a lot of small and medium sized businesses but the effects of not taking that option could come back to bite you in 2014. With the growth of more niche social networks such as Instagram, Vine and Pintrest there really is a social network for everyone now, it's just a case of picking which one will best connect with your customers.
While on the topic of social Google+ has to be mentioned, as Google pushes it's social media platform it's influence on search results is only getting strong. People who tie their Google+ profile (authorship markup) in with their on (and off) site content are already seeing the benefits of this so if you haven't already, now is the time to take Google+ seriously.