A bit like peering behind the Wizard of Oz's curtain, it's often worthwhile (and revealing!) to take a look behind the noise and bluster of the headlines discussed after Google's updates.
Taking the longer view also provides a bit of context and a peek at consistent trends pushed by Google's into their algorithm updates over the last year.
In 2013, aside from a crackdown on 'poor quality' content, for me the standout message from Google has been to focus, focus, focus on...content freshness.
So...Content is King? Really? Still?
Perhaps not the most exciting or dynamic area of SEO, a focus on content freshness has the virtue of being practical, (relatively) easy to implement, providing benefit outside of just SEO, and, in my opinion, being powerfully effective.
Longer toothed SEOs might be thinking to themselves: “Surely not the old 'Content is King' mantra again?”, well: yes. That's exactly the point I'm making. But just 'content' is too general. Types of content is the key. And fresh content, while not being King, is certainly at least a Targaryen working to reclaim its throne from an upstart Lannister.
So, to tortuously extend the analogy: like dragons returning from legend across the sea, freshness is back.
Lets look at some evidence.
Hummingbird and Legacy Panda Updates
"We want to help you find the freshest results...We try to promote content that appears to be fresh. This change applies a more granular classifier, leading to more nuanced changes in ranking based on freshness."
As Bob noted at the time: “Google have also included an 'Improvement in a freshness signal', a minor change to their existing freshness signals that allows them to identify the freshest content, and perhaps most importantly, the 'No Freshness Boost for Low Quality Content'. This means that while they are promoting fresh content, they will actively be working to exclude content that they perceive as low quality from their search results.”, emphasis is mine.
A big part of the signal for content quality then - for swathes of generic search terms in particular - is the freshness of that content.
We also noted that Google was introducing a lower index 'tier' for content failing these tests. Given we can today see the influence of supplemental or 'lower tier' indexing having a major impact on sites with poor quality backlink profiles, freshness and content quality are currently crucial weapons in the website owner's battle against devalued content in Google's index.
Allied with Google's Hummingbird update which, while not principally aimed as main index, desktop searched, results, is wholly focussed on an improved ability to intuit content meaning and timely relevancy. In their own words, being “precise and fast”. Content freshness goes to the heart of those concerns.
We see today that when we run content reviews - using some nifty reporting tools we've developed - that there are easy signals to spot and act on showing Google's opinion of our site content.
My advice to SEOs looking to end 2013 strongly would be: look to your content. Use simple analysis to work out the worst pain points - poor converting SERP listings, high bounce pages, slow device load response times, to kick-start always rolling site refresh strategies.