Search agencies are trying to get their heads around recent changes to the Google algorithm and the impact of the rise of encrypted search on SEO.
The search giant announced its latest Panda update took place on January 17, but SEO specialists believe something more fundamental has changed.
Google said its update had an impact on queries in English of 1.3%, but it is suspected a much larger, unannounced change has been made.
Jason Woodford, chief executive of Brighton-based Sitevisibility, which has a number of large travel clients, said it seemed smaller brands are being disproportionately affected.
He fears this is part of a general move by Google to favour large brands, rendering the web a much more difficult place for start-ups to break into.
“For the first time following all of Google’s updates some of our customers were impacted.
“The online industry is all about innovation. If Google is starting to favour large brands it’s going to make it so much more difficult for smaller companies to break through online.
“We are going through the link profiles of all our customers to see which keywords have dropped, although some have risen, to see if there is some kind of pattern.
“We were worried as an SEO agency that some of our tactics were wrong, but as some results have risen it implies it was not that. I have never known it so hair-raising.”
Woodford said Google algorithm changes have changed the face of SEO, making content production and marketing much more part of the discipline rather than mechanical tweaks.
This has forced SEO agencies to adapt, although the greater emphasis on content has forced up costs.
“For us it’s good in that a lot of that machine SEO does not work and there are going to be a lot of smaller SEO agencies not being able to deliver results.”
Woodford said the upgrading of content means that firms which do not deliver it, whether in-house of via a third party, are going to lose out and as search results become more brand-heavy and generic small players will need to find niches.
This is where social can play a part, said Woodford, providing an alternative route to market to Google. He believes the Facebook tie-up with search engine Bing is going to be a “massive opportunity”.
“There is quite a lot of talk about people shifting their SEO strategies onto Bing,” he said.
Google’s algorithm changes are happening hand in hand with the rise of encrypted search which GuestCentric says now means up to 40% of traffic comes without any analytics.
It claims this is forcing companies to use paid for advertising on the search engine in order to gain access to data that Google once provided for free.
Encrypted search is now being rolled out internationally following last October’s launch on the .com site, with experts saying it now means up to 20% of keywords generate ‘not provided’ data results in Google Analytics despite Google saying the change would only impact in the single digit percentages.
The move to a more private form of searching for web users came ahead of Google launching Search Plus Your World, heralding the advent of more personalised search results.
GuestCentric said this trend is being heightened by the implementation of encryption to the Google Chrome browser address bar (omnibox), following both Firefox and Mobile Safari.
In a blog post on its site GuestCentric said: “One obviously can’t be sure about the strategy behind Google’s adherence to search encryption. But, when its actions are seemingly inconsistent with the reasoning presented, one cannot help but question Google’s motivation.
“As encrypted search increases, one will increasingly be required to resort to pay for keywords in order to test the market and somehow establish keyword conversion rates for their website.
“This will translate into more costs, and more time dedicated to website tuning, as it makes SEO a lot more dependent on trial and error. If the keyword you run an AdWord campaign for turns out to be more irrelevant than expected, then you’ll have to try again until you succeed.”