If any of you monitor your rankings and noticed them decline just recently, it may well be due to some recent updates that Google has made to their search algorithm. In reality Google fine tune their algorithm continually (reportedly over 500 changes over the last year), but they often seem to roll out major changes in May.
This May, as well as some long overdue interface changes (filtering options in the left column of the search results), they seem to have biased their algorithm yet further towards authority instead of relevance, i.e. they are rewarding more connected pages over more specialised pages. This is continuing a gradual move that has been going on over a period of years towards favouring well established sites and in particular established brands. This is a very fine line for Google to tread; if they go too far the internet will just end up like the high street – the bigger the budget the more presence you will get.
The reason for these changes is that Google are trying to respond more to social media: your site being mentioned and linked in Facebook, Twitter, blogs etc., being a good indicator that your are an authoritative site. Personally, although from an SEO point of view I see such sites as powerful SEO tools, from a user point of view I am deeply suspicious of them. Facebook DOES command a huge audience and for some people has effectively become their ‘internet world’ – but a lot of social media is very overrated in my opinion: non-inclusive of both companies and website users. In fact I feel social media is readily manipulable for companies with a large budget (cash and/or time), and some social media tools are isolated pockets of introspective groups whose opinions in my view can be well overrated (need I say the word Twitter?).
Aside from the threat to the egalitarianism of the web what does this mean to small businesses looking to improve their website rankings? It means you need to work harder at SEO. Relevance is still important to establish on behalf of your audience, but – more so than ever before – a careful plan on how and where you approach your potential audience and engage with them is more important than ever.