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August 2nd, 2012

by Casey Szulc

July brought some interesting changes to the SEO world – as well as some heartburn to the numerous recipients of the webmaster tools link warnings. Here’s a quick rundown of the most notable industry updates from the past month:

FIREFOX LAUNCHES VERSION 14; ENCRYPTS GOOGLE SEARCHES

OFFICIAL POST, July 17th: https://blog.mozilla.org/blog/2012/07/17/new-security-and-developer-features-now-in-firefox/

DISCUSSION, July 17th: http://searchengineland.com/firefox-14-now-encrypts-google-searches-but-search-terms-still-will-leak-out-127831

On July 17th, Firefox released version 14 of their web browser, which encrypts all Google searches by default.

Because search terms have the potential to reveal sensitive information, a change was made to keep searches private.  Network administrators are now unable to see what keywords you are searching in Google when using public or shared WiFi networks.

WHY IT MATTERS: This is the second major change to encrypt users’ searches.  In October 2011, Google announced that it would start encrypting searches for users logged in to any Google platform.  This means if a user is logged in to Gmail, Google+, YouTube or any other Google platform while searching, Google will perform the search on a secure socket layer (SSL) and will not pass the search term referrer data to Analytics.

The new change by Firefox to encrypt searches will eliminate keyword data for roughly 25% of all searches, since Firefox controls this portion of the desktop browser usage share.

Website data analysts will be able to see the search term identified as “organic” and coming from Google, but the term will be displayed in Google Analytics as “(not provided)” and in SiteCatalyst as “Keyword Unavailable.”

Search terms used to visit your site through pay-per-click (PPC) ads will still be available.

GOOGLE ROLLS OUT PANDA DATA REFRESH 3.9; STILL NO PENGUIN 1.2

OFFICIAL POST, July 24th: https://twitter.com/google/status/227901862706298880

DISCUSSION, July 24th: http://searchengineland.com/google-panda-update-3-9-128529

On July 24th, Google rolled out a data refresh of Panda, affecting roughly 1% of search results.

There were two refreshes of Panda in June, and these rolling monthly updates are expected to continue on a regular basis.

Penguin, however, was introduced on April 24th and has only had one data refresh, which occurred on May 26th.

WHY IT MATTERS: In each data refresh, Google makes fine tunings to the filters, attempts to curb any false positives, and catches sites that were not caught in previous data refreshes.

In the absence of a new Penguin update, webmasters will have to wait longer to see if changes made to their website allowed them to recover.

Even if Penguin has not impacted your site, it would still be wise to diversify your links and take down as many low-quality links as possible.  It is very likely that the next iteration of Penguin will be stricter and more advanced in its ability to detect webspam.  Just because a site was not impacted by the first iteration does not mean that the site will automatically survive the data refreshes and updates.

The abundance of Panda refreshes (there have been 3 since June 1st) show Google’s commitment to policing site content and confidence in being able to distinguish between low-quality and high-quality content.  The frequency of these updates give webmasters checkpoints to determine if their content continues to pass Panda’s filter quality standards.

NEW WEBMASTER TOOLS LINK WARNINGS EXPLAINED

OFFICIAL GOOGLE POST, July 27th: http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.in/2012/07/new-notifications-about-inbound-links.html

MATT CUTTS EXPLANATION, July 27th: https://plus.google.com/109412257237874861202/posts/gik49G9c5LU

DISCUSSION, July 30th: http://searchengineland.com/google-explains-new-link-warnings-says-dont-panic-but-dont-ignore-128888

Google’s latest link warnings sent through Webmaster Tools are nothing to panic about, but should not be ignored.

There were a number of confusing follow-up explanations and clarifications from Google that have only muddled the interpretation of these updated link warnings.

There is an important distinction between these warnings that needs to be made clear:

Photo via SearchEngineLand.com

Warnings: Link messages containing the yellow “warning” symbol are link warnings that webmasters will need to act upon.  Publishers should consider diversifying links and removing any low-quality links that are pointed to the site (widgetbait, paid links, blog spam, guestbook spam, excessive article directory submissions, excessive link exchanges and other types of linkspam).

Advisories: Link messages that do not contain the yellow “warning” symbol are intended to be link advisories that will not necessarily need action.  The reason for the warning could be that low quality, distrusted links are pointing to your site.

WHY IT MATTERS: Slingshot SEO will continue to check for Webmaster Tools link warnings, crawl errors and other warnings for less critical issues to determine what action, if any, should be taken.

It is important to understand the distinction between these warnings to assess the severity of the issue.

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