The search engines have started 2014 with a bang and there has been quite a lot going on in the world of search this month.

Big Brand recoveries and falls

At the start of the month we found out that Rap Genius is again ranking for its brand name. It would appear that Google let them off their penalty after 10 days and an awful lot of link removing. This is similar to the other well know case of Interflora who took 11 days to come back. Big brands have a few things going for them when it comes to removing penalties, firstly they can employ a lot of man power to remove the bad links but secondly, and perhaps more importantly, most users of Google on not being able to find the brand they are looking for would not think that a big brand has had a penalty but that Google is broken; something Google doesn’t want people thinking!

However is not always the case JC Penny and Google own Chrome website took over 90 days to return after a links penalty.

As one site recovers another seems to have been hit. On the 20th of January Expedia was seen to lose a large chunk of it’s visibility in Google. This followed a blog post that outed Expeidia for buying article links to help it rank well. Neither Google or Expedia have commented on this and they have yet to gain their visibility back.

Link network takedowns

Googles spam team have also been occupying themselves with taking down another link network Buzzea. Based in France they have two main networks, one French and the other German. So far only the French site has been effected but Google have warned that the German one is to soon follow. Sites that had links on these sites should expect to receive un-natural links warnings and a drop in rankings.

Thin Content Warning

Google have issued a warning to affiliate sites that produce thin content, sites that only copy the text from the main sellers site and add little to no value of their own. These sites need to be careful about ensuring that they obey Googles guidelines or potentially face a penalty.

The guidelines say, “If your site syndicates content that’s available elsewhere, a good question to ask is: “Does this site provide significant added benefits that would make a user want to visit this site in search results instead of the original source of the content?” If the answer is “No,” the site may frustrate searchers and violate our quality guidelines.”

At the moment this is aimed at the adult video market but the problem goes much further than that, including retailers and job posting sites.

Search Filter Changes

Not all of the actions by Google have been aimed at SEO this month. You might have noticed that they have changed how their search filters work and show up depending on your search query. I not quite sure why but Google seem to like it!

Keyword Rich TLD

In amongst all of the Google announcement Bing also made an interesting one this month. Duane Forrester, Senior Product Manager at Bing, said that having a keyword rich domain name to help out rank your competitors is no longer a benefit. He said that it was true 10 years ago but now it makes little difference to their search algorithms.

Duck Duck Go

Finally for those that don’t like either Bing or Google due to the less-then-lax approach to user privacy and all the revelations about the security services activities it seems that you are not alone. Duck Duck Go, a search engine that does not collect users’ personal data, saw its busiest day ever this month with more than 4 million search queries in a day.

Cutts Watch

As well as Google and Cutts team being busy he has also taken some time out to do a few videos. He confirmed that article directories and low quality guest blogging is a big no no, both are of no surprise at all. More interestingly he said that both Twitter and Facebook social signals are not used as part of the ranking algorithm. However he said that Google does crawl these signals and while they are not used at the moment they would like to in the future.

Finally Cutts confirmed that they don’t have separate algorithms for different ranking positions, for example positions 3 and 4 are not reserved for fresh content.

Well that’s all for this month, there has been quite a lot going on and while 2013 was a busy year in the world of search if this month is anything to go by 2014 will be just as busy!