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Google’s 13th Birthday: 12 Top Stories From the Past 12 Months

Danny Goodwin
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Google officially became a teenager today. The search engine that became synonymous with search and the “don’t be evil” motto has now been part of the Internet experience for 13 years.

What can we expect from Google this year? Will it we see a series of ups and downs from the company as it continues to mature and grow. Will outside pressures, such as antitrust scrutiny from governments, force Google to start acting its age, or will Google continue to think the world revolves around itself and continue to do whatever it wants?

To predict the future, we must revisit the recent past. We’ve already seen Google behaving in typical teenage behavior since it turned 12 last September.

Google faced several lows – luring Bing into public fights, revealing their Facebook envy, releasing baffling algorithmic improvements, facing public humiliation in the form of mainstream news stories calling out the quality of Google’s results, and relinquishing $500 million for accepting advertising from online Canadian pharmacies, but also had several highs – Google bought several shiny new companies (retail therapy?), Larry Page returned to his role as CEO and cleaned house, Google saw record revenues, Google introduced a suite of Instant products, and Android continued to grow.

Here are 12 of the biggest stories the shaped Google in the past 12 months (in no particular order).

1. CEO Larry Page

In a shocking move, Eric Schmidt announced in January he was stepping down as CEO, and Larry Page would return for his second tour of duty as CEO. Supposedly, “adult supervision” was no longer needed.

Page wasted no time, tying bonuses to Google’s social success, reorganizing management, and eliminating “losers” from its projects.

2. Google+ Project, +1 Button & Google Redesigns

Perhaps seeking a new identity – OK, Google looked at the valuable data Facebook had and said, “me too!” Google’s “want, have, take” philosophy became apparent as it created its own Facebook-like social network – sorry, identity service.

Google gave itself a new look to accompany the launch of Google+. This came a few months after of Google’s +1 button launched, Google’s answer to Facebook’s Like button.

Not content with its appearance last year, Google made numerous tweaks to its look – organic results saw a series of tests, sitelinks expand, while AdWords also saw its share of tests and changes.

3. Antitrust

Google is no stranger to antitrust scrutiny, but this year Google’s search dominance has been the subject of investigations in the European Union. In the U.S., the FTC is investigating Google, thanks in part to claims by Microsoft.

Most recently, Google’s Executive Chairman Schmidt answered questions before a U.S. Senate subcommittee on Google’s growing power. Consider this Google’s trip to the principal’s office. Expect to hear much more on antitrust this year.

4. Google Panda Update

What Google has called their “high-quality” sites algorithm, the Panda update rolled out in February, targeting low quality sites with little original content. This update, now seven months and several iterations later, still had many webmasters around the world baffled. Google search is Google’s game, and it’s apparent they’ll continue to change the rules when they want.

Traffic diversification, building a community, optimizing website usability, and authoring original, engaging, quality content are among the best survival tips. Also, honestly ask yourself: is your baby ugly?

5. Paid Links, Spam, Google & Mainstream Media

Want Google to change something? Apparently the trick is to get a story in The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal to embarrass Google to action (though making Google look bad can be dangerous).

Stories about the linking practices of JCPenney and Overstock.com got a lot of attention. While Overstock.com was hurt, JCPenney really didn’t suffer.

And just recently, spam and abuse issues in Google Places got Google moving – a little. Seems Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum was paying attention, as he’s the most recent to publicly scold Google.

6. Bing "Sting"

Google launched an elaborate “sting” operation and discovered that, in 7 to 9 percent of cases on junk searches, Bing returned results that Google had manipulated. Why? Because Bing used clickstream toolbar data as a user signal for their algorithm. The horror!

Google shouted from the rooftops that Bing was copying them, aided by a self-described search “rock star” and shocked an entire industry with their immature, juvenile behavior in the days the followed. Here’s my response to what I termed “hiybbprqagate”.

This whining strategy also backfired on Google when Google condemned the patent strategies of Microsoft, and others, in August.

7. Google Surrenders $500 Million

Children are going to mess up, and Google sure stepped in it on this one. Google surrendered $500 million made in ad sales from online Canadian pharmacies, and a U.S. attorney said Page “knew what was going on.”

8. Record Revenue

And just as kids will disappoint, they will also make you quite proud. Case in point: Google’s impressive Q1 record revenue of $8.58 billion. Know what was equally impressive? Another record in Q2: $9.03 billion in revenue.

In case you’re wondering, this is how Google makes its billions

9. Instant Everything

Google continued to be obsessed with speed and “I want it now!” As such, they continued to expand on their Google Instant offerings rolled out last September, adding Instant Previews, Pages, mobile, video previews, Places, and ad previews – and also added autocomplete “predictions”.

10. Google Offers

After failing to buy Groupon, Google decided it could do its own daily deals site, but way cooler. A few months later, Google Offers launched in Portland, and has now expanded and has been performing well this month after a slow start.

11. Acquisitions

Undoubtedly, Google’s pending purchase of Motorola (for 12 times more than it paid for YouTube) lead the way for Google. But Google also scooped up several companies to bolster Google Offers and Google Wallet (DailyDeal, Zave Networks, and The Dealmap). Other noteworthy buys include Zagat and BeatThatQuote.com (which Google was forced to penalize for using doorway pages). Scroll to the bottom of this post for a list of Google’s other 2011 acquisitions.

12. Android’s Growth

The calendar year began with CEO Eric Schmidt saying all of Google’s strategic initiatives were “all about mobile,” and one of those was to make more affordable Android-based smartphones available worldwide.

As of July, Android now commands 41.8 percent of the U.S. smartphone market share, according to comScore; Android also recently passed iOS in Europe, and now has a 22.3 percent share of smartphone users, trailing Symbian’s 37.8 percent share, comScore reported. Mobile ad impressions grew 48 percent month-over-month in August on Android, according to Millennial Media.

Meanwhile, the fight over Android’s technology between Oracle and Google continues, with Oracle now seeking $1.16 billion in damages. A court date is set for October 31.

Any other Google stories we didn’t mention? Let us know in the comments.


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