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The Year in Search & Social Marketing: Highs & Lows of 2012

Lisa Raehsler
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winners-losers-sign

It’s time to take a trip down memory lane to look at the winning and losing moments in online and search marketing in 2012. Everyone loves the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, so here are a few memorable highlights from search, social, and online tech.

Google – SEO

Losers

Technically algorithmic updates are ultimately a winning proposition, but when SEO professionals experience several updates in short order, they can feel a bit like a slow kid playing dodgeball. A trilogy of rapid-fire algorithmic updates included Penguin, Panda, and Exact Match Domain updates, plus more than 65 other Google updates from August and September 2012. Heads up!

Winners

Google this year ramped up unnatural link warnings to webmasters, resulting in a lot of freaked out SEOs. With no means to correct the situation, many felt Google was unfairly penalizing websites in the search results if they had questionable links aiming at them (some bought by less ethical SEO providers with the goal of gaming Google’s algorithm, some not).

This is why SEO professionals greeted Google's Distinguished Enginner Matt Cutts with cheers as he announced the release of the Disavow Links tool, which allows webmasters to ask Google not to take certain links into account when assessing your site. Likewise, this capability was released (first) by Bing, though Bing’s disavow tool didn’t get nearly as much attention.

Google AdWords

Winners

Dozens of new features were released for AdWords in 2012, with most of them looked upon favorably.

One of the most impactful releases, in terms of creating opportunities for advertisers, was the Analytics integration with Google remarketing. Beginning in the middle of 2012, retargeting lists could be created in Google Analytics with precise granularity, not only based on visits, but also based on any combination of segments that could represent a user’s behavior on the site. The GA remarketing lists are then assigned to and accessible from your AdWords accounts. In addition, similar targeting improvements in the AdWords interface that allow advertisers to define lists based on URLs instead of creating new codes, are really advanced level features that move the dial on any PPC account.

remarketing-lists-definition

Losers

Ad rotation settings in AdWords allow advertisers to optimize and test ads using ‘optimize for clicks’, ‘optimize for conversions’, or ‘rotate evenly’. In April, some PPC managers were outraged when Google announced that using the ‘rotate evenly’ setting indefinitely can inhibit performance and serve poor quality ads. Instead of rotating the ads indefinitely, the setting would automatically default to a period of 30 days, then ‘optimize to show the ads expected to generate the most clicks’. This gave Google, rather than the advertiser, more control.

With all of the strong feedback coming from the PPC community, Google extended the rotation period to 90 days and offered an opt-out. Finally, Google just completely caved and gave advertisers the ‘rotate indefinity’ setting back, so freedom was restored and all was good in PPC land.

adwords-ad-rotation-options

R.I.P. Google TV ads. In September, Google TV ads were discontinued and quietly slipped away, perhaps putting an end to the lingering question: “Will Google someday dominate traditional media?” There’s always next year.

And just in case you didn’t Knol, this service was closed down in April. Once or twice called a “Wikipedia killer” Knol competed with Wikipedia, but offered a distinct difference in that Knol articles featured personal expertise by emphasizing authorship more similar to Squidoo and HubPages. Since Knol pages included personal opinions of the author, criticism arose over whether Google owned / hosted products like this may get unfairly favored in the SERPs.

Yahoo

Losers

Yahoo had issues with management turnover (remember Scott Thompson’s resume fiasco?) and the company cut 2,000 jobs, about 14 percent of its workforce. This was all part of an aggressive effort to restructure the company and grow advertising revenues through targeting mobile and social opportunities.

Winners

Just when Yahoo kicked itself to the curb, it experienced an emotional rebound by hiring ex-Googler Marissa Mayer as Yahoo’s new CEO, who brought optimism and excitement for a potential Yahoo fairly-tale comeback.

Interestingly, much of the new news centered around Mayer’s pregnancy and birth of baby boy shortly after starting the job. She continued to work with virtually no maternity leave, which stoked a debate about whether such an example would help or hurt feminism and women in the workplace.

In addition, Mayer made it all look easy and was quoted as saying “The baby’s been easy.” Thereby creating controversy. At least the conversation distracted the tech community away from Yahoo product and technology innovation, which have been slow to emerge from her reign.

Bing

Winners

Bing’s fancy redesign featured three panes: organic search results, paid ads, and social results. Bing was especially proud of their ability to integrate social activity (Facebook) into the SERPs, an important feature they point out that Google has not been able to achieve.

bing-redesign-drake-hotel-chicago

Meanwhile, Bing’s search share increased throughout in 2012, with a steady accumulation of market share, growing from 15.2 percent in January to 16.3 percent by December.

Losers

Was it shoppers or Bing who got Scroogled? In response to the arrival of Google Shopping, Microsoft unveiled an anti-Google campaign telling holiday shoppers they were being “Scroogled" because Google features all paid ads in its shopping results. It’s true that the product listings are paid search ads by advertisers, but Microsoft contends this discriminates against other companies who do not pay to be listed, misleading consumers.

This multimedia marketing campaign run by Microsoft includes TV spots, print ads, and a new website, Scroogled.com.

The campaign doesn't mention that Microsoft favors merchants with "higher visibility" on Bing Shopping by paying a third-party site, Shopping.com. Let’s just say plenty of the people are getting scroogled.

scroogled

Facebook

Winners

While initially confusing, everyone has settled into the new Timeline Facebook brand pages rolled out early in the year. This SEW post outlined the main benefits, including the ability to brand pages with a unique cover photo, pinned posts at the top of the page to highlight quality content, and private messaging between pages and fans.

Losers

facebook-ipoFacebook’s IPO in May was described as one of the worst in the last 10 years. The highly anticipated IPO was impacted by technical glitches that delayed trading and investors lost money as a result. The stock has lost more than a quarter of its value in the following weeks.

Facebook reported $1.26 billion in revenue for Q3 2012 in their second earnings call as a public company. Investors seemed pleased despite Facebook’s $59 million loss, compared to a $227 million profit for the same quarter in 2011, before they became a public company. Immediately after the announcement, Facebook stock rose 8 percent in after-hours trading, bringing hope to Facebook fan boys.

F-commerce a flop? JCPenney, Gap and Nordstrom have all closed down their Facebook storefronts after trying to gain ecommerce revenues through he social network. Senior marketers reported they were pulling budget from Facebook in to redirect funds into their own ecommerce storefronts. Is this just a downswing or does this represent the beginning of an exodus from Facebook as a direct selling platform?

Summary

2012 brought search engine and social marketers challenges, joy, and plenty to look forward to in 2013. They were more memorable moments than can be covered here (including some great YouTube stories).

Are there any additional memorable moments you want to talk about in the comments?


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