Everybody's been talking about search in 2011, but what were the events that helped to shape the search landscape of the year?
We ran a poll on SEOptimise in order to find out. While the biggest search impact of 2011 might not come as much of a surprise, some other events were notable by their absence.
Out of eight possibilities, one ranked as the clear leader, with twice the votes of its nearest rival at the last count. So, without further ado, let’s look back at the most notable search events of 2011.
The Google Panda Update
Google's Panda algorithm change was all about improving the quality of search results.
This has caused lots of problems for SEOs and webmasters, with many sites suffering from huge drops in rankings and subsequent traffic as a result. There’s also been no real quick fix to this and for some sites it’s been such a long way back that they’ve had to change their whole business model in order to react!
Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) search allows Google users to encrypt their search queries. Google made this the "default experience" for signed-in users on Google.com in October and, as a consequence, stopped passing query data to analytics software including Google Analytics.
Users began to see "(not provided)" appearing in their Google Analytics data, indicating that the search had been encrypted and the keyword data was therefore not available.
Google have stated that overall this will be a single-digit percentage of keywords that is classed as “(not provided)” – however, from an SEO agency perspective, if you’ve set client targets for increases in non-branded search and are no longer accurately able to measure a full picture of where visits are coming from, they will be some difficulties here. As witnesses by the reaction to this change from the search industry!
Social Signals & Integration
With Twitter and Facebook now well established, LinkedIn covering the business angle, and Google+ still emerging on to the social stage, social signals and integration are impacting our search experience.
Both Facebook and Twitter are now widely integrated into websites, giving companies a 'face' and an easy way to deal with customer feedback, both positive and negative.
LinkedIn perhaps has less of an impact on websites' search rankings, although its highly search-visible profiles offer an easy way for professionals to appear in queries relating to their own name or work experience.
But it's Google+ that holds the potential to change search drastically, providing it can gain enough traction to build a dedicated and regular user base.
The +1 button is already appearing on blogs and websites across the web, and on browser toolbars too, putting search rankings directly in the hands of Google's users for the first time.
Siri is unarguably impressive. Responding to natural, conversational questions with relevant search results, the voice-activated search function on Apple's iPhone 4S ignited a media furore when it launched.
Yahoo Site Explorer
Yahoo retired its Site Explorer service in November as part of its partnership with Bing, advising its users to head over to Bing Webmaster Tools instead. Site Explorer actually predated Google Webmaster Tools by about a year, and had become a point of reference for many web marketers.
Yahoo Site Explorer had allowed a glimpse into the performance of competitors' sites, and left a genuine gulf among free online services in those terms.
Google Freshness Algorithm Update
Google's Freshness update affected over a third of search results - roughly 35 percent - and is part of the real-time search trend.
It ensures that search queries relating to time-sensitive events, such as the Olympics, are more likely to yield results about recent or upcoming events than about those held a long time ago.
Between 6 and 10 percent of Google search users were expected to notice a change, with other types of content like news and reviews similarly impacted.
Microsoft-Yahoo Search Alliance
The Microsoft-Yahoo Search Alliance gave Microsoft direct access to some of Yahoo's search technologies as part of a 10-year licensing deal. Ostensibly, the alliance was part of an aim to deliver faster, more relevant results to users of both Yahoo search and Bing, with collaboration in other areas like paid search, too.
However, Google remains dominant, and the combo a distant second. And it seems, unlike with Google, web marketers were able to handle the transition smoothly enough that it had no negative effect on their search performance.
Predictions for 2012
So what might we see in the year ahead? Briefly, here’s what I expect:
Plenty More Privacy/Analytics Headaches
The rollout of SSL search from Google has only just started, with an increase in the number of queries affected widely anticipated. However, if the ICO don’t back down on the cookie directive law, this could only just be the start!
If you can only track users who opt in to allowing cookies this will have an extremely significant impact on how we measure website performance via analytics. So this is definitely the big one to look out for in 2012.
Shifting Facebook Demographics
I expect that this will be the year that teenagers leave Facebook in droves. The kind of growth this platform has seen can’t continue – and young people will be the first out of the door. Not only do they currently have to see their parents’ status updates, their parents can see theirs. No teen wants that.
Marketers are going to have to make a real effort to remain on top of this changing market and make sure they know where the teenagers go.
Unification of SEO and PR… With HR
SEO and PR have gradually become more integrated. Expect this trend to continue in 2012. What could be even more interesting will be larger companies using their employees to aid their marketing.
From Twitter, to Facebook, to YouTube – businesses will increasingly ask their employees to get involved in their online promotion. This could blur the boundaries between professional and social profiles, so firms will need to set out ground rules before using their workforce this way.
Tablets Taking Over
For so long the focus has been on mobile, but companies can’t risk missing the latest boat. Tablets are rapidly becoming the norm; eMarketer is predicting there will be 90 million tablet users by 2014.
This could help unify TV and online marketing. Research agency Sparkler found that 51 percent of all tablet use occurs while the owner is watching TV. It’s a downtime device and so in 2012 businesses need to ensure their marketing strategies take advantage of this.