2012: The Search Year In Review

It may be a bit premature to write about 2012 in the past tense. Three weeks in the world of search engine marketing is enough time to see Google implode and Duck Duck Go take a market share lead. But I’m not scared. I’m confident that we can safely close the books on 2012 and look ahead to 2013. Confident enough, at least, to roll the dice here and recount what I believe were this year’s 10 most important developments in search.

0.     Google’s Keyword (Not Provided) – let’s number this “0” rather than “1” because keyword (not provided) was actually introduced in October 2011. I lead with this because its impact wasn’t completely felt by the SEO world until 2012.

When Google first announced it would begin restricting the flow of organic search keyword referrals, Matt Cutts indicated the change would effect less than 10% of all queries. Now, depending on whom you listen to, that number ranges from 23% to 40%.

Requisite Reading:Dark Google: One Year Since Search Terms Went ‘Not Provided,’”Search Engine Land

1.     Google’s Panda & Penguin Algorithm Updates – Google continues to evolve its search algorithm, and in 2012 the “Panda” and “Penguin” updates were hot topics in SEO. A quick refresher: Panda was introduced to more efficiently identify, and downrank, thin websites with poor user experiences. Penguin is a complementary algorithm update aimed at detecting black-hat SEO techniques, the biggest of which to date seems to be spammy and/or paid backlinks.

Requisite Reading:Google Algorithm Change History,” SEOmoz

2.     Negative SEO – through its focus on penalizing spammy backlink profiles, the Penguin update caused many SEOs to grow concerned over the possibility of “Negative SEO.” Negative SEO is the act of intentionally building spammy backlink profiles that point to competitor websites in the hopes of causing a downranking effect. There was some debate on whether this was possible at scale, and therefore a legitimate concern, but it led to both Bing (first) and Google (later) introducing “Disavow Links” tools in their respective webmaster tool kits.

Requisite Reading:A New Tool To Disavow Links,” Google;How To Use Disavow Links,” Bing; “Two Weeks In, Google Talks Penguin Update, Ways To Recover & Negative SEO,” Search Engine Land;Negative SEO: Myths, Realities, and Precautions,” SEOmoz

3.     Pinterest – yawn.

Requisite Reading:Why I’ve Resisted Pinterest,” MediaPost

4.     Web Analytics Closures/Consolidations – 2012 saw the end of Google’s Urchin Analytics and Yahoo Web Analytics, continuing an industry trend that began a few years ago. It seems only a handful of “web” analytics vendors remain today: Google, Webtrends, Adobe, IBM. Meanwhile, data analytics have never been more important to digital marketers.

This trend may have more to do with the types of data now being requested of analytics vendors than it is a signal of declining interest in traditional “Web” analytics. Numerous niche players have thrived in this environment, including two of my favorites: KISSMetrics and MixPanel. I suspect this is merely the tip of the iceberg relative to what’s to come. Marketers will embrace the idea of multiplicity in analytics data sources in order to glean insight from the surrounding “big data,” and in pursuit of whole customer intelligence.

Requisite Reading:A Big Data Imperative: Driving Big Action,” Occam’s Razor; “Whole Customer Intelligence Requires Whole Customer Analytics,” MediaPost

5.     Facebook’s Looming Search Engine – Facebook’s (busted) IPO captured a majority of the company’s headlines in 2012, but it was Mark Zuckerberg’s acknowledgement that Facebook will eventually build its own search engine that caught the attention of search marketers. The promise of searcher intent coupled with social context has many of us salivating.

Requisite Reading:Zuckerberg on Building A Search Engine,” TechCrunch

6.     Responsive Web Design As SEO Best Practice – Deciding how to best fulfill the needs of the mobile Web user has been a tricky path for many brands to navigate. At SMX Advanced, Google went on record as indicating that it prefers responsive Web design for mobile site experiences. Google believes that method is best for the user experience, crawl-ability and SEO.

Requisite Reading:How To Dial Up Mobile SEO,” Forbes

7.     Mobile Search Boom – Apparently there are a lot of people with smartphones and tablet devices. Those same people also apparently do a lot of searching while on the go. According to HubSpot, 7.96% of all U.S.-based Web traffic originates from a mobile device, and mobile accounts for one half of all local searches performed! The trend here isn’t necessarily about mobile search, per se, but rather the mobility of the modern Web consumer. Expect to see this trend continue in earnest, especially since there will be four viable mobile OS platforms in 2013: Apple iOS, Google Android, Microsoft Windows Phone 8, and BlackBerry 10.

Requisite Reading: “23 Eye-Opening Mobile Marketing Stats You Should Know,” HubSpot

8.     Bing Takes On Google Head-to-Head – Bing has been on the offensive lately, challenging Google’s search dominance across a number of fronts. The most direct attacks came from its “Bing It On” challenge, where users were presented with anonymous search results from Bing and Google and the user selected which results set was the more relevant one, a la the old Coke versus Pepsi taste test challenge. Admission: I took the test and selected Bing three out of five searches.

More recently, Bing launched its “Scroogled” campaign, which criticizes Google Shopping results for presenting paid ads that appear as normal search results.

Requisite Reading:Bing It On,” Bing; “Have You Been Scroogled?” Bing; “Bing Attacks Google Shopping With “Scroogled” Campaign, Forgets It’s Guilty Of Same Problems,” Search Engine Land

9.     Google Authorship Markup – One of the hottest trends in search in 2012 is also one that will likely continue for the foreseeable future. Google’s Authorship protocol made a huge splash when Google began serving up search results influenced by AuthorRank, or the calculated contextual authority of the content author. Authorship markup has been very visible across Google’s search results pages; author headshots are now appended to results where Authorship markup is intact, and according to Google is present for ~20% of all search queries.

Google is also selectively rolling out Authorship Analytics to Google+ users.

Requisite Reading:Boser, Clark, Friesen & Zwicky Wrap Up BlueGlassX,” BlueGlass; “The Definitive Guide To Google Authorship Markup,” Search Engine Land; “How Authorship (and Google+) Will Change Linkbuilding,” SEOmoz; “Google Providing Authorship Analytics To Google+ Users,” Marketing Land

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