I love the holidays. Every year I look forward to mid-December, when I cash in on all the vacation days I’ve stockpiled away. For a full two weeks I disconnect from the informational barrage of the modern work life, and reflect on the year that was.
Since this year marks the close of my eighth year in the search industry, I thought it would be neat to do a bit of professional reflection on this year compared to years past. Thinking back on everything that happened in our space in 2011 has been a fun exercise. I honestly can’t recall any other year in that introduced as much change and controversy as this one.
So in the spirit of the season, I’m handing out holiday gifts. I’m giving awards to my biggest search delights of the year -- and calling out one notable lump of coal. Too bad we can’t return or regift the latter.
Delight #1: Social Search
For me, 2011 will be remembered as the year that social search broke onto the scene. Bing fired the first shot, announcing a formal partnership with Facebook to overlay shares and likes across its search results when users were logged in to their Facebook accounts. Google countered with Google+, its new social network that competes with Facebook and Twitter both. Mass hysteria ensued.
Much of the collective dialogue since those announcements has been focused on social search -- from the tactical, “how can we leverage social annotations to better position ourselves in search?” to the more longer-range thinking of Rob Garner, yours truly and others who felt that we’re only now seeing the tip of the iceberg. Social, it’s clear, is a venue for consumer discovery and collaboration. Marry that with the power of search’s self-expressed intent and we have a very explosive combination.
Delight #2: Google’s Panda Algorithm Update(s)
The Panda update that began in the spring reminds me of the adage “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” For sure, Panda wreaked havoc on many Webmasters. The intent of Panda, according to Google, was to fight the multitude of content aggregator and scraper sites, while rewarding sites for original, compelling content. Out in the wild, Panda seemingly penalized many popular broad-content sites in favor of the niche, focused ones. Panda also seemed to give a boost to sites with strong social signals, diminishing some of the impact that a strong backlink profile would have previously had.
But I list this as my second “delight” of 2011 because, from our vantage point, clients that committed to producing original content saw success. For years SEO industry observers have noted that “content is king,” and we saw direct evidence of that as Panda rewarded content creators who added value through their original pieces.
Delight 3: Siri
Perhaps no other development of 2011 embodies the potential of search’s future than Siri. Siri is one of the Apple iPhone’s new killer apps. I’ve written previously on the excitement (and terror) of Siri from an SEM’s perspective. In that piece I noted that,“people will always search for information, weather, sports scores, opinions, etc. But when those results are delivered in this frictionless and satisfying way, you have something that is very disruptive to the current norm.”
Siri is my third “delight” because it represents a fundamental shift in the way we source quick-hit information. While I acknowledge that Siri (or similar technologies) isn’t likely to replace the more comprehensive type of fact-finding and research that traditional search is perfect for, it still is a significant development. For those simple informational queries, Siri allows the user to bypass the search engine interface and go straight to the answer. Think Google’s “I’m Feeling Lucky” feature, but in a more intuitive and satisfying way.
Lump of Coal: Google Masking Organic Keyword Data
Apparently the SEO community was on Google’s naughty list this year, because we were all issued one ugly lump of coal with the announcement that Google was removing organic search keyword query data in the referral details for users logged in to Google Accounts. What this means for SEOs is that we are no longer privy to the full range of keywords that send visitors to our sites. According to Google’s Matt Cutts, this change would only impact a single-digit percentage of queries. Well, I put that to the test across our client portfolio recently. As of last month, it’s impacting 20%+ of all search queries. That’s a significant percentage.
This change is especially outrageous because Google has opted to continue providing keyword data when those same authenticated users click on paid search listings. Despite Google’s insistence that this change makes search “more secure” for its users, and that it cares about user privacy, it made the determination that advertisers rely on that data to optimize (maximize) their spends with Google. Let’s not disrupt the flow of revenue; SEOs, you’re out of luck.
From Reflection to Anticipation
2011 has been arguably the search industry’s best year, despite that one ugly coal lump. And with that annual reflection out of the way, we can turn our attention to 2012 and the highs and lows that await.