The SEO industry has always been a fast-moving one. Although the industry is mature, algorithm updates, new paradigms, and new vehicles for search engine promotion continue. In fact, 2011 was a big year for both Google and Microsoft. Both SEO giants brought some interesting changes to the table.
1. 2011: The Year of the Panda
Google's Panda update hit in March 2011. The update was designed to penalize content farms and "made for AdSense" Web sites, so content-rich, high quality updates would appear at the top of the search results. The algorithm wasn't perfect; however, and it took several months of updates and tweaks for Panda to stabilize. Even in November, Google's engineers were still tweaking the algorithm. Of course, with such a huge change (as many as 12% of search results were affected), it's natural that both Google's developers and SEO agency workers ended up with a few headaches.
2. Article Marketing Loses its Value
Panda brought a significant change to the SEO world because of the affect it had on "article marketing" sites. Before Panda, article marketing was an effective (albeit spammy) link-building strategy. But post-Panda, these sites are offering little value in terms of link-juice, so link-builders across the globe have been forced to up their game and seek more natural, user-friendly means of link building.
3. Bing Brings Deals
Bing officially launched back in 2009, and since then Microsoft has added a lot of features. The biggest feature, their powerful Image Search, was added in December 2010, and in 2011 Bing added the Deals search, which was a big hit. Google is still the search engine king, but Bing overtook Yahoo for second place this year.
4. The Launch of Google+
Facebook may be the most popular social networking site at the moment, but Google hopes to see that change. They launched Google+ this year, and beta invites were in high demand. The hype wasn't quite as large as it was for Google's Wave and Buzz services (both of which failed), but bloggers, tech experts, and social media fans all over the world were desperate to be the first of their friends to get an account on the service.
5. The Move to Social Search
Google also added the ability to +1 a page, which essentially means giving it a public recommendation. If a page matches your query, and has been recommended by someone in your social circle, you'll see it in your search results. How well the service works depends on how many people you have on your friends list, and how many interests you share.
6. Related Query Refinements
A popular change for Google searchers was refinements to the way related terms are handled. Instead of searchers getting frustrated because they were looking for a specific phrase, and the top result was only a partial match, the algorithms were refined to pay more attention to what the user actually typed.
7. Keyword Density Loses Relevance
As the search engine algorithms become more advanced, they become less reliant on keywords in order to determine a page's relevance and value. While for many years, keyword density was a critical factor in any SEO campaign, today the search engines frown upon keywords used in an unnatural way.
This change is good news for bloggers and copywriters who can now focus on writing great quality articles and copy, rather than being held-back by the restraints of keyword density targets.
8. A Focus on Long Tail
One change that every SEO agency appreciates is the move towards the long tail. Search engines now prioritize long-tail terms and descriptive terms, which means quality, mature content is be prioritized over less specific, trend-seeking pages.
9. Google Hides Search Referral Data
In October Google altered its analytics tool, angering many site owners and online marketers in the process.
Google decided to hide the search terms that are used to find a site from any users that are logged into Google. Google's justification for this move was "user privacy." Of course, privacy is something many people have their doubts about.
So What Does the Future Hold?
Search intent seems to be the hot-topic of the moment, so you can expect a stronger focus on that concept in 2012 and beyond. If you want to ensure the longevity of your pages, focus on quality, user-centric content.
Guest post by James Harper (read more about James)