It's hard to believe that 2011 is drawing to a close, but it is. That said, if you could sum up the search industry over the course of the year in one word, what would it be? According to search veteran Bruce Clay, that word is "turmoil."
What do you remember most about the search industry in 2011? Let us know.
Looking back at 2011
The turmoil that Clay was referring to was largely because of Google's Panda update. As WebProNews previously reported, Google rolled out its Panda update in an effort to target low quality sites across the Web. The impact of it, however, was extremely significant. Many people, such as Dani Horowitz of DaniWeb, saw their site drop dramatically and had no idea why.
"We've determined, or at least convinced ourselves, that linking, the quality of your inbound link networking, is also part of the quality of your site certainly at a trust level," said Clay. "Trust scores and components associated with the quality of how your site connects to everybody is part of the factor to determine whether or not you are a site worthy of ranking."
He went on to say that Panda was "disruptive" but that he thought, in the end, that it had helped Google's search results.
"Overall, I think that the results have improved," he said.
Google also released a "Freshness" update not long ago that was intended to index fresher content more quickly. From Clay's perspective, this update really only impacts news content. Fortunately, most people seem to be hopeful about it.
Another move, however, that Google made that did and will continue to have an impact on the search industry was Google's move to encrypt search. If you remember, Google said it would begin encrypting logged-in searches that users do by default when they are logged into Google.com. For SEOs, this means that they will not receive referral data from the websites consumers click on from Google search results.
Although Google claimed the move was done to protect user privacy, most SEOs - Clay included - aren't buying into this theory, mostly because the move did not impact advertisers.
"I really think that the intent there was more to allow Google to see what we are searching for themselves because they are now in the stream," said Clay. "It's sort of not a universal privacy issue [because] people don't know, many times, that it's an ad."
While Google announcements have primarily dominated the 2011 recap thus far, the yearly events do go beyond the search giant. For starters, social media is bleeding over much more into search. Clay told us that social media, and especially Twitter, has changed how people find sites.
In other words, social media is becoming a replacement for the browser. Searchers look to their social networks for recommendations and reviews before they visit the brand sites. Clay said that this shift in behavior is still resulting in conversions even though the traffic is down.
Speaking of social and search, Google's release of its own social network Google+ was another significant move during the year. Clay told us that it doesn't have a big impact on search at this point, but he suspects it will.
In terms of the other search engines, Clay said that Bing has held its own during the year. Microsoft and Yahoo collectively appear to be growing in search share, but Clay said he thinks the reason is because Ask and AOL have lost some.
Looking ahead to 2012
Going forward into 2012, Clay has several predictions. For starters, he believes that Google Panda will continue. In fact, he said that the image should be changed to a polar bear instead of a panda because it would get meaner and more aggressive.
"Google is in the business of making money," he said. "Everybody needs to recognize that Google is a money generator."
For this reason, he believes that Google will also integrate Google+ into search in 2012. A few years ago, Google went from a "one size fits all" approach with search to personalized search results. In order to make these results geared more toward individuals instead of groups of people, Clay explained that Google+ would give the search giant this ability.
"The best way to get your history is to just watch you and, I think, Google+ is that tool," he said.
"It is entirely within reason for Google, every time you login to Google+, for them to know where you are," he added.
While some have already written Yahoo out of the search market, Clay said that Yahoo would remain a leader in the space. According to him, it's out of the spidering business but not the search or algorithm business.
"It's kind of hard to criticize a company that only did a billion dollars in business," he pointed out.
In addition, Clay said that local search would continue to grow in 2012. Due to this growth, he thinks the search engines will begin to monetize it through a concept called local paid inclusion. He said it would be similar to Yahoo's Search Submit Pro and that the companies would pay to get included in the top of the search results.
Clay thinks the premium listing will have a call tracking system associated with it that would work like PPC ads work. For instance, if the number is clicked, the company pays the search engine. Based on past trends, he believes that Bing and Yahoo will offer this service before Google. He said that Google typically watches services from other companies and then develops their own version of it.
Clay said we could expect this element as soon as January and believes so strongly in the concept that Bruce Clay Inc. is already preparing to offer services in this area.
According to Clay's predictions for 2012, the year looks to be just as interesting as 2011. Do you agree?
What do you think the search industry will hold for 2012? Will it be as "disruptive" as 2011? Please comment.