Well, here we are ten days into 2013, and Google has been rather quiet in the New Year, at least in terms of new changes to algorithms. Rest assured, however, Google will not slow down behind the scenes in working to improve its algorithms and make its search results better.
What do you want to see Google get better at in 2013? Let us know in the comments.
Of course, Google Search has been in the news early this year, with the Federal Trade Commission having settled with the company with only a couple voluntary concessions made by Google with regard to search. Meanwhile, Google still has Europe to deal with on the antitrust front, but regardless of what happens with that, Google is not going to stop tweaking its algorithms and striving for better search results.
The last two years each saw major Google algorithm changes that had sweeping effects on sites all over the web, and they just happened to be named after cute little animals. For those who lost a substantial amount of search visibility (and ultimately web traffic and revenue), there was nothing cute about them. I'm, of course referring to Panda and Penguin, though there were plenty of other algorithmic changes that didn't get nearly the same amount of attention.
In 2011, Google unleashed the Panda update, which continues to get refreshed periodically. I'm sure you know the story. Content farms were cluttering up the search results with low quality content, leaving the better stuff buried, and pretty much invisible. Panda was designed to reverse that, or at least establish some guidelines (in addition to Google's official webmaster and quality guidelines) on what kind of content Google wants to rank well in its search results.
The Panda update was controversial, and a lot of sites felt they were unfairly hit by it. Either way, Google sent a message loud and clear: Don't create poor quality content and expect to rank in search results. Create useful, trustworthy content that users will be happy they found. It's not perfect (no algorithm is, as Google will tell you), but it has arguably made a pretty big difference. There are still plenty of issues with Google's results, but with regards to quality in depth content vs. thin, non-helpful content, I believe Panda has made a difference. I believe Google believes it has.
As the webmasters and marketers came to grips with Panda, 2011 eventually gave way to 2012, and not foo far into the year (in April, actually), Google launched another huge update with Penguin. Like Panda, it too was designed to improve the quality of Google's search results, but this one wasn't as much about content as it was about ways people were beating the system by violating Google's Quality Guidelines.
Basically, Penguin was designed to do algorithmically, what Google had been doing manually for years. The penguin had a bloodlust for suspicious link activity, and a low tolerance for any kind of link schemes.
Once again, a lot of webmasters felt that their sites were being penalized unfairly, and even those that accepted their fate worked rigorously at escaping the Penguin's clutches, possibly even going overboard in trying to clean up their link profiles, requesting that sites remove links that they would otherwise have liked to have out there, regardless of whether or not they were helping in Google.
Google's grip on webmasters was never as abundantly clear as it was in 2012. Not all webmasters (plenty had already found other ways to diversify their web traffic), but for those who have historically relied on Google for traffic, they didn't want any links out there that Google may not approve of. The problem was that they were getting rid of more than what Google probably did have a problem with.
Eventually, Google launched the Link Disavow tool, which lets webmasters tell Google specific links to ignore, but some feel this tool is really more of a burden than a blessing, and it's still a hoop webmasters have to jump through to make sure they're in Google's good graces. Of course, Google says most sites shouldn't even use the tool.
2012 also saw the transitions of Google Places to Google+ Local and from Google Product Search to the paid Google Shopping model, both of which have had their share of controversy among businesses.
What will Google tackle in 2013? Will we see another huge animal-named algorithm change that affects a large number of webmasters? Regardless of the name, will there be a new update that webmasters have to sweat on a month to month basis. Will mores strategies that have helped for years start working against webmasters?
Google makes over 500 changes to its algorithms every year, and makes changes every day. It's been a while since there has been a really big one, and it seems like the big ones usually come in the first quarter of the year or so. We haven't even seen Google's lists of search quality highlights for the last three months of 2012 yet.
What's on the horizon? What do you see in Google's search results that need to be improved? What things do you see working that shouldn't be? How can Google improve its search results in 2013? Share your thoughts in the comments.