Year in Review: A Look at What Happened in Search in 2011

May 2, 2018

Last year I realized that my weekly Friday round-ups, taken as a whole, constitute a yearly round-up. So last December I reviewed some of the search marketing highlights from 2010, and I’ve decided to make it an annual tradition, right up there with watching Mickey’s Christmas Carol on 12/24.

Mickey's Christmas Carol

Here’s some of the wild, wonderful and wiggity-wack stuff that went down this year in the world of Internet marketing, in chronological order. (Notice how many of these headings begin with “Google” – like it or not, the Mountain View giant is still ruling the roost in search.)

Debate Rages (Sort of) Over Search Neutrality

Some people think search engines, like ISPs, should be “neutral” – but how exactly would that work? Since search engines by definition rank some results over others, true search neutrality isn’t viable and probably isn’t even desirable.

AOL & Huffington Post Unite

In the first major “game-changing” merger of the year, AOL and Huntington Post joined forces. Journalists and writers didn’t like the smell of it: pageview journalism, a focus on aggregation over original content, and crap pay or no pay for writers.

The JC Penney Link Scandal of ‘11

There was a huge (you know, by search marketing standards) scandal when JC Penney got caught buying a crapload of crappy links to improve its search rankings – and outed by the New York Times no less. The incident created a lot of questions – why didn’t Google detect this black hattery on its own? Were they giving JC Penney a free pass because they spend a lot on AdWords advertising? Was this a case of link sabotage? Mysteries abound!


Google Gives Us an Excuse to Mention Pandas

The “Panda” update was intended to prevent spammy, low- to no-content sites from getting top-tier rankings. But I still see scraper sites ranking above the original sources.

Google Analytics Gets Revamped

Doesn’t it seem like most design “upgrades” make your experience worse? Google updated the Analytics interface in April, prompting Wiep Knol to say, “My favorite thing about the new version of GA is the link back to the old version.”


When was the last time you typed out a URL? As browsers evolve, evidence suggests that URLs will eventually go away.

Groupon Racks Up the Haters

Groupon sure got a lot of bad press this year – given its sizable costs and foundering reputation, is the social deals company doomed to fail? Jury’s still out.

Google+ Launches; Outlook Unclear

Google launched its answer to Facebook, Google+, about halfway through the year, and it continues to be a huge priority for the company. Initial growth was huge – but is anyone actually using it? (One source says +1 sharing has plateaued.)

“Aptiquant” Jokesters Pull Off Great Internet Explorer Hoax

A bunch of mainstream news outlets ran the results of a fake study saying IE users have an average IQ of 80. Ah, science news – always reliable!

Northeast Earthquake Turns Twitter Upside Down

A rare earthquake on the east coast totally blew up my Twitter feed (according to Twitter, there were more tweets per second than after Osama bin Laden’s death). It made for great reading, safely ensconced in my Denver office. (This post also contains some of my favorite sentences I wrote this year: “Finally, what’s up with pandas? Why are they so damn serene?! You’re going extinct, pandas! Look alive!”)

Google Crowns Page 1 King

As marketers, we all want to be on page 1 – and Google wants that too! In September, it tested an “infinite scroll” version of the search results. It also made an effort to return the single-page version of multi-page content. So stop trying to pad your page views with egregious pagination already!

Netflix Commits Brand Suicide

In a move that caused the biggest consumer outrage since the last Facebook update, Netflix decided to spin off its DVD business into a completely different brand, the hastily named Qwikster (they didn’t even bother to secure the Twitter handle before the launch, so @Qwikster was controlled by a pot-smoking Elmo). The idea was for Netflix to focus on streaming. But there was so much backlash, the company had to undo the decision.

Google Claims Ads Are Just Answers

In a blog post I now think of as sort of infamous, Google says ads are just answers. Of course, organic results used to be answers – but the natural results seem to be degrading, and they keep getting pushed farther and farther down the page, to make room for more money-making ads. Conflict of interest much?

Google Ruins Google Reader

Despite vocal protests from loyal users of the product, Google stripped the social features from its RSS reader, at the same time that it rolled out an unsavory redesign. Since then, Google has polished the design, so it’s more attractive and usable, but the social features – my favorite part of the product, like many others in its user base – are still gone. It was clearly yet another move to push users toward Google+.

Google Withholds Organic Keyword Data

In October, Google stopped providing keyword referral data from logged in users who click organic results. The cited reason was privacy, but SEOs across the land cried foul – Google continues to provide all search query data for clicks on paid search ads. Over time, the percentage of keywords in Google Analytics that are “(not provided)” has climbed.

Google Updates Mean Even More Favoritism for Brands

Google rolled out new algorithm updates that give yet more preference to “official pages” in branded searches. And, unsurprisingly, Google’s own brands get the extra-special treatment, so if you search for “AdWords services,” your #1 result may be a page from the AdWords domain titled “Adult Sexual Services.”

Ads – Like Everything Else in Search – Got More Social

We all know by now that Google is riding the social train all night and all day, so as of this year you can +1 a PPC ad or add social extensions to your own ads, so searchers can see who shared or liked your page.

There you have it folks, 2011 in a nutshell. What was your favorite development of 2011? Your least favorite?

Elisa Gabbert

Elisa Gabbert

Elisa Gabbert is WordStream's Director of Content and SEO. Likes include wine, karaoke, poker, ping-pong, perfume, and poetry.

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