It is probably fair to say that 2011 was the year of the Panda. In a bid to improve the quality of the SERPS and penalise bad practice in the SEO industry, Google’s ‘Panda’ updates certainly whipped up a storm from early in the year. Well over 10% of search results and companies have been dramatically affected by their fluctuating performance.

From an SEO perspective it has been a challenge to say the least to stay abreast of this ever-changing landscape. Whilst some clients/websites prefer to chase each and every update, others have opted, to some degree, to let the chips fall were they may. ‘Panda’ updates and other revisions have been considerable throughout 2011. It is interesting to note that many people find themselves back on page 1 with relatively little optimisation having fallen foul of updates as far back as February.

Indeed the landscape or the face of page 1 results has seen significant alteration. Whilst Google looks towards results quality and relevance it is perhaps ironic that page 1 content itself becomes increasingly harder to decipher. Of course this is a matter of opinion but none the less there are certainly a few facts to point out here.

In 2011 we have really seen Google take ownership of the SERPS. You never know when you are going to be presented with news feeds, image results, related video links, places results, reviews, verticals or social signals. The example search below for ‘london nights’ shows some of the mentioned variety:

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If you consider the proportion of the page taken by the vertical of one web site and the YouTube videos you may have no interest in, there is little left for the standard organic results. Whilst researching such affects, it is apparent that some search examples are even more heavily laden with the additions of news snippets and related image results.

Is this really what the average surfer is looking for? Has google got it right? It certainly makes for an interesting debate and makes it a little harder for the SEO to explain his/her clients what their actual position/number is in the listings. To cast a more positive light on this for some, lets imagine you were able to cover all the available channels for your search term…that’s video’s, images, news, verticals etc… how much of the page would you stand to dominate then?

During the course of the year there has been increasing speculation that Google will introduce the so called ‘infinite page 1’ to standard searches. Have you ever used Googles image search? Notice that you can simply click to continually expand the current results page and thus never leave page 1. Whilst some argue the added ease of gaining traffic and page 1 status, others say that this detracts from the value of their current page 1 positions.

It is certainly safe to say we are in the midst of an increasingly feature rich environment when it comes to search and social networking online. In fact, the line between the two is growing less distinct by the month. Following the lack of success of Googles ‘Buzz’ facility, many speculated the failure of Google+ during 2011. That debate is far from over but with many tens of millions of members already, SEOs would be wrong to dismiss the likely impact of Google+ on the SERPS. Watch out 2012!

Yes, in 2012 we will surely see the rise of social signals in search results. Notably Google still have its work cut out on quality… Have you noticed how well exact match domain names continue to do despite the overall quality of some? Have you also noticed the surprising levels of success that some people are seeing from ‘black hat’ SEO techniques and shady link building? Perhaps Google is not seeking to eradicate the beneficiaries of said practices but merely to move towards a scenario in which they no longer command the top slots. By the time we have all finished reading the news feeds and watching the videos we didn’t intent to, we may not be interested in the rest anyway!

The changing face of Google itself…

 

Could the master plan be to release greater social significance to our search results upon undisclosed membership milestone achievements by Google+ ? It is fair to say that the privacy levels and feature base of ‘Plus’ lies somewhere between Twitter and Facebook. Does this mean it has a place in our lives or is it merely the most impressive fad to date? Time will tell.

A few final thoughts for 2012….

With the rise of mobile browsing coupled with mobile operating systems not accommodating Flash based web sites, Adobe will not be pursuing the advances of that technology. Instead, as SEOs, web designers and site owners we must look towards the growth and inclusion of HTML5 and CSS3 in our work. Not only can we use this to generate increasingly smooth on-page effects, but also to accommodate the mobile networks and surfers.

Final-final thought… Might the term ‘SEO’ no longer be sufficient to encompass the role that a good SEO professional must now cover?

In the light of this article and the current playing field, Perhaps ‘Online Strategist’ or the increasingly popular term ‘Inbound Marketer’, would be more appropriate? Lets see how long they take to catch on…

Good luck this year!