The Search Marketing Roller Coaster: 2012 Year in Review

Well, 2012 has been one of hell a ride for the search marketer. The only way to describe it is a series of ups and downs, thrills and spills, twists and turns. It has been a roller coaster of a year.

Regardless of your type of business, practices, and online discipline the convergence of so many forms of marketing, technical change, increased local and mobile adoption and fusion of big data has had an impact on everyone in the industry.

Over the next couple of weeks, some of the top expert from SEW will share insights, yearly reviews, and tips on SEO, PPC, social, local and mobile as we enter 2013. As a précis to that – today I wanted to give you an overview of the key changes the industry has faced in 2012 and share my list of top articles that highlight change throughout 2012.


Cause and Consequence

2012 started with the continued growth of search with the North American SEM industry projected to grow by to $23 billion over the year.

Search grew and Google changed. Google changed the way that people find information in search. Like it or not, it has changed the way that the search industry operates. No matter what your viewpoint or angle, there is always a cause and a consequence – a theme you’ll notice recurring throughout this post.

It’s Only Natural to Start With Google and SEO

Google’s pursuit for relevancy really kick started the year as Google Search Plus Your World launched to solve issues regarding trust and authority of content by adding people, pages, and profiles that are all also fully integrated in search results.

Updates such as Caffeine and Google Panda reduced rankings for low quality sites and improved rankings for sites with great, innovation, and insightful content. Penguin then came along and cleaned up web spam and tried to put an end to black hat practices.

Google’s SSL changes meant that ‘not provided’ accounted for up to 24 percent of search traffic. The industry reacted and concerns about negative SEO and spammy backlink profiles became prominent. Google and Bing then introduced “Disavow Links” tools into their Webmaster Tools sets.

Google continued its clamp down of third party tools that ‘scrape data‘ from Google. For many this signified a tipping point and choice between scraping or having access to the Google adwords API. The irony that Google itself scrape the web was not lost on many. However, the reality is that Google once again has forced the hand of many SEOs and in particular tool providers.

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Social, Content and influence

The growth of social media fueled projects based on the recognition of the importance signals and search. Starting with Google’s big push on Google + and SPYW the industry began to push for empirical evidence on the relationship between social and search.

Bing also took an interested step into social partnering with Facebook and using Twitter, Quora and Linkedin data to look into social signals compared to Google and it’s +1 knowledge graph.

In parallel to algorithmic changes the impact and growth of social fueled a number of further strategic and tactical changes. Link building changed and ‘link earning’ became a topic of conversation. The importance of content and, more importantly, quality and relevant content was both cause and consequence of Penguin updates.

Authorship also became a key opportunity as the importance of influence, recommendations and author content began to be shown in personalized search results. Becoming an authority on a topic and promoting your own content was talked about as being the new ranking factor.

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Local and Mobile and Video

For many a marketer, 2012 was finally the year of mobile as mobile local advertising was forecast to reach $24 billion In 2016. Recent changes with regard to social signals and local search signified an important shift and focus on mobile search as, in parallel, mobile adoption rates surge.

In terms of local, according to Google, 20 percent of all Google searches had local intent and 40 percent of Google mobile searches have local intent.

In its pursuit to include multiple ad formats (location targeting, dynamic search and display ads) into AdWords, AdWords for Video was launched. After all, YouTube is the world’s second biggest search engine.

2012 also saw Bing begin to challenge Google more forcibly than before. The ‘Bing it on challenge’ signified a sharper and more aggressive strategy whilst Google’s new paid for shopping results came under scrutiny with the “Scroogled” campaign.

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Once again, part cause and part consequence of Google changes is content marketing. Many marketers now see this as a great SEO strategy compared to some shorter-term link building techniques.

While content marketing isn’t new, it is now part of a strategic shift from for the search marketer. In many ways the re-birth and refocus of content marketing signifies the end of short term SEO tactics, market maturity, and a change in direction.

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SERPs and Ad Formats

There is no better reflection of the convergence of media, above, and the changes in the industry than what is shown in the SERP’s. Google states – “Overall, our goal is to provide the most relevant results for a given search query as possible.”

Since August, Google started serving for some keywords, SERPs with 7 organic listings, instead of the usual 10 listings. Optimizing search campaigns across multiple search types and in multiple formats was the clear message sent from Google – on how to optimize for Google.

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Growth of Enterprise and Big Data

Moving from the micro to the macro, search and social was recognized as big business. Data is everywhere and how we find, use and take value from it is key to our success.

Google is a source of “big data” and hence looking into how to access that data, refine that data, and secure that data became a massive priority for enterprise type business. This is not just limited to search marketing. Big data spans across all digital channels from data exchanges, networks, consumer and user behavior.

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Change is the one constant that we can rely on in this industry. 2012 has seen so many changes that it is almost impossible for anyone to keep track of every detail.

What we have seen is a shift in the way that we work and how we define what we do. Short-term tactics are being replaced by long-term strategy with content driving the integrated marketing agenda.

Organizations are branding and structuring around content and data (their connected consumers) and then distributing through multiple search marketing channels.

The changes we have seen, the challenges we have faced, the multitude of opportunity presented are all part of the search marketing roller coaster. Jump on and take a ride. Either way, you’re guaranteed a thrill in 2013!

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