The Evolution of Search – How Search Engines are Changing in 2011

We are less than two full months into 2011 and already the search world has made some dramatic changes. I’m not just talking about Google’s latest announcement gunning for content-farms, I’m talking about all the dramatic changes you might not have even noticed. This is definitely a big deal but it’s important to understand where the impact was really made. On top of that search results and advertising placement is changing and directly impacting businesses around the world. Add in the fact that major companies like Overstock are getting publicly dinged in search and you have a whole new landscape.

This is a big topic to cover so I hope you’ll understand why I go-into surface-level details on most of these topics. You could really write a whole book about how search is changing, and I’m sure someone will – I’ll just stick with this post for now. So what are the main changes that I see happening in search in 2011?

  1. Google increases its focus on quality. This is by far the #1 change and it has already impacted about 12% of their queries – that’s a big number when you’re talking about an insane amount of data, traffic, and in the end money. The big shift that Google made has been a long time coming, they’ve finally found a way to track down low-quality garbage content written only to rank well and eliminated it from page one. As someone that’s been focused on unique content from day one this is a major win for me! As just an everyday Internet user you also win since your queries will now return more relevant results rather than results that were written to rank well.
  2. Google changing AdWords layout on key search terms. Just take a look at the screenshot below of a search for “refinance mortgage”

What you will see from the screenshot above (click to view full-size) is that Google has actually given themselves the top spot in search. That’s right, the #1 result at the very top of the page goes to Google’s own mortgage calculator affiliate program. Below that are three more ads which leaves room for only three sites above the fold. After that the fourth slot is taken by news stories. This means that getting above-the-fold for a term like this now becomes much more challenging than it has ever been before.

  1. Google Instant Search. Although Google launched Instant Search this year it still has a major impact on search in 2011. Instant search is driving more traffic to long-tails. Period. I have nothing more to say, this is a huge change and would be #1 on my list if I put this together last year.
  2. The Fight Against Paid Links. Google has been standing-up to some of their biggest clients and punishing them in a major way if they’re paying for links. Both Overstock and Forbes have been Google’s latest target. You can read more about this on Search Engine Land –Google’s Action Against Paid Links Continues: Overstock & Forbes Latest Casualties; Conductor Exits Brokering Business.
  3. The Searching Consumer. The last change I’ve noticed which just can’t be ignored is how the average user of search has changed. When I was designing websites back in 1995 the average person searching was a tech-savvy geek. Over the years it has changed to just about anyone with a computer. Now it’s anyone with a phone – this is a much bigger market and much wider demographic than ever before. You might not have changed…but then again you were one of the geeks surfing the web in the 90’s. The guy has never owned a computer but just got a smart phone is a whole new online consumer and they already out-number us geeks!

So there you have it. As cleanly and succinctly as I can put it, sure there are lots of other changes – heck Google updates their algorithm just about daily. The five items above are some of the most important and represent how important it is to stay on top of search, if it is search traffic that you’re after. Have a great weekend everyone and stop thinking like a geek – start thinking like the new online consumer!

Morgan Linton

Morgan Linton