Most Important Search Engine Updates of 2010

Written by: Drew Lyon   Austin, Texas

Posted on: December 21, 2010

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2010 has been an unprecedented year of change for Search Engines. Leading search providers are competing to offer the best implementation of local search, mobile search and to incorporate social elements into search. Google continued to hold a commanding lead in search engine market share despite Bing finalizing a merger with Yahoo–effectively narrowing search to a two-party race.

Some of the most drastic changes have taken place in the past few months. Most notably, Google is shifting a lot of attention to local search. Their three-prong strategy includes intuitively determining if someone is searching for local information (without needing a city name), using location services to decide what location’s results to display and finally, incorporating local listings (Google Places) directly into search results.

On a more cosmetic level, Google recently launched two significant updates: ‘Instant Search’ and ‘Instant Previews’. Instant Search predicts and displays search results as you type while Instant Previews allows you to view the homepage of a website without leaving the search results.

Whether or not you’ve noticed these changes, you will be impacted by them. And with that in mind, let’s review the year’s most important search engine updates and explain how they are already affecting the way people search.

Bing is no longer the ‘new guy’…

Bing gains market share (slowly but surely)
It’s been over a year since MSN re-branded their search platform under the title, Bing (formerly, Live Search). Aside from an visually-compelling homepage, Bing strives to offer users a viable alternative Google’s minimalistic approach. Bing is attempting to differentiate itself by giving users a more inclusive search environment–branding themselves as a ‘decision engine’. To some extent, aggressive marketing and forward innovation seems to be working. By the end of 2010, Bing will own close to a 12% search engine market share (up nearly 50% since June of 2009). That impressive level of growth is due in part to this year’s merger with Yahoo search–bringing us to the biggest search engine news item of 2010…

Bing merges with Yahoo
On the surface, a merger between the number two and number three search providers seems tremendously important, but casual Yahoo or Bing users (and those not reading industry news) probably didn’t even notice a change. Yahoo.com still exists and so does Bing.com. So what does the merger even mean?

Basically, it means that Bing is processing all searches made through Bing.com and Yahoo.com. Going forward, the merger also impacts advertisers because paid search advertising on Yahoo will be folded into MSN’s Adcenter platform. It also means that Bing is now in a comfortable number two position for search engine market share. Although, it will be some time before Bing poses any real threat to Google’s stranglehold on the search market.


Without further ado, what’s Google been up to…

Plenty. Google’s been busier than ever this year. Not only have they been overhauling the their website indexing system (dubbedCaffeine’ – to crawl websites more efficiently and more frequently), they’ve also released some major updates to their search interface. Lately, it seems like every time you visit Google, something is different.

So what new features will have the biggest impact on search going forward?

Google Caffeine
All you need really need to know about Google’s new search indexing system, Caffeine, is that search results will be more current than ever. Google estimates 50% ‘fresher’ search information. Basically, websites that frequently update content will be rewarded and sites with stagnant content are less likely to be promoted in search results. Which brings up our most common SEO tip: Update content as often as possible.

Here is Google’s visual illustration of the new system:

Google Instant
Google believes that ‘Instant Search’ will change the way people search. They always say that, don’t they? Google Instant provides real-time search results as you type. Search results update dynamically with each keystroke providing users the opportunity to find potentially desirable search listings without even pressing enter (or completing the search phrase). And while I believe it will be some time before people start relying heavily on Instant Search, I can see users adapting their habits to consider real-time search. After all, we’ve embraced auto-complete. It seems likely that users will eventually abandon long keyword searches as they notice relevant results appearing ‘instantly’.

Google Instant Previews
You may have seen a small magnifying glass appearing alongside search results. Clicking this icon will display scaled-down versions of a website’s homepage. This allows users to judge a website based on basic design elements, without even having to visit the site. As more users discover and use Instant Previews, eye-catching design will be rewarded with more traffic.


Local search is the next BIG thing…

All signs indicate a radical shift towards prioritizing local search results. Google’s recent updates certainly show their desire to capitalize on the growing demand for localized information.

You read my mind – local search results
Google now intermittently displays local results even when a city/location is not used in the search term. Google believes they can accurately predict a user’s ‘intent’ (that is, with the right algorithm).

While the idea of Google reading user’s minds does sound scary, if done right, this is a great opportunity to provide more exposure to local businesses.

Google Places
Now is definitely the time to create and maintain Google Places listings for your business. Places listings, complete with ratings and reviews, appear directly in organic search results. Make sure to add listings for every business location and keep services up to date. Categories of service will largely determine what keywords your business shows up for.

Local search isn’t going anywhere. Google believes that 20% of all searches are intended for local results. Make sure your website is optimized for local search as Google continues to promote local listings in the coming years.


What’s in store for next year…

2011 will likely be the year of everything mobile and everything social. In the past year, Google and Bing have both toyed with the idea of social integration. Google intermittently displays real-time information from Twitter, while Bing has started tagging search results with Facebook friend information. The sheer amount of time spent on social media sites combined with hundreds of millions of users make some degree of social integration unavoidable for search providers.

Even though mobile search is still in the beginning stages, search engines and businesses are starting to see the medium’s tremendous value. Mobile search combines location and immediacy in uncharted ways. The majority of searches executed on a mobile device are targeted and localized. People searching for nearby restaurants on their phone are hungry and looking. Going forward, all business will need to accommodate for mobile search in their marketing efforts.


Happy New Year from the FMC team!

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