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theEyearly wrap – SEO and social media review 2009

January A Google PageRank update in the last week of 2008 caused repercussions into 2009, with many SEO companies observing a significant drop in search rankings in the first weeks of the month.

Elsewhere, the mainstream media turned its attention to Twitter as the micro blogging site proved its merit with real-time coverage of the US airways flight 1549 crash into the Hudson River. The incident, which saw the plane ditch after an engine malfunction, was immediately reported by onlookers on the site. It took another 15 minutes before the mainstream media began reporting the crash.

Meanwhile, Google and Microsoft released their financial results for the previous quarter. Both search engines suffered from the ongoing economic crisis, and while Google’s revenues were up 18 per cent, the search company saw a 68 per cent drop in fourth-quarter profit. Microsoft, having just announced plans for 5,000 redundancies, fared no better. Its earnings dropped by six per cent

February The SEO industry reacted angrily to comments made in PC Magazine, as writer John C. Dvorak brought into question the reputability of the digital marketing community. The piece, which described those in the arena as ‘modern snake-oil salesmen’, was heavily condemned by a number of search websites. Dvorak’s editorial was described as ‘ignorant’ and ‘misinformed’.

Elsewhere, Microsoft, Yahoo and Google launched canonical search tags. The new link tag allowed webmasters to minimise the amount of duplicate content being catalogued by search engines. Other new features to be revealed in February included video and image integration for Yahoo results pages, while Google announced it had opened an official Twitter account. The company amassed 25,000 followers in 24 hours.

March March was a month for new launches and companies were tripping over themselves to release their latest wares. Google won the award for the most controversial product release, as it introduced Street View, the first-person map software, to the world.

Street View, which allows users to view locations from a street-level perspective, courted the wrath of a number of individuals and organisations. A collection of privacy groups expressed concern over the service, while a small percentage of users were dismayed to find they had been captured by Google’s camera in a number of compromising positions.

A somewhat less controversial release from Google saw the introduction of stacked site links in search listings. The links, which appeared below the meta data of each result, were introduced to allow for easier user navigation.

Away from Google, and Microsoft and YouTube went through their own changes during the month. Microsoft unleashed Internet Explorer 8 to the world, while YouTube started placing targeted display adverts.

March also saw YouTube remove music videos from its UK service. After failing to reach an agreement with the Performing Rights Society over royalty payments, official videos from the likes of Florence and the Machine, Lady Gaga and Radiohead were stripped from the site. Other disappearing acts in March included Encarta, the Microsoft encyclopaedia.

Elsewhere, Yahoo revealed a 13 per cent drop of revenue for the first quarter of 2009 when compared to the same results a year earlier, while a Nielsen study showed that social networks had become a more popular communication tool than email.

April After a two-year absence, Jeeves the Butler returned to Ask.com. The mascot, which had been removed from the search engine in 2007, was introduced as part as a rebranding exercise for the company. The move came after polling from Ask found that many users still found the character synonymous with the website.

A Swedish court sentenced the four founders of The Pirate Bay – the infamous filesharing site – to a year in prison and fines of £2.4 million. Later in the year, the site, was rumoured to be the subject of an acquisition by an advertising firm, although no deal has yet taken place. The four Pirate Bay founders appealed the legal decision and a ruling regarding their fate is expected sometime in 2010.

Online retailer Amazon was left red-faced after a cataloguing error removed thousands of titles from its book charts. The novels, ranging from works by EM Forster to Jeanette Winterson and Gore Vidal, disappeared from the Amazon book charts over a 24-hour period. It is though hat up to 57,310 books were delisted by the company.

May May saw the long-awaited release of Wolfram Alpha, the computational search engine. Developed by Brit Stephen Wolfram, the site differed from Google and its ilk by offering definitive answers to questions, rather than providing a list of relevant results. According to data, the site still receives over 1.7 million daily views.

In online marketing news, MIVA – one of the first pay-per-click providers – closed down its UK operations. The service is now operated solely out of the United States by its new parent company Adknowledge. Mark Baker, theEword online marketing manager, offered a eulogy for the departed at the time.

Elsewhere, Google sneaked in another PageRank update, rumoured to be its first since April, while the team at Google Maps removed the Easter Egg which suggested swimming across oceans when travelling between countries.

June June saw Microsoft release Bing, the company’s third attempt to break Google’s stranglehold on the search market. The launch of the ‘decision’ engine, complete with a massive $100 million advertising campaign, was well-received by many. Despite fears that its new-found market share would evaporate after the end of the initial marketing cycle, the site currently owns 10.3 per cent of the search market.

Despite the furore surrounding Bing, it was Google that captured the attention of many UK SEO companies, as global domains began to creep into UK search results pages. As sites from New Zealand, America and Australia snuck into UK listings, the SEO industry cried foul and insisted action. Google later apologised for the situation and promised t rectify the problem.

The biggest news story of the month came courtesy of Twitter, as the social media site found itself in the limelight during the disputed Iranian elections. Individuals protesting over the re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad began to communicate via the site, arranging rallying points for demonstrations, as well as using the service to share information with news outlets banned from covering the riots. Twitter itself was asked to postpone a scheduled network upgrade by the US State Department in fear that the movement would be stifled during the site’s downtime.

Later that month, Twitter’s status as a social news outlet was confirmed as millions of people learnt of pop star Michael Jackson’s death via the site. At one point 30 per cent of all updates on Twitter were related to the cardiac arrest of the singer.

July Rumours of a Microsoft and Yahoo deal were finally confirmed after the two companies signed on the dotted line in July. The new agreement would see Microsoft’s Bing power the Yahoo search engine. In turn, staff at Yahoo would become the advertising sales team for Microsoft’s online venture. The arrangement came after several months of negotiation between the two companies, following Microsoft’s failed attempt to takeover Yahoo in 2008.

July was a good month for online marketers. Click Forensics, the Texas-based advertising firm, revealed click fraud was down to 12.7 per cent from 13.8 per cent in the second quarter of 2009. Click Forensics president, Tom Cuthbert, said that the decline was the result of ‘increased diligence’ from online ad networks.

Elsewhere, YouTube introduced ‘call to action’ banners across the video content on its site. The banners, which included advertisements for iTunes and Save the Children, appeared for a limited time at the foot of various clips.

August Google stole the SEO headlines in August as it announced a new update to its search engine algorithm. Codenamed Caffeine, Google promised the new tool would improve the speed and accuracy of searches on the site.

In order to ease the fears of SEO companies across the world, the search engine released the new update in a sandbox format, allowing users to view results as seen through Caffeine. Matt Cutts, Google’s Head of WebSpam, later revealed that the new algorithm would go live early in 2010.

ITV, facing declining advertising revenues and a pre-tax loss of £105 million over the first half of the year, sold social networking site Friends Reunited for £25 million. The domain, which ITV purchased for £175 million in 2005, was bought by Brightsolid Limited.

UK Twitter users rallied around the National Health Service after commentators in the United States described it as ‘evil’ and ‘Orwellian’. The ‘welovetheNHS’ trend was motivated by comments from Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan, speaking to Fox News. His remarks came during a debate over the proposed health care reforms in the US.

The Twitter campaign drew more than a million followers and motivated contributions from Gordon and Sarah Brown.

“NHS often makes the difference between pain and comfort, despair and hope, life and death. Thanks for always being there,” read the tweet from the Prime Minister.

News Corporation owner Rupert Murdoch revealed he would begin charging users to view online content in 2010. Murdoch, whos company owns the Sun, the Times and the Wall Street Journal, said that, “the digital revolution has opened many new and inexpensive distribution channels but it has not made content free. We intend to charge for all our news websites.”

September “Do you have any invites?” became the most common longtail phrase in the digital industry as Google Wave, the social media communication tool from the search engine, went on limited release. The application, which allows real-time communications and collaboration on documents, was initially gifted to just 10,000 individuals worldwide. While each user had the opportunity to invite a further twenty people to the service, a number of invites appeared on eBay. $70 (£44) was the going rate.

September was also the month where Facebook disclosed that it had accumulated 300 million users worldwide. Not surprisingly, results released by Nielson later in the month revealed that companies had doubled adspend on social media sites over the 2008-2009 period. The study discovered that US companies set aside £67.34 million for online marketing each month.

Elsewhere, YouTube and the UK music industry finally reached a deal which saw the return of official artist videos to the site, while a New York University claimed Apple had the best online presence.

October A report from Ofcom gave the search industry food for thought, revealing that tomorrow’s searchers had an uncanny handle on how SEO operates. The survey found over a third of UK children correctly thought search results were based on how reliable websites were. The survey, which took into account the views of minors aged between 12-15, also discovered that 14 per cent of children believed that websites paid money to rank highly in organic searches. Furthermore, 18 per cent of participants didn’t know how sites were ordered in SERPs.

Google, the leading provider of these SERPs, probably popped open the champagne in October as it was revealed the company had gobbled up 70 per cent of the American search market. In further search news, both Google and Bing announced they would soon begin displaying Twitter updates in their rankings.

Elsewhere, the month also saw Channel 4 sign a deal with Yahoo to display full-length episodes of Peep Show, comedy-drama Teachers and various other in-house programmes. Also, spare a thought for Geocities; the forefather of web hosting was quietly retired by Yahoo in October.

November The BBC formally announced it was taking steps to optimise its online news content in November. The Beeb revealed it was giving journalists the option to craft SEO-friendly title tags, with news editor Steve Herrmann describing SEO as ‘an important process’. Perhaps he had one eye on The Guardian online. The publication – famous for its refined use of SEO – celebrated the news that it was the most popular online newspaper for the second consecutive month.

On the subject of online journalism, Rupert Murdoch continued to wage war against the search industry with a scathing attack on Google et al. The media tycoon complained that search engines were stealing content from the sites owned by News International.

In unrelated news, Google gave centre stage to Oscar the Grouch as the search company celebrated the 40th anniversary of seminal children’s edutainment programme Sesame Street.

Google, known for the occasional creative tinker with its logo, devoted the best part of November to the show, as Big Bird, Ernie and The Count frequently appeared above the search bar on the site’s homepage. Other cartoon critters to appear in the Google Doodle during the month included the charming British show Wallace and Gromit, which celebrated its 20th anniversary. Doesn’t that make you feel old?

Cuddly creatures continued to dominate SEO and social media news in November as Comparethemarket.com was honoured for its meerkat Twitter account. The tongue-in-cheek marketing campaign scooped three awards at the Golden Twit ceremony in London.

December Google ended 2009 with a raft of product releases. The company launched a number of new features including a browser-size comparison service, real-time search results from Twitter, a load speed comparison tool in Webmaster accounts and a URL-shortener.

Notably, the company initiated a marketing campaign for the first time in its 11-year history. Advertisements for Google Chrome appeared on billboards around the country, while also featuring in a number of national newspapers.

Google finished their year by donating $20 million to charity.

Facebook topped off the decade by enraging a large proportion of its 350 million users. Changes to the site’s privacy settings meant that many personal profiles became visible to others, regardless of user-defined settings. In other social media news, Peter Cashmore, founder of esteemed news site Mashable, was revealed as the most influential user on Twitter. The Scottish entrepreneur fought off competition from the likes of Barack Obama, Stephen Fry and Oprah Winfrey to claim the prize.

As is customary for the end of a year, the major search engines revealed their annual collection of the most searched-for terms. As expected, Michael Jackson, Twitter, swine flu and Susan Boyle appeared in a number of the lists. To celebrate the end of the decade, Google also released its list of the hottest topics for the previous nine years. The most popular terms, in ascending order from 2001 were, Nostradamus, Spiderman, Prince Charles, Big Brother, James Blunt, Steve Irwin, iPhone, BBC iPlayer, and Stephen Gately.

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