The Year in Search - A Round Up of 2013

As 2013 draws to a close come with me, dear reader, as we review this year in search.

We saw yet more animal-shaped Google updates, spent a horrifying amount of time watching Harlem Shake videos and there was some noise about GIFs being pronounced JIF. 

January : Facebook rolls out Graph Search for more ‘relevant’ results

Continuing on its mission to make the world more open and connected Facebook launched graph search - new way to ‘navigate your connections and make them more useful’. It sounded innocuous enough, but then Tom Scott highlighted some of the potential privacy issues and encouraged us to check and update our privacy settings in order to avoid showing up for searches like ‘single women who live nearby & are interested in men & like getting drunk’: 

The FTC closed the Google antitrust case due to a lack of factual evidence to support the complaint of abuses of monopoly power; and Google launched streamlined image search and Panda #24.

February: Interflora’s search rankings penalised whilst we do (view) the Harlem Shake

The biggest news in the search world was Google penalising flower brand Interflora in the UKGoogle refused to comment on the specifics of the penalty, but they did follow the news with repeated reminders on the dangers of advertorials

The paid search world was largely unimpressed by the announcement of enhanced campaigns

The ICO - the organisation charged with enforcing the EU cookie law in the UK decided to move to implied consent to the amusement of many.

And we watched 27 centuries worth of Harlem Shake videos on YouTube...  No, I’m not sure why we did that either.

March : Google search quality team Digg themselves out of a blunder

Interflora made it back into the index after only 11 daysIt wasn’t a great month for the Google search quality team all in all, as they accidentally banned the whole of Digg while trying to remove a single page from the index, smooth, huh? 

eBay published some research claiming that they had found AdWords surprisingly ineffective [PDF]. Some suspected eBay may have had an ulterior motive thanks to their ongoing skirmishes with Google. 

April : Referrals from image search suffer from the new user interface

Total desktop searches were still growing - hitting an all-time high according to ComScore. On the back of that and higher click-through rates, global paid search spend also grows strongly.

We saw the EU publish the details of the settlement with Google over antitrust complaints. Although not officially part of the same deal, it was interesting to see Google prominently notifying users about their cookie use right within the search results in Europe.  

As Google got increasingly bullish in spam detection, we saw Mozilla hit with a penalty based on user generated content on site. Other changes Google made also have a big impact - Define Media Group published a study on the incredible drop in referrals from image search following the roll out of the new user interface.

Dove launched their ’Real Beauty Sketches’ campaign. The campaign message? Women are their own worst critics, and are in fact more beautiful than they think they are. 

Whilst many loved it, it also caused considerable controversy. Ann Friedman at New York Magazine wrote:

These ads still uphold the notion that, when it comes to evaluating ourselves and other women, beauty is paramount. The goal shouldn’t be to get women to focus on how we are all gorgeous in our own way. It should be to get women to do for ourselves what we wish the broader culture would do: judge each other based on intelligence and wit and ethical sensibility, not just our faces and bodies.“

May : So it was JIF not GIF all along?

We saw big moves from around the web with Yahoo! buying Tumblr (and promising “not to screw it up”), Twitter launching some well-received new advertising products (one for TV and one for lead generation).

Google held their huge IO event during which they announced a raft of updates, new products and new features. From a search perspective, the biggest news items were updates to queryless search and the introduction of conversational search which is now live in Chrome

Google launch Penguin 4 (or Penguin 2.0) - a full algorithm update rather than just a data refresh. 

And finally, Steve Wilhite, the Daddy of the GIF claimed it’s prounounced JIF not GIF. We ignored him.

June : Are you there, Judy?

It’s me, Hannah. 

Google announced a couple of updates: As Government surveillance dominated the tech news, DuckDuckGo, the alternative search engine, passed 3 million searches / day only 8 days after passing 2 million. Sadly it’s still a drop in the ocean, and we’re far away from a Google killer.  

The FTC announced an upcoming crack-down on failure to disclose adverts in search results. While the major search engines technically disclose which results are paid, many consumers continue not to be able to identify them with any consistency

And on a lighter note, author Judy Blume did an amazing AMA on Reddit.

July : Apple buys crowdsourced mapping data start up, Locationary

Reporting season in the US saw a spate of earnings updates from major tech companies, along with studies on broad advertising and marketing trends: 


In search-specific news:

August : Microsoft CEO, Steve Ballmer, bids adieu to the software giant 

Google claim to be keen to hear about small sites that aren’t ranking well despite being of a high quality. Meanwhile, the Google keyword planner gets a frosty reception - sparking complaints including the need for users to login to AdWords for access, plus a lack of functions such as device targeting.

There was uncertainty over Microsoft’s future as CEO, Steve Ballmer, announced he will retire in the next year. 

September : Google’s Hummingbird takes flight

This change to the algorithm paved the way for a shift more towards ‘understanding’ rather than indexing

Google also announce the move to 100% not provided.

Meanwhile Twitter announce in a tweet that they were planning to go public:

October : Tesco mobile proves every little helps (especially when it comes to romance)

Industry Growth was on the up as third quarter earnings hit the financial newsstands. After coming in below expectations in the last two quarters, Google beat Wall Street expectations with total revenue of $14.98 billion (despite falling Motorola revenues). Meanwhile, Microsoft earned bragging rights with a 47% increase in search advertising revenue, and Russian search engine Yandex boasted an increase of 40%. 

Penguin 5 (or Penguin 2.1) goes live (yes that numbering is stupid isn’t it).

And finally, TescoMobile win the internet with this response on twitter:

November : ‘Selfie’ makes it into the Oxford Dictionary (and funerals everywhere)

In search news, Google’s new mobile operating system, KitKat has disappointing resultsNew Microsoft CEO says he might give Bing the chop & Moz predicts the future of Google.

Meanwhile, ‘Selfie’ becomes the Oxford Dictionaries word of the year. This trend gave rise to many lamentable sub-genre including the ’belfie’, ‘helfie’, and ‘funeral selfie’

December : A festive ToolBar PageRank update 

At the time of writing, December was a little light on the news front, however there were a couple of morsels from the big G. Despite implying that ToolBar PageRank would not be updated again in 2013, we saw the first update in ten months, and Google also penalised link network Anglo Rank.

And so, dear reader - over to you - what did I miss? Do let me know via the comments :)

Hannah Smith

Hannah Smith

Hannah joined Distilled in September 2010 as a Consultant and is now on the Content Strategy team. Prior to this she spent over 7 years in offline marketing (point of sale, press advertising, direct mail & sponsorship), until her fairy godmother...   read more

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1 Comment

  1. Great year in review post, what a fun look into the past year. Wow I feel like the Interflora scandal was so long ago.

    reply >

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