The Year in Search | A Round Up of 2014

It doesn't feel like a year since Hannah wrote a review of search in 2013 but here we are again. A lot has happened in our industry but we're all still here and it's as interesting as ever. Let's take a look back at 2014 and see what the biggest stories were.

January: A nail in the coffin of guest blogging, more link networks and AI

The webspam team started 2014 with some strong signals to the shadier side of the SEO community. We'd long suspected that scalable guest blogging was on their radar and Matt Cutts confirmed this in a blog post on his personal site. This followed several public outings from Matt regarding link networks which had claimed to be undetectable (honestly, why poke the bear and claim that publicly?!) and the subsequent shutdown of those networks.

On another note, Google signalled another major trend for them in 2014 when they acquired DeepMind, an artificial intelligence company for $400 million. 

February: Facebook buy WhatsApp and an amazing tweet from Dan Barker

In a pretty surprising move, Facebook acquired WhatsApp for around $19 billion in cash and stock. This dwarfed the deal they made to buy Instagram in 2012 for a mere $1 billion and was a reflection of the amazing growth WhatsApp had achieved despite spending zero on marketing. Ten months later, Facebook seem to have kept their word regarding not interfering with anything and letting WhatsApp continue on its current course. Except of course WhatsApp crashing several days after the deal went through :)

The other highlight of February was this tweet from Dan Barker. No explanation needed :)

March: Guest blogging makes the news again

SEO Doc Sheldon was penalised by Google for what seemed to be a single link at the end of a guest post he published on his personal website. The post in question was certainly a guest post, but it was hard to believe that it was viewed as so spammy as to warrant a penalty.

This followed the very public penalisation of MyBlogGuest which was basically a community of guest bloggers. Google certainly seemed to be following through with the threats and warnings made by Matt Cutts at the start of the year.

April: Mobile still growing fast and Vic Gundotra leaves Google

In another common theme of 2014, Facebook reported that over 1 billion of its users were using mobile devices when on the site. This was a continuous trend in 2014 and Will talked about the threat of mobile at SearchLove in London a few months later.

April also saw Vic Gundotra leave Google. Vic was most recently known for leading the development of Google+ which was met with skepticisim and some criticism but is still with us over three years later.

May: Panda 4.0, Facebook gets a bit creepy and the right to be forgotten

A major Panda update was released in May and quickly dubbed 4.0. It was rolled out alongside a Payday loans update and some analysis by Dr. Pete indicated considerable flux in rankings. There was a lot of talk of a Penguin update too, but this was to come a few months later.

Facebook started to get a touch creepy by announcing a new feature which allowed them to activate the microphone on your mobile device and use that to power status updates. Some speculated that this could lead to them gathering data about music listening habits as well as knowing the TV shows you watch and using this to power their advertising.

Finally in May, the EU gave individuals the 'right to be forgotten' which meant they could request that certain pages mentioning them by name could be removed from searches for their name. Google confirmed that they'd received over 12,000 such requests in the first 24 hours and this kind of message become more common:

June: Google+ authorship photos removed from search results

After lots of hard work to get clients on board with Google+ authorship and getting the required markup in place, Google announced that they'd be removing author photos from search results. The official support article is pretty succint to say the least! Cyrus at Moz went into a bit more detail though.

July: Mobile keeps growing and a new Google Local update dubbed "Pigeon"

Continuing the trend we'd seen earlier in the year, a report by ShareThis showed that the number of shares from smartphones and tablets was up by 30% in the second quarter of the year. 

I couldn't help but laugh when I saw the name of the latest Google update aimed at local search. It brought back memories of the infamous April fool's prank from Google in 2002. When I realised it was a serious update, I took a closer look! At the time of writing, the update is still focused on the US and hasn't been rolled out in the UK, but that is expected to change at some point.

Oh and Matt Cutts went on leave.

August: Google pushes for https and the Ice Bucket Challenge goes so viral that it gets annoying

We saw Google start to move to https in late 2011 and in August they announced that websites that were also https could get a ranking boost in search results. They were quick to point out that it was only a minor boost though.

August was also the month where the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge went viral and got to the point where it was kinda annoying, even if it was all for a good cause. Personally, I think Patrick Stewart nailed it:

That's how it should be done.

Oh and Matt Cutts is still on leave.

September: Another Panda update with new signals and Yahoo! Directory closes

Another reasonably large Panda update was rolled out, but this time Google said that they've been able to discover more signals which has helped refine the algorithm and identify low-quality content better.

The sentimental side of me was rather sad to see Yahoo! Directory close – it was always a good place to spam build good links in the early days of my SEO career.

Matt Cutts is still on leave.

October: Finally, a Penguin update and it was actually not that big

Well over a year after the previous confirmed update, Google announced a Penguin update which was highly anticipated but, in the end, some analysis by Dr. Pete and general feedback from SEOs seemed to show that the impact wasn't as big as expected.

As we were to discover as time went on, this was more of a gradual rollout which may have accounted for the softer-than-expected initial impact.

Matt Cutts is still on leave.

November: A big win for Yahoo for a change and Penguin for Thanksgiving

Firefox announced that they'd be using Yahoo! as their default search engine which would replace Google. Although it would only be rolled out in the US, this change was still a significant win for the company led by former Googler Marissa Mayer. 

There was also news of some ranking fluctuations around Thanksgiving which turned out to be knock-on effects from the Penguin update in October. Some speculated that this meant that Penguin was moving towards a rolling update of Penguin which was confirmed in December.

Matt is still on leave.

December: Google News moves out of Spain

A new law was passed in Spain that required search engines to now pay newspapers if they wanted to show even a snippet of text from a news story in search results. This meant that Google News would be pulling out of Spain as they were not willing to comply with this law.

Another piece of news to finish the year – Google would be taking another step forward in how they reward mobile-friendly websites by showing "mobile friendly" labels in international search results:

This continued the trend we'd seen throughout the year of Google focussing more and more on mobile and rewarding websites that do the same.

I hope you enjoyed this round up. If I missed any major trends, please feel free to add them below! 

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