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2011 Search Marketing Year in Review

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Since 2011 has come to a close and we, as pharma marketers, are preparing for a new year, I started reflecting on the changes we saw in the search world. In 2011, we saw several folks stepping forward to make the statement that the pharmaceutical industry is behind the times when it comes to SEO. As a search marketer who has spent half of my career working in the pharmaceutical industry, I can tell you that in many ways this is true, but it doesn’t have to be. If you have the right partners in place—partners that know the search marketing world and can navigate the pharma red tape—you can develop a search strategy that will catapult you ahead of the curve. To do that, the first thing is to understand what’s happened, what’s happening, and how you can be at the front of the line.

In this two-part series, I will talk about what happened in 2011 to get us to the point we are at now. I will follow that up with a look into the future of search to identify the prize our eyes should be on for 2012 and beyond. So without further ado, here is my list of nine things I believe have played a significant role in the evolution of search in 2011.

1. Social Signals Added to Ranking Algorithms

Early in 2011, the emergence of social signals started to have a larger impact on search rankings. Google social search included real-time updates from Twitter until mid-year when Google let the partnership expire. We now know that the partnership with Twitter was a short-term strategy before Google started rolling out their social network, Google+. Meanwhile, Bing maintains its partnership with Facebook and Twitter to deliver its own social search experience.

2. Google’s Farmer Update

Google search results saw their first major change with the Farmer update that impacted approximately 12 percent of all websites. The Farmer update was targeted at “low-quality sites” that offered little new or original content. Sites designed to game search engines explicitly to increase revenue took a big hit, seeing their search rankings drop dramatically.

3. Google’s Panda Update

This is not so much a single update as an ongoing series of changes that will continue into 2012 in order to enhance results on an ongoing basis. The algorithm shift is focused on shuffling the primary and secondary factors for ranking, and Google has said user experience is a big key. Below are a few of the bigger items we know have been emphasized by Panda:

  • Page load time: If your site takes too long to load, there’s a good chance you may have seen an impact in search results. In 2012, be sure to streamline implementation practices in order to optimize load time.
  • Blocked site statistics: Google introduced multiple ways a user can block sites from their search results. Initially, it was stated that the statistics were not taken into account within the algorithm, but in the latest round of updates Google is using blocked site statistics as part of its secondary algorithm (meaning it is not a key ranking factor, but it is taken into consideration).
  • User experience: If you aren’t convinced that SEO and user experience work hand in hand, Panda emphasizes that this is needed. Sites with poor navigation, unclear topical relevance, or poor content display methodologies could see impacts. This could include excessive use of doorway (or orphan pages), ill-crafted or ill-named navigational hierarchy, etc.

4. Google Launches +1 Button

The +1 button is Google’s version of the Facebook “Like” button and serves essentially the same purpose. Initially launched within search results, the potential impact was immediately recognized by marketers as user preferences, or +1s, started showing up next to search results.

5. Google Launches Google+

Google+, touted early on as “The Facebook Killer,” launched in June and got off to a hot start. The excitement has tapered off, but Google continues to rollout new features and has made major pushes to ensure Google+ remains a player in the social space.

6. Google Announces “Secure Search,” Analytics Impact

As if two updates—the +1 button and Google+—weren’t enough, Google proceeded to announce secure search, which has had a significant impact on Web analytics data. We’ve seen between 10 percent and 12 percent of all site organic search traffic being impacted by this change. Signed-in keyword data is no longer passed to Web analytics platforms; instead it’s being displayed as “Keyword Unavailable.”

7. Mobile Search Behavior Growth

In 2011, there was continued growth in mobile search usage across all industries—including health and pharmaceuticals. Looking at the Top 200 pharmaceutical brands in 2010 (2011 sales are still being tabulated), there was an interesting trend. While desktop search volume for these brands (aggregated search volume) remained flat and even decreased from month to month, mobile search volume continued to increase throughout the year (with the exception of December).

Mobile Search Trend 2011

8. and Microdata

For the first time since partnering to create a standard format for site maps, Google, Bing and other search engines have teamed up for This joint effort provides a collection of common schemas (markups enabling search engines to easily interpret information presented on the Web) for webmasters. offers a unique opportunity for site owners to present information for search engines to interpret and improve displayed results.

9. “Author” Tag

The rel=“author” tag is a newer feature that is starting to gain some traction. In order to leverage brand or user “authority,” content owners can claim content that could potentially improve organic search rankings and display. In order to claim content with the authorship markup, content owners can simply add the rel=“author” tag.

Stay tuned for part two of the series where I will take a look at the trends and some things to expect in 2012.


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