It is important to first look at what Google was competing with and their goals of 2011. Whether it was anchor text, domain name, domain authority, or simply topic modeling, those that have pushed SEO forward in recent years have mastered these features. For Google, this presented a challenge. According the proprietor of Local SEO Guide, Andrew Shotland, this meant a few things. Google needed to increase crawler rates, ramp up user feedback, keep an eye on user interface, and speed up search queries.
The CEO of SEOmoz, Rand Fishkin, has separated these important factors into a pie chart with a handful of lopsided statistics. 21% of the search ranking algorithm has come to rely on domain level link authority features. Simply put, Google wants to know how many external links are pushing users towards a specific domain. This did seem to help alleviate the problem of overused information, but many SEO experts took it upon themselves to simply up their creation of sister-sites for cross-referencing. This has been a common tactic for many years, but according to the people at SEOmoz, 2011 may have been the peak year for these practices.
Page level link metrics still have a firm grasp of 21% of the Google ranking system, but this is a huge decrease from 43% in 2009. Other major factors include some obvious figures such as domain level keyword usage, page level keyword usage, and page level keyword agnostic features.
This leads to the next question, now that everyone knows what factors helped push successful websites forward, what were some of the factors that were holding them back in 2011? Google wants to send its customers to fast loading pages with quality content. This is especially important for Google News sites that have suffered over the course of 2011. According to Site Stream SEO & Search Marketing, one major problem could be the headlines themselves. There has been a slow trend from keyword-rich headlines to more exciting headlines based on wordplay. For major news networks this may be acceptable, but for those looking to the future of Google ranking algorithms, this may not fly.
The trends at the beginning of 2011 did not necessarily carry over to the second half of the year, and this means that many have made guesses at what the end of 2011 and start of 2012 holds in store for Google searches. Most web developers have already begun their push into the world of social media, a sector that is under threat of becoming so over-saturated that Google may need to compensate.
For those that want their information straight from the horse's mouth, Matt Cutts is the man to listen to. As an associate of Google and leading SEO expert, he gave some insight into what late 2011/early 2012 had in store at his keynote last year. Some underutilized tools such as click-through-rate optimization and bounce rates may be "worth taking a look at" for anyone that wants to finish 2011 strong and build their momentum up for 2012.