By John N. Stewart
Last week Google released the 2010 edition of Zeitgeist, its annual report on search engine trends. As a search engine guru, I always find Zeitgeist staggering because it captures a year in time in a way others can’t. By analyzing what people are searching for on the web, the Google study offers a unique perspective into the needs, wants, concerns, and fears of society.

However, as I read this year’s results I was admittedly disappointed. It wasn’t that I expected something other than “chatroulette” to be the fastest rising search term, but that Zeitgeist failed to capture how rapid advancements in the mechanisms carrying out searches have structurally affected search behavior and what people search for.

A lot going on behind the scenes

While hundreds of millions use Google everyday, few understand how it works. Google’s algorithms are vastly complex and their core algorithm is updated approximately 500 times a year. This means that every 18 hours you become either a guinea pig or a control subject. Google then takes this data, analyzes it, and alters its approach accordingly.

The world of search advanced further in 2010 than ever before. To begin with, vastly more searching is occurring on mobile devices. Aside from the fact that 20 percent of all searches are related to location, search results now are increasingly being customized by the location of the searcher.

Google fully implemented its new index, dubbed “Caffeine,” back in June. While largely unnoticed by users, this monumental development allows Google to index new information almost in real time.

Shortly after “getting caffeinated,” Google released what has become known as the “May Day” update and began preferring more recent and specific content.

Some change apparent to users

While most search engine developments occur under the hood, one change in the fall was noticeable to even the casual web surfer using Google. "Google Instant" now allows the search engine to show results and suggest search terms as users type in each letter and word of their queries.

The release of Google Instant could not have been more impeccable. Not only did it counter Microsoft’s multi-year, $100 million dollar campaign to brand Bing as a “decision engine," but it also killed any hype surrounding the Yahoo!-Bing search alliance.

It’s not a coincidence that The New York Times Nov. 26 expose on’s search marketing practices surfaced when it did. Approximately a month earlier, Google merged its local index with its standard index. This update not only made all searches “local” in theory, but it also placed more emphasize on elements that influence local search results, like customer reviews.

The owner of DecorMyEyes had seized upon this glitch in Google. He actually boasted through a blog post on consumer advocacy site that the more negative online chatter about his company, the higher his site appeared in search results and the more business he received.

As of last week, Google finally confirmed that it is starting to factor social elements into ranking search results.

Moving from "search" to "find"

In the past year there have been ground-breaking advancements in search. In fact, the case could be made that we’re moving from a world based on “search” to one governed by “find.”

Despite this, Zeitgeist neither captured how the ability to search on the go affected what people search for, nor did it address the complications when one’s reputation is largely tied to what appears in search results for their name.

In the coming year we'll witness a significant trend in search results becoming more local, social, and current. Online reputation management will surge in importance as more and more people search for everything from a place to eat to the names of their friends to companies that make the products in which they're interested.

Outside of Google’s appearance, I would be stunned if the world of search a year from now would have been recognizable back in 2006.

John N. Stewart is president of Monument Optimization, a search engine marketing and online reputation management firm in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at [email protected]