Google confirmed an update to its core ranking algorithm occurred the second weekend in January. According to Google rep Gary Illyes on Twitter, this update did not relate to Penguin. SEOs are still waiting for the promised change to make Penguin apply in real time, which Google's John Mueller said would be rolled out as early as January. Whatever the cause, many webmasters experienced dramatic ranking shifts especially in local results around Jan. 10; see the discussion over at Local Search Forum for insights.
Google's John Mueller clarified that we won't notice any future Panda updates because the Panda algorithm is now part of the core search ranking algorithm, evaluating website quality on a rolling, continual basis. To further clarify Panda, Google provided many quotes to enable author Jennifer Slegg of The SEM Post to pen the recent definitive guide to understanding Panda, which is essential reading for SEOs.
Google expanded the structured data properties available for article rich snippets from 3 to 17, with most properties now required for marking up articles. Google has confirmed that it changed its structured data guidelines for articles in preparation for AMP, and has also added an AMP Articles filter to the Structured Data Testing Tool to help webmasters know whether their web pages comply with the new article markup requirements.
HTTPS is still on Google's radar. In mid-December, Google announced that it would prioritize indexing the secure (HTTPS) equivalent of a web page (assuming it meets certain conditions), even if a link leads Googlebot to the HTTP version. Further, Google search results will favor the HTTPS version of a page if both exist.
Google announced a new API for querying the Knowledge Graph database to find out what entities it considers relevant. Results from the Google Knowledge Base Search API may contain web pages as well as people, books, companies, films, and more. Google also said it will replace the Freebase API and the Freebase Suggest Widget at some point.
Google Search Console has a redesigned front end. Based on user studies, Google reorganized support resources to better answer users' needs and also added three new pages, a step-by-step webmaster troubleshooter, a curated list of the most popular Google Webmaster resources, and a new Google Webmaster Events calendar to show people when the next Office Hours hangout or Google speaking appearance is scheduled.
Through the LinkNYC public-private project that Google has a share in due to its acquisition of Sidewalk Labs, Inc., more than 7,500 payphones throughout the New York area are being replaced with wi-fi enabled kiosks called Links. Each Link powers free wi-fi to people within a 150-foot radius and offers free Internet browsing, USB charging, and phone calling anywhere in the U.S. Advertising space on each Link should provide revenue to the city.
Google began showing Product Listing Ads (PLAs) in image searches on mobile phones, for advertisers with PLA shopping campaigns opted in to the search partner network.
Bing announced Keyword Planner v2, an enhanced version of its Keyword Planner tool that is available to Bing Ads users (just in the U.S. for now). The updated tool offers four new capabilities: additional competitive insights and benchmarking, customizable ad group and keyword bids, a new source of keyword suggestions, and the ability to customize a time range of up to 24 months for search volume data.
Pinterest is making its promoted pins available to all U.S. businesses this month.
Facebook has quietly begun testing a local business feature that lets users find local service Pages and read their Facebook reviews and ratings. Available only for desktop (Facebook has a “Nearby Places” feature for mobile), the feature has not been officially announced, but news of it caused shares of Yelp and Angie's List to drop.
Facebook Live is being rolled out to selected iPhone users in the U.S. as a test. The network's live video-streaming app, previously available only to certain celebrities, will compete with the popular Meerkat and Periscope apps. In addition, the company said it is testing a new mobile sharing tool that lets users easily broadcast a live video.
Topsy, a popular free tool for Twitter and social media analytics, is no more. Apple, which bought Topsy.com two years ago, shut down the site on Dec. 15.
Apple may owe as much as $8 billion in European back taxes from sales made between 2004 and 2012. The European Commission investigation is expected to wrap up in March. Apple has said it will appeal an adverse ruling.
Apple has decided to phase out its iAd sales team. Publishers using the iAd platform will be able to sell their own advertising space and keep 100 percent of the ad revenue.
Yahoo has been reducing costs quietly as part of its restructuring efforts, including laying off 14 percent of its staff over the past year. The company is expected to do a massive layoff of at least 10 percent of its remaining workforce (now numbering just over 10,000 people) this quarter.
Amazon said it gained three million new Prime members during the week before Christmas. Internationally, Amazon China has registered to be able to ship freight goods by sea to U.S. customers directly from Chinese manufacturers.
In the wake of concerns expressed by users and others including a U.S. congresswoman, the creators of the social media app Stolen have decided to shut down the app, which allowed users to "own" peers with Twitter accounts, whether they signed up for the service or not.
ICANN may transition its oversight from the U.S. government to a 16-member board, says Fadi Chehade, chief executive of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. Plans will be announced next month and likely go into effect after the Sept. 30 contract end date.
An unconfirmed report says that Microsoft is buying mobile ad platform InMobi for $2 billion, reportedly beating out competing bidders Google and Yahoo. Acquisition of the InMobi network, which the India-based company says reaches 1 billion people globally per month, would greatly expand Microsoft's mobile advertising footprint.
Skype for Windows users can now communicate via talk and text with people who speak many different foreign languages, thanks to the new Skype Translator feature.
Globally, PC shipments were down by 8.3 percent in the fourth quarter 2015 compared to the previous year, according to Gartner. Of the top five PC companies, only Apple showed an increase, with PC sales up 2 percent year-over-year.
Chinese search engine Baidu is eyeing investments to expand its business in India. According to Tim Yang, head of Baidu in India, the company is in talks "to buy, merge or invest" in multiple companies including Zomato, Bookmyshow and Big Basket. In addition, Baidu's MoboMarket app store is developing new local-language versions to compete with Google's Android Play Store, which currently holds 90 percent of the Indian mobile phone market.
Twitter launched conversational ads, a new ad format that encourages users to talk about the brand on Twitter by embedding calls to action in a Promoted Tweet. Also, a new brand enthusiast gallery format was previewed at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this month. This feature will offer advertisers a way to collect user tweets that favor the brand and its products, select relevant tweets, obtain user permission, and then display the comments in a carousel-like format below an ad.