The first year of the new decade brought more change for marketers than any since the early days of the Internet. The USPS may default, the Internet is moving to mobile devices—which marketers never entirely figured out how to leverage in the first place—and Google keeps meddling in just about every aspect of digital marketing, from search, email and social media to operating systems and cloud computing. With so much going on, what were the biggest turning points of the year, and how did they end up? Here are my picks for the most significant events of 2011:
1. The USPS stares down insolvency, and I think we all know that fight isn't over yet. At the time of this writing, there's a bipartisan bill on the floor of the Senate to save the post office ... in an election year. Good luck with that.
2. Amazon.com agrees to collect California sales tax. The legislative battle that caused Amazon to stop working with California affiliates—and pump millions of dollars into a campaign to get the law repealed—was emblematic of the conflict between many states and online marketers who have often been able to avoid collecting state sales taxes. This round went to the states, as Amazon agreed to begin collecting California state tax by 2013 in exchange for California delaying implementation of the law.
3. Google Panda attack. The update that aimed to drive spammy links down the search giant's results pages was unilateral and caught many marketers unaware. Some lost sales as their pages were caught in the search results crossfire. In the long run, the update seems to have benefited most marketers by bringing legitimate pages higher up in search results, but it's hard not to be reminded of just how much Web traffic is subject to Google's whims.