Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a rapidly changing specialty in a Web-based marketplace where things evolve at warp speed. And in recent times, a lot has changed in a short span of time, leaving even experienced webmasters and entrenched online business owners gasping for breath.

The most dramatic event in SEO that happened in 2011 was the major revamp by search engine giant Google, called the Farmer or Panda update. In one fell swoop, this algorithm change decimated link farms and ‘slapped’ down thousands (if not millions) of websites built on re-purposed and poor quality content that served as sources of back-links to money sites.

But Panda, dramatic as it was, isn’t the only SEO shift that happened in 2011. There were others like the crackdown on ‘thin affiliate’ sites, which Google defined as websites created purely for the purpose of promoting another product or service as an affiliate, with no intrinsic value added to browsers. This hit affiliate marketers hard, with many being forced to alter their business model, or even give up on affiliate marketing itself.

Quite surprisingly, Google downgraded the value it had earlier placed on Twitter, and tweets have practically vanished from search engine results pages where they earlier dominated front page results. Gone too is the page rank valuation Google offered Twitter profiles, turning many “too good to be true” auto-created Twitter accounts practically worthless overnight from an SEO standpoint.

Another change in the SEO landscape in 2011 was the emphasis on local search. Google even modified the way it displays search results to automatically default to the local geography of searchers who were logged in as they searched. This led to a surge in local SEO consulting business, with business owners in High Street vying with each other to be found on the world’s biggest search engine.

All these changes caused concern among many SEO professionals. They had to scramble to adapt to the evolution, while simultaneously calming their agitated clients who watched helplessly as their search rankings tumbled on Google.

But the upheaval hasn’t ended. 2012 promises a lot in store for SEO experts to struggle with and to master in the evolving landscape of search engine optimization. The biggest paradigm shift of them all is Google’s new social initiative, Google Plus. Growing rapidly in just 3 months to an active user base of 150 million people, Google Plus is set to transform the world of SEO and organic search through the ubiquitous Plus One button. This blue button is popping up everywhere, and every click on it is a vote that Google factors into its ranking algorithm.

Post-Panda, a growing emphasis is on rich content that actually delivers value to the website visitor, rather than the earlier focus on keyword-optimized junk. And an authority website built on a solid foundation of consistently provided high quality content stands the best chance of coming out ahead in the SEO wars of 2012.

As a final trend for SEO in 2012, mobile optimization is fast gaining ground. Devices used to browse the Web have evolved from desktops to laptops through to smart mobile phones and tablet computers. Google sees a website optimized for mobile screens as being more relevant to searchers who browse from such a machine, and delivers those results higher than others. This means SEO will need to accommodate mobile optimization as a part of the services offered to clients.

It has been an eventful year in SEO. And the year ahead looks to be equally exciting, if not more so. The future is sure to be owned by those SEO experts who can assess the landscape correctly and adapt efficiently to the changing circumstances. Hopefully understanding these trends will help you get into position ahead of the crowd.