Top Affiliate Marketing Stories of 2011: Google Panda and SEOEarlier in the week, we recapped the highlights of one of the most controversial stories of the year, the attack on affiliate marketing by state legislators across the United States.

Today, we look back at another controversial story: Google’s attempts to improve its search engine results, and the impact on affiliate marketers. Here are just a few highlights of one of the year’s biggest affiliate marketing stories.

The Dirty Little Secrets of Search
On February 12, the New York Times reported on the J.C. Penney story, where the mid-tier retailer found its search engine result page positions dashed by its black hat practices.

The company bested millions of sites — and not just in searches for dresses, bedding and area rugs. For months, it was consistently at or near the top in searches for “skinny jeans,” “home decor,” “comforter sets,” “furniture” and dozens of other words and phrases, from the blandly generic (“tablecloths”) to the strangely specific (“grommet top curtains”).

Google Penalizes Overstock for Search Tactics
On February 24, The Wall Street Journal ran a story that Google was penalizing for black hat practices that included a form of “paying” for links: “encouraging websites of colleges and universities to post links to Overstock pages so that students and faculty could receive discounts on the shopping site.” While most SEO experts have known that paid links are forbidden, Overstock didn’t figure that until it was too late.

Google Announces the Panda Update
February 24 was a big day in search news. Google also announced changes to its algorithm to improve search engine result quality. Here’s what they say about the changes on their blog:

Our goal is simple: to give people the most relevant answers to their queries as quickly as possible. This requires constant tuning of our algorithms, as new content—both good and bad—comes online all the time.

At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high-quality sites—sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on. We can’t make a major improvement without affecting rankings for many sites.

Mark Ling blogs about Panda on ClickBank’s blog
Super affiliate and affiliate educator Mark Ling’s guest post on the ClickBank blog pretty much sums up the future for affiliate marketers: the need to pay attention to the desire of your audience for great content.

Overstock busted, again … maybe
Globe Runner SEO has a great example of the kind of black hat techniques affiliates should avoid. (If your SEO consultant ever suggests doing something like this, make sure you find a new SEO consultant.)

SEO: What Google Panda means to your affiliate website
On an post from September 21, we offer some tips for affiliates who have lost their search engine ranking as a result of the Panda update.

Article Marketing: Yes or No?
Some affiliates have done well using article marketing to deliver quality content to new audiences, but on October 19, we look at the usefulness of article marketing after Panda.

Duplicate Content in a Post-Panda World
In November, SEO Moz blogger Dr. Pete provides a a complete discussion of what duplicate content is, how it happens, how to diagnose it, and how to fix it.

From your perspective, what were the biggest affiliate marketing stories of 2011? Let us know in the comments.