At the start/end of every year when predictions are made for the forthcoming year, you hear the same thing – SEO is dead (well, you probably hear it every week). However, here we are – still going head to head with the search engines, trying to figure out the best ways to get our sites on page 1 and upwards.
Even Pubcon's (the #1 SEO conference) opening keynote speaker, Leo Laporte told us that SEO was dead! This was greeted with mass murmurs of discontent and the following reaction from Matt Cutts:
His angle was that Apple will displace Google as the Search Engine of choice with Siri, that people will use voice activated technology to search rather than visit Google. He also added Google will fail in social media as they are not focused whereas Facebook are, that Larry Page has a big challenge with Google+ – he then predicted an epic fall for Google and told us in the audience:
"If I were in your business, I would really be looking at alternatives to search engine marketing and search engine optimization"
His reasoning was that a career in SEO wasn’t viable as in the long run Google won’t be existent or the search engine of choice:
"We don’t actively have to search for anything anymore – that times are changing and Google isn’t on the right side of the change"
I think he is right on a couple of points – we do need to look for alternatives, but not to search marketing, but within search marketing. And yes, the times are changing – but that is a constant and always has been, long since before SEO came along.
Indeed, Siri is already finding issues with it’s understanding of human queries – something that Google has been dealing with for years, and this is already an indication that Siri has a lot of catching up to do if it is to challenge Google in search.
The fact is, search engines will continue to live long and prosper – they will still need their algorithm to work out which the best/most relevant sites to present as results are – therefore, as SEOs we must be agile and react to these changes.
So my only prediction for 2012 (and beyond) is SEO will change, but it will not die.
What I will list though are key areas I think we all need to look at, if we are not doing so already, and be ready to embrace them as key factors in how we do our jobs.
Change Or Improve Your Approach To Link Building
One thing that may well be dying, if not already dead, is brute force link building. The days of firing 100s of exact match keyword rich links at a page look to be numbered, Google are looking for (or more to that point, getting better at spotting) more natural footprints with regards link building and your back link profile will need to reflect this.
Moving forward, a mixture of brand, URL, "click here" and even nofollow links will serve your site better in the long run than a plethora of keyword rich anchor text links. You may want to change your style and be less obvious – find synonyms and related phrases then look at brand / partially related anchor text.
If you’re "unnaturally" building links – don’t be so obvious about it, take the time and effort to mix your anchor text up a bit.
Be Ready For Mobile Search
Predicting mobile search to continue its rise in 2012 is hardly a bold prediction. I'm not even going to predict it, but there are certain facts that you cannot ignore.
One is that its growth is massive and currently there are more wireless customer connections in the US than there are people, and this figure is set only to rise (not just in the US, but globally).
The introduction of Siri will also bring a new dimension to mobile search and the requirement that your business has a viable online mobile presence is more important than ever.
Note, this doesn't mean you need rush out and build a mobile version of your site – that would depend entirely on the nature of your website and how customer's interact it with it to get what they need (or in other words, achieve your goal).
Another way to think about if you need a mobile site seems obvious, but only consider it if you get mobile traffic – so take a look in your analytics and take it from there.
What the rise in mobile search does mean is that you should ensure the best experience possible for mobile users and their various browser agents, by focusing on two key areas - valid HTML and optimised page speed.
Another thing to bear in mind is ensuring that your website has clickable phone numbers (so always use text, never images) and addresses, preferably marked up using micro formats or similar.
This goes hand in hand with mobile search – 33% of mobile users are searching for local content relevant to their location. Not to mention continued testing and integration of local listings in the natural SERPs and continuing emphasis on personalised search.
So there is no excuse – get your site listed on the local listings: Google Places & Bing Local and use microformats/schema.org to develop rich on-site location pages.
You should develop a proactive review policy – get customers/users to review you either on Google places or amongst the local business review sites such as Yelp.
Aggregate review results are becoming more visible in the SERPs, so where possible ensure you have reviews on your site using the correct microformat/schema.org markup – this does work, we’ve applied this successfully to client sites and seen the results in the SERPs. We've seen increased click through rates for terms that rank page 1, from having a 5 star rating appear within their listing.
We are seeing increased integration of social in real time search and an increase in consumers looking to social networks as opposed to search engines.
The integration of search and social media continues at a rapid pace which again tells me that SEO is not dead, but that the way in which we will look to drive rankings and traffic to sites will change.
It's quite possible that in time, your Klout score may become as important, if not more so, than link authority. That said, it’s not enough just to have a Facebook or Twitter account, the user behind it is the most important aspect – you need to engage and be engaging. You also need to go and find the Social Media networks that your target audience are on - there's no point in having a Facebook profile page if your target audience is on Google+ and so on.
Search engines look for quality signals – quantity is easy to game, so quality will become more important as the algorithm becomes more sophisticated. This quality will come from interactions with "important" people and real, human, substantive engagement.
Moving forward, you should start to think about social media more like search engines. For example, you should consider the parallel aspects of websites and twitter, and the mindset is not too different than how it is already:
- - Domain Authority = Username Authority
- - Duplicate Content (bad) = Retweets (good)
Google discounts duplicate content in regular SEO. The opposite is true in social (sharing)
- - Blogging Freshness = Content Freshness = Microblogging Freshness
- - # of links = # of followers
- - inbound links V outbound links = # of followers v # of people followed
- - quality of links = quality of followers
- - linking to good/bad neighbourhoods and the themes of twitter users you follow
So the social signals you should bear in mind (on Twitter and beyond) that can affect search will be along the lines of:
- - Increasing the amounts of links your content/domain from tweets & retweets
- - 2nd tier SERP visibility – increase your presence in the social networks
- - Blog comments – as a signal that people are reading your content
- - Facebook Likes (Bing already uses these)
- - YouTube views
- - Status updates in relation to keyword sharing
Integrating search and social in 2012 is a must. And whether you like it or not, so is getting involved on Google+.
Google has been recently pushing authorship mark-ups to be included on websites, as they will be starting to highlight content creators in their search results. In addition to this, Matt Cutts gave a keynote at Pubcon, where he told us:
“Social is a good way to create a reputation for authors. If the reputation of content authors is transparent, it will make the whole web better.”
By using the markup rel="author" you can create an author for your website and by becoming active in social you can write content, get links to your content where the better the links are, the more trusted the author becomes. You can also go beyond your site and comment on relevant blogs and forums – and use the URL fields to link back to your author page.
Do all this to build your brands author authority, because:
"The name of the writer can be used to influence the ranking of web search results by indicating the writer responsible for a particular content piece ... Assuming that a given writer has a high reputational score, representing an established reputation for authoring valuable content, then additional content authored and signed by that writer will be promoted relative to unsigned content or content from less reputable writers in search results."
So there you go. Those are the key areas that I feel we, as SEOs, will need to understand and embrace if we are to continue to prosper in search in 2012 and beyond. As I said, SEO is not dead, but if you fail to move with these changes and rely on the old (all be them tried and tested) SEO approaches, you may well get left behind, and pretty much come across as being dead.