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15th December 2011 |  Written by Dave Ashworth

SEO 2012: SEO Is Not Dead, But It Is Evolving (And So Must You)

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.

 

Go Local

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.

 

Be Social

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+.

 

Understand AuthorRank

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.”

Not my words, but the words of Google.  Who were actually talking about Agent Rank.  And those words were them mashed up a bit by Jim Boykin to complement the idea of AuthorRank, but you get the idea.

 

In Summary

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.

Don’t die.

Your Comments

  1. I totally agree that SEO is changing and as you say traditional linkbuilding is dead. I just can’t believe that:
    a) Leo Laporte would say that Siri will overtake Google – not everyone is obsessed with or can afford Apple
    b) He focusses completely on Google, there are other search engines out there and if Siri does take over from Google then search engine marketing just needs to changes its focus, people are still searching via an engine so SEO still applies

    The use of gmail, hotmail and ymail is enough that search engines aren’t going anywhere any time soon.

    Great post, thanks.

  2. That’s a great article. It makes interesting reading.

    I agree wholeheartedly with your points about mobile & local search being the key.

    From an e-commerce Vs retail shop point-of-view. As an Android user one of my favourite features is the synchronisation of my google account with specific regards to “search” & “maps”. What I really love is the ability to transform a product search into an actual physical purchase “in-hand”.

    To elaborate on this point, let’s say for example I was out last-minute shopping to buy an Internet Radio but the ‘unnamed’ catalogue store was out of stock. I could search using the “google search” engine either by taking a photo of the barcode & using the app “goggles”, googling for it on my android device(which will display a local search result), or using “google shopper”.

    With the latter, a seeming homogenisation of google applications occurs – Within a few seconds my search result will display a list of stores nearby (based on my approx triangulated position or gps location). It will then list results for stores which a) have placed *free* feeds into “google content”, b)”google places”, c)”google local”, or d)organic SEO optimised “google search” results.

    I can then select a store listed as having this item available and be navigated to it by the excellent “google navigation” (if you have your phone in your pocket it will even buzz to tell you when to turn the corner as well as provide street-view where available).

    So the point I am trying to make here is that from a retailer point of view I believe that there will always be a demand for punters wanting to purchase products “in-hand” and therefore with the evolving technology I believe it can revive the fortunes of the high-street if used in the right way.

    From a customer perspective I am now quickly able to find real-world tangible products at the desired price faster than ever before.

    From the retail owners view, with mobile search being tipped to rank highly on the agenda – surely this signals an opportunity for retail premises to claw back some of their customers and instil a new-found confidence on the high-street?

    For me, as an Android user, It is hard to see exactly how google can be unseated as no1 when it holds so many different key aspects and underpins the technology. Google holds the key to all of my personal online life across my pc browsing with chrome, my tablet, my phone and now my TV. I am even looking a chromium laptop as the next laptop to buy. It’s this standardisation across devices that I love.

    Whichever direction consumer search engine favouritism takes, google is anything but unidirectional.

    Andrew Haslam
    Cherry Electronics

  3. @Lottafizz – to be fair, in my role, I concentrate solely on Google – I still submit sites to Yahoo and Bing but that’s it, but do agree that so long as people search, in whatever capacity, then they will expect search results and we as SEOs will work toward this end. SEO will only die when search dies. Which is unlikely.

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