With 2008 in full swing, the game is already starting to change for the SEO (define) community. After the recent hailstorm of New Year's predictions and resolutions, agencies and in-house SEOs are buzzing with new ideas and strategies for the next big search thing.
Following the recent Christmas surge in Google traffic from new iPhone purchases, the search community has started to reexamine mobile. Additionally, the expected war cries for social media (define) and mainstream SEO have echoed through the blog predictions.
But what does this all mean to an agency? New opportunities and new competition.
Beyond the Search Engine
SEO has become a discipline unto itself, and it seems that the industry is annexing new lands for its playground. Just look at mobile.
Since the launch of the iPhone, mobile traffic has become a real possibility for real-time search needs. As Steve Jobs and company help break down the WML (wireless mobile language) barriers, SEO has a real chance to thread local search into mobile media needs.
At last check, 30 percent of all search engine queries contained a zip code, city name, or state. By answering local needs with mobile search, SEOs have the potential to turn local search listings into a modern day Yellow Pages -- for any piece of information one may need in real-time.
Local and mobile aren't the only areas that cross-pollinate either. As discussed in my last column, the use of the social media for SEO work hasn't only taken off, it's exploded. The next step for the new SMO subset is practicality and application.
Does Arm & Hammer really need a Facebook account? Probably not, but a company like Kaplan might.
A viable strategy to promote a client site not only to search engines but also to the user base (and, in turn, back the engines via user generated content, blogs, etc.) is a valuable commodity -- so much so that it expands the influence of SEO.
This leads in to my next point.
SEO May Go Mainstream
SEO now has more purpose than just raising SERPs (define). Search results have meaning and collectively tell the user a relevant story about their search. SEOs are not just search promoters; they're image managers, something that clients and traditional agencies are likely to grasp.
Online reputation management was in its infancy in 2007. Expect this service to become a mainstay this year. As more blogs and news sources arise, companies and individuals will need continued monitoring and attention to protect their online image.
Think that sounds a bit like public relations? It does. Search has started to fall in line with traditional marketing and public relations tactics. With its increasing utility and parallel purpose, SEO may very well go mainstream this year.
In-House SEO Woes
Regardless of the when, integration of online and traditional marketing seems inevitable, and this poses a new problem for the large agency. If SEO goes mainstream, expect more companies to staff their own full-time SEOs.
More in-house demand will hopefully open up more jobs in SEO and attract new talent to the industry. With Yahoo HotJobs citing SEO as one of the top five careers that doesn't require an MBA, the field looks mighty promising.
For the agency, there's an obvious downside. If more people develop their own internal teams, then there'll be less need of our services. I guess we'll need to keep attracting top talent as well.
The Evolution Will Not Be Televised
In 2007 we saw the birth of many new blogs, the launch of Sphinn, and tremendous surge in general SEO chatter. This led to two things: a larger forum for SEO discussion and the outing of certain "special sauce" tactics. Expect a backlash.
Tactics may once again retreat to the underground. More private white hat forums may spring up with similar function to certain black hat message boards.
The real strategies won't be at SMX, SES or PubCon; they'll be at exclusive water coolers. As people become hesitant to talk openly about their practices, the only real way to get to the good stuff will be through good old-fashioned networking.
ROI Will Always Be the Other 3-Letter Acronym
SEO must continue justifying its existence beyond high SERPs. Of course, on-site optimization is necessary to compete in organic listings, but we must also understand what it means to the bottom line.
In 2008 we expect to see an even greater emphasis on ROI (define) measurability and analytics. After all, this is the way a SEO campaign proves its worth, so why wouldn't clients invest in a proper analytics program? Correct analytics configuration can make all the difference when capturing and measuring conversion data; hopefully 2008 will find clients appreciating this even more.
No matter how the search engines create, tweak, or change functionality, the game will remain the same for an agency SEO: increase visibility of the client. No matter how it may change, 2008 is sure to be another interesting year for search.
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