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Future of SEO: Change, Convergence, Collaboration

andy-betts
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Forrester's Interactive Marketing Forecast for 2011-2016 predicts that 26 percent of all advertising spend will come from interactive marketing reaching a grand total of $77 billion by 2016, with $33 billion of that coming through search.

Although the report states that search will lose some share from 55 percent today to 44 percent of all interactive spend in 2016, it also states that “Marketers refocus their search marketing strategies on 'getting found' by users through any medium — not just search engines.”

While many posts have been written that address change in particular reference to Google, little has been said about how these strategic changes by Google are a result of, and indeed further catalyst to, convergence and collaboration.

Today, that is the main topic of my conversation – convergence and collaboration. It’s a big topic that requires a big post. Why? Like it or not, SEO has changed and its future relies upon a complex relationship with content marketing, social media, and collaborative technology.

The end result is a whole new way of thinking about utilizing SEO and social media strategy and technology.

What’s more, with the input of some expert insight, we will identify a whole new set of the new roles to the SEO landscape that are now totally justifiable – not just as part of a current SEO role, but as full-time roles in their own right.

With change comes great opportunity for the switched on SEO.

Trigonometry (from Greek trigōnon "triangle" + metron "measure"[1]) is a branch of mathematics that studies triangles and the relationships between their sides and the angles between these sides.

Change - A Brief Chronology of Google Change

search-engines-changes

Google has changed the way that people find information in search. Taking a step away from the hype and debate, Google Search Plus Your World was launched to solve issues regarding trust and authority of content by adding people, pages, and profiles that are all also fully integrated in search results. Hence, whenever I say change I also think content.

Google's changes over recent years, such as Caffeine and Google Panda updates, are mostly concerned with content and relevancy issues. Google’s SSL changes are driving many SEOs to change and adapt the way they work with a renewed focus on quality content, social media signals, and technology.

In parallel, the closure of Yahoo Site Explorer and gradual reduction in the number of free, reliable, relevant search engine tools has led to an increase in the number of new entrants into the SEO technology market.

Convergence - SEO, Social Media, and Content Marketing

convergence-collaborative-seo

Changes in the industry and with the search engines (a.k.a., Google) represent the convergence of search and social media, data and personalization, strategy and tactics.

The increased prominence placed on social media content, seeding, and sharing (social media optimization) has meant social signals are now a standard part of any search optimization techniques. The convergence of SEO and social media has really meant that change is no longer imminent, but upon us.

A new breed of ‘inbound marketers’ aim to take advantage of the convergence of social media, SEO, and content marketing, according to the Marketing Sherpa 2012 Search Marketing Benchmark Report - SEO Edition:

  • 60 percent plan to increase their social media budgets.
  • 60 percent plan increases in landing page optimization.
  • 57 percent plan increases in SEO.
  • 41 percent plan increases in content marketing.

Change is the Convergence of Social Media, Content Marketing & Technical SEO

Google Search Plus Your World is, in its own words, “bringing your world, rich with people and information, into search” and while many argue the case for a level playing field and the inclusion of Facebook and Twitter data the fact remains that it has an impact on how SEOs work and collaborate with their peers in social media and content marketing as well as with their clients.

Not only do Google’s recent changes typify the convergence of SEO and social media, it also changes the way in which SEO and social media people plan to work together as increasing prominence is given to quality content from social media sources and new influences on rankings.

Suddenly, SEO is being built around circles of social influence with social link building strategies being built in parallel. Content then needs to be made easily sharable through collaboration across social networks through links, and for the time being, Google Circles.

SEO now has to be as conversational as it is contextually relevant and building a framework for optimizing conversational type marketing fits neatly into this.

Convergence - SEO Technology

As the role of SEO develops and converges with social media, we're beginning to see many changes in the SEO technology landscape. For some, this has meant building and adding features as a result of changes within the search environment and the convergence of SEO, social media, and content marketing strategies. For others, developmental improvement has been a continual process, with the major focus being on the importance of identifying and maximizing new SEO opportunities via collaboration with clients through enterprise and productivity based SEO systems.

If you need more evidence then Forrester's Interactive Marketing Forecast now includes a new category – SEO Technology – which will taper to a 12 percent compound annual growth rate.

forecast-search-marketing-spend

What’s more, a recent survey from BrightEdge concluded that 72 percent of search marketers surveyed stated that they would spend more on search marketing technology in 2012 compared to 2011.

The changes we mentioned before by the search engines and the convergence of search, social, and content based strategies have meant that shiny new SEO tools and new generations of enterprise SEO platform are being built and developed. Enterprise SEO platforms enable SEO professionals and their clients to achieve a higher ROI from their campaigns by focusing attention on this convergence and focusing on opportunities for collaboration and overall increases in productivity and efficiency.

Tools vs. Platforms

It's important to distinguish between a tool and a platform.

  • Tools: Most tools serve a single purpose and are specifically designed to help with one specific area of your business. For example, that could be keyword research, link analysis, and analytics.
  • Platform: A platform provides a holistic solution to a number of client and business needs by offering a suite of integrated tools, most likely in this case, to include monetary, productivity, and relationship management type solutions.

Many SEO tools have developed in line with, or as a direct result of, the changes made by the search engines. The recent closure of Yahoo Site Explorer has given rise to a number of alternatives from providers such SEOMoz site explorer, Web SEO Analytics, and SEO Book toolbar, which all offer free alternatives alongside numerous other options such as Googlehacks.

The rise of Enterprise SEO technology is encouraging business and agencies to collaborate and take advantage of new developments and the convergence of SEO, social media, and content marketing strategies.

Intelligent systems are being developed that use data sources such as Alexa, Open Site Explorer and Majestic SEO to refine data relative to business outcomes. These tools combine a number of elements from keyword research, site crawling, backlink analysis, reporting, productivity & CRM, and social media – all with different degrees of capability.

Tool based platforms like Linkdex, Raven Tools, SEMRush, gShiftlabs, SearchmetricsConductor, Sycara, and BrightEdge are all developing into enterprise SEO platforms of the future.

These platforms focus on change, convergence, and collaboration by introducing workflow and task management solutions on top on their SEO toolsets and analysis.

workflow-task-management-solutions

Many of these tools are beginning to look like enterprise SEO platforms, but the reality is that there are so many tools to choose from that finding the right can be difficult and depends upon the scope of your role and your client brief.

Companies such as Linkdex and Conductor also offer a suite of SEO tools with a large focus placed on ‘the business of SEO’ and the value derived from close collaboration and the culture of SEO within agencies and businesses alike. Platforms like Linkdex and Brightedge place an emphasis on seizing potential opportunities, something that I like to call ‘opportunity cost based SEO’ by placing monetary value on SEO opportunity and providing competitive comparisons while building enterprise solutions.

As social signals converge in the SERPs, enterprise SEO solutions providers are beginning to integrate and add social media elements to their offerings (i.e., Searchmetrics has been marrying together analytics, search and social media data).

Many other tool providers take a more comprehensive view of the relationship between SEO and PPC with Kenshoo and Covario teaming up on SEO, PPC, social, and local. Other tools such as SEMRush are launching AdSense advertising reporting and Facebook Ad data into their toolbars.

Many full service digital marketing suites now incorporate SEO metrics as they too focus on the convergence of search, social, and display media. Platforms such as IgnitionOne incorporate PPC and SEO data in their attribution systems and the Adobe acquisition of Efficient Frontier gives a deeper insight into how the wider search, social, display, and digital ecosystem appears to be evolving.

In 2012 I expect further innovation from SEO platforms such as integration with Google analytics and the convergence of data sets from Webtrends, Coremetrics, Hitwise, and Omniture. We're already seeing more convergence and collaboration in the SEO tools space partnerships with outside data sources such as BrightEdge and comScore partnership.

Social Media & CRM Opportunities

While SEO platforms develop there are also many gaps and opportunities to incorporate social media CRM tools into enterprise SEO platforms.

SEO relationship management is maturing, but there is still an opportunity to identify and manage influencers beyond backlinks. Manage and nurturing social media relationships with the people ‘behind the links’ presents even more of an opportunity to converge and collaborate on SEO and social media strategies.

seo-technology

At the moment it's probably too early to work out the best way to calculate these social media metrics but once more accurate becomes available more data can be measured beyond numbers of tweets and likes. Social media tools such as Trackur and Radian6 offer insight and features based on social enterprise beyond the current functionality of the majority of SEO.

Other tools such as Basecamp, Huddle and Trello, are collaborative tools that help SEO and social media people, departments, and agencies.

I would be tempted to say that this market may quickly move from segmented to fragmented. As a result, in 2012 I think we'll see:

  1. Further organic and VC investment towards innovation in the enterprise SEO space, with a focus around social signals and metrics and API development – take away the theory of convergence and collaboration and this is your technical solution.
  2. Many smaller SEO and social media companies sharing resources via merger and acquisition.
  3. At least one SEO platform being integrated, via acquisition, into an automated content marketing or CRM platform, or even large agency network.

Collaboration

Hopefully you can see that changes in the search environment, the focus on content and social signals, and the growth, convergence, and development of enterprise SEO platforms fosters a need for collaboration.

The question for the SEO is, “Is your glass half full or half empty”?

I asked a few SEOs across the globe, and within my ‘social circle’, for feedback in this section.

Rather than resist change the opportunities to “reinvent the SEO wheel" are there to be taken by:

  • Close collaboration with industry peers across content, social, PR, and digital media channels – from SEO to TV
  • Utilizing the changes, convergence, and innovation in SEO technology to collaborate more efficiently and effectively with your industry peers, clients, and agencies accordingly.

For many a year we have seen white hat vs. black hat debate. In 2012 it could be that we will see a new argument – perhaps inbound marketing vs. black hat social media?

Will we see a new name for SEO, the inbound marketer, and will we (should we) expect more hats, 6 hats thinking, on the SEO table – maybe that’s one for our colleagues at SES to consider?

collaboration-seo

The Technician

From coding, crawling, keyword ranking, link analysis and link building tools to productivity social media, content and CRM - the opportunities for the technical SEO, developers and programmers to work together on integrated and innovative solutions are probably higher than they have ever been given the growth of SEO and social media technology.

The Social Media Specialist

While many argue and debate about the convergence of SEO and social media strategies the technical knowledge of how search engines work (to date) lie in the hand of the SEO.

Whether you're a strategist or a technician, social media people need to collaborate with you just as much as you and them.

The Psychologist

If there is ever a time to be inside the mind of the consumer it’s now. Looking at the psychology of sharing is something that SEO people have been doing for a long time and it’s important that strategies on social content, reach and conversion match the psychology of the link builder and buyer personas.

What makes someone tick isn't necessarily what makes people click. The experienced SEO knows this far better than a traditional content marketer.

Bas van den Beld, search & social strategist and SES speaker, makes an interesting point on technology and psychology: “Tools can help you find the way people use the web, they can help you understand how people think and therefore help you understand their perspective.”

The Consultant

The speed and volume of change in the SEO industry is so great that it can be a challenge for people in the industry to keep pace with change, and also communicate the effects of those changes to clients, in-house departments, and agencies. With the convergence of so many channels, the emergence of new social media platforms such as Pinterest and their subsequent relationships with SEO, the opportunities to learn, share, and educate are vast and continual.

The consultant can share knowledge, investment and SEO tips with social media peers. Clients have a thirst for knowledge but many lack the ‘know how’ and the available resources, to make the most out of change.

"The intention is often not malicious but suppliers usually benefit from pulling the wool over the eyes of their customers," said Kelvin Newman, organiser of UK search event Brighton SEO. "A mixture of growing maturity and ‘once bitten, twice shy’ cynicism is leading to greater transparency and openness and a need for close consultation and collaboration.”

The consultant can work with clients and peers to build and nurture trust and also combine SEO and social media strategies and data most effectively. The consultant works very closely with the technologist below.

The Technologist

Choosing the right blend of technology and utilizing many of the SEO tools and platforms mentioned in this article requires a consultative and collaborative approach. Each client and each opportunity will require a different combination of tools that can be split between keyword tools, link analysis, management and content/CRM. Those who choose a move to complex Enterprise Platforms will require significant levels of training.

The role of the technologist ensures that the selected solution fits your client’s needs by answering some basic questions:

  • What specific tools will they use?
  • Who will use the tool?
  • Where will it be used?
  • How many people will use the tool?
  • Would an Enterprise SEO Solution be a better fit?
  • Will the users be in-house – how much collaboration is needed?
  • Are the users across the whole organization?
  • Will specific tools alone complement each other? – social media and CRM?
  • Who owns and control the data?
  • If you use an enterprise solution – do we share costs and build alternative pricing models?

“I will have one client who won't know what meta data does, other use tools like screaming frog on a weekly basis” said Alex Moss, head of SEO at Pleer. “Eventually all prospective clients will have more knowledge of what you do as an agency and I wouldn't be surprised if they ask you what tools you'll use to perform specific actions with many wanting to be involved in the decision making and usage of the tools”

A technologist can help collaborate with consultants, clients, and in-house SEO departments to share access to some of the tools that help them and the client see the monetary value of SEO in their sector.

The growth of SEO technology, according to Forrester, will have an impact on SEO charging models and agency fee structures and for some (those who look backward in my opinion) SEO technology can be seen as a threat to agency fees. My argument would be that the the role of the technologist can foster collaboration, sharing data, and joint investment in SEO technology with agencies and clients.

New pricing structures are ‘naturally’ developed based on scalability and the efficiencies gained by the very adoption and growth of SEO technology. Technology is changing the way we work so it will naturally change the way in which it is priced over time.

The Trainer

Everyone suddenly seems to want to know about the convergence of search and social, so there should be much more focus on education and understanding towards clients. It’s vital to teach clients how things work and make them understand what they are doing, why are doing it, and what results to expect.

“We've found that clients knowledge of SEO and mindset has been shifting for the last couple of years, especially towards looking at SEO from a business/marketing perspective," said Kevin Gibbons, from SEOptimise and Search Engine Watch author. "For this reason education and training is becoming a very important part of the service you provide."

If you are a technologist then training people on the use of technology is a must. With such a high level of continual change in the industry there are massive opportunities to train and educate clients in the development of new techniques, technology, platforms, and integration and learning’s across social media platforms.

As many companies take some elements of SEO in-house and with the every expansive role of SEO and its convergence with other marketing disciplines agencies and clients need to find a ‘happy medium’ for consultation, training, and implementation.

“When I was on agency side I definitely saw a shift from having the agency doing the bulk of the work to being used in more of a training and consultancy role," said Simon Heseltine of AOL. "This is a shift that has really been gaining momentum over recent years.”

The Innovator

All of the above sets you well on your way to becoming an innovator. 2012 is the year of change in SEO with opportunities opening up all the time to work, outside the silo, closely with your peers and clients to expand the role of traditional SEO from content SEO, social SEO through to reach and frequency and viral SEO

Conclusion

seo-change-convergence-collaboration 

The way you work, the tools you use, and your approach to SEO have all changed. We all know that, but taking action is a totally different ball game.

If you're open to changing the way you think about SEO and are willing to change the way you view the search world (as a marketer), then the opportunities, tools, and platforms are available for you to take advantage of right now.


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