The end of each year calls for reflection, while looking forward and planning for what's ahead. Being in the business of the web and SEO, we find our landscape changing rapidly, sometimes forcing us to make swift alterations from day-to-day. 2010 shook our world with developments and partnerships that will affect the way we all operate in 2011.
Google: From Mayday to Instant
As expected, Google played a huge role in the turn of events of 2010. The 'Mayday' change in the spring altered algorithms, causing some sites to lose their long tail search referrals and see between 5 and 15 percent drops in normal long tail traffic.
Then last September, Google once again sent the SEO industry into a panic with the introduction of Google Instant. While some people speculated the end of SEO as it we knew it, the new implementations concentrated searches into short head keyword pushing up the cost of those already expensive competitive keywords.
Google's response to the mayhem was simple: they noted that "ranking stays the same" and the algorithm stays the same. However, Google emphasized that because of Google Instant, search behavior may change over time. Meaning that while ranking criteria won't change, people's search habits may be altered.
Facebook & Bing
The last big change in 2010, and the one that wasn't caused by Google, came in October with the Facebook/Bing partnership. For U.S. companies, this means one thing: get yourself on Facebook, now.
While Bing isn't relevant enough in Europe to make a difference at the moment, we suggest that European companies watch Bing closely. When the search engine's market share breaks 10 percent, European companies should have an active presence on Facebook.
To those of us in the SEO business, the big story is the potential of Facebook becoming an individual's (and a corporation's) go-to social network hub and search engine. In general, it seems that Bing (the second challenger to Google in the search industry -- but far behind) could have figured out how to leapfrog right over Google and Yahoo by building this virtual bridge by linking Facebook directly to Bing. If done right and the Facebook/Bing integration is truly successful, it may well push Bing out in front of Google in the near future.
While the Facebook/Bing partnership is something we will watch closely this coming year, the other game changer is how social media overall will continue to affect SEO and website rankings. Google may not have a partnership with the world's largest social network, but that doesn't mean they aren't adapting to change with the continued rise in popularity of social media.
Another element to keep an eye on is Google Places. This application is going to allow for Google Maps results, video results and funneling traffic through Google's YouTube property, and can change the click distribution on search engine results pages (SERPs) putting your site in the spot on a SERPs that gets most clicks, which is what SEO is all about.
This changes the rule so that now the site that has the most attractive/relevant preview will generate the higher number of clicks. From an SEO standpoint, adding location-based keyword analysis will become even more important.
With the increasing number of people worried about personal Internet security, "trust" will be a key issue for the next few years. While in the past all the chatter was about "linkbait," we predict that 2011 will be the year of "trustbait."
While "good" linkbait results in shocking headlines, a form of tabloid writing for the web, trustbait is about generating trustworthy social campaigns. Just having links and rank isn't going to be enough -- companies now have to build trust online.
Because of this, search marketers are going to need to start focusing on more sophisticated link-building strategies -- organizations will need to develop links from more "neutral" sites such as news portals or by appearing in a search engine's own news stream. Companies are going to have to build up trust by getting mentioned or referenced in trustworthy news outlets, by forming Twitter engagement with trusted and reputable people, and using social platforms to build trust driven links.
If we can be assured of one thing moving into 2011, it's to be prepared for change. If Google can change its algorithms daily (which it often does), every day can bring a new challenge or opportunity to the SEO industry.