Like every year in media, and especially in an industry that's less than two decades old (think about that -- SEM isn't old enough to drive yet), it's been a year of great changes and innovations to keep up with. We were introduced to terms like "Wonder Wheel" and added "MicroHoo" to our vocabularies. Wolfram|Alpha was the year's first Google-killer-in-waiting, followed by Twitter (yes, people were saying it would replace Google), Bing and the still-to-come Yahoo-Microsoft hybrid.
And so the eternal question persists: What's changed? How do we optimize to the new landscape and stay ahead of our competition?
Well, for starters, do you remember the things you were told to do back in 2004 to make your site rank or perform well? Did you do them? Or are you still doing them in the midst of all the changes that you're making?
Of course, there have been changes in how engines rank results, and new opportunities are on the rise. Rich snippets and microformatting will probably become a bigger factor as engines try to provide flashier and more useful results. Google is planning a new emphasis on page load speed, and wants more real-time results in its searches -- even if no one else does.
Does this mean that SEO fundamentals can be thrown out the window? Absolutely not. It's more important than ever to make sure that your content is visible, authoritative, and targeted to the right keywords.
Storefronts have been around for centuries. While the means have changed, the basics are still there. The advent of electric signs, television advertising, giant inflatable gorillas, and Web sites hasn't changed the fact that your store isn't going to get much business if people can't find your front door.
In the same way, it's not going to mean much to update your copy to a tightly controlled keyword density if the engines can't see it in the first place. By all means, bring in new modules and site elements, but make sure that these upgrades, and the rest of your site, are grounded in visibility, authority, and the right keywords at every step.
Blogging: The Oldest Social Media
In the midst of the discussions about Twitter strategies and how to build a Facebook fan page, the huge value that a company-driven blog offers has gotten lost in the shuffle. Maybe it's because it's easier to think about reaching out to potential customers in 140-character snippets, maybe it's because these sites have already built the platform for us rather than having to create one ourselves, but keeping a blog for your company still brings value to your site and your brand that these newer social outlets can't.
Combine a drive by the engines for fresh content with SEO value that newer social media can't touch. It's an invaluable channel that's frequently overlooked and neglected -- in many cases because it's not the word on everyone's lips at the moment. Remember, if you have enough news and content to Twitter about, you have enough to blog about.
Checkout Optimization: Foundation for A/B Testing
The usability of your site is, in many ways, more important than its SEO awesomeness as it affects all customers. While there are many ways to improve both at the same time, one of the quickest wins is in an area where (hopefully) search engine spiders won't ever quite reach: the checkout experience.
Throw all the flash and AJAX that you want at the rest of the site to make it easy and fun to use (with an HTML backing, of course!), but you need to make the last, most stressful part of the sale for customers as easy, quick and painless as possible if you want to convert them. In your A/B testing quest for category perfection, make sure to establish tests for variations on your checkout process, and make sure all the guidance and possible shortcuts are there for the customer.
Back to Basics
Thoroughly take care of your fundamentals first and you'll find that your site and your business are in a position to weather the biggest changes. It will also give you the time and resources necessary to pursue the newest and most aggressive strategies elsewhere to layer on top of a firm foundation.