Future of SEO: Investment, Innovation & Integration

It has been a while since I last touched up on the topic of Change, Convergence & Collaboration in our industry. A lot has happened since then! During that time I made a few predictions that I would like update you on all on what change has happened and how it has fostered investment and innovation of SEO technologies as this discipline integrates with other channels.

What’s more, I also had the great pleasure of interviewing two leaders in the SEO technology space – Rand Fishkin from SEOmoz on investment (soon to be Moz maybe?) and Dixon Jones of Majestic SEO, in particular, on recent innovation.

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The diagram above gives you a broad overview of change since February. It highlights the strategic, technological, and tactical changes that have been made and how we’re now finally beginning to see more investment in the development of technologies that fuel innovation and integration.

As this post leans more toward the strategic rather than the tactical I am only going to mention black and white animals briefly.

Panda is aimed to reduce rankings for low quality sites and improve rankings for sites with great, innovation, and insightful content. Penguin is aimed to remove web spam and combat what they view as black hat.

Google’s strategy is clear; it wants the big brands and big bucks. The reality as to whether it has its tactics right is highly debatable. This is not, however, the subject of this post.

Some great tactical articles on the fallout of Panda and Penguin are here:

Change, Convergence and Collaboration = Investment, Innovation, Integration

“In parallel with change we will seen further organic and VC investment towards innovation in the Enterprise SEO space with a focus around social signals and metrics and API development” – Me, February 2012

Before we ask the experts who are driving this change in the data provision world, let's highlight some significant events over recent months that highlight the move from change to convergence and collaboration.

Investment & Innovation – Strategic Change

  • BrightEdge raised $12.6 million in series C funding – It is looking at further integration across site, search, and social channels globally. Recently it has been working closely with Facebook (API) and Twitter on cause and correlation between social shares, links, and rankings.
  • SEOmoz raised $18 million in venture capital – It is looking to innovate its technology offerings while also investing in other inbound marketing channels.
  • Conductor release figures showing that it has an annual revenue run of over $10 million dollars – A clear sign that clients are investing in search as the market changes.
  • BloomReach launched late February and has raised over $16 million in two series of funding – It positions itself as a Web Relevancy Engine with its ex Google, Facebook, and Cisco employees steering away from SEO type terminology.
  • Covario unveiled a new business unit, RIO SEO, that offers five search marketing and social media software modules.

Innovation & Integration – Strategic & Tactical Change

It isn't just the data providers and enterprise platforms that have been investing and innovating. Many third party tools and technology have been launching huge releases that focus on the changing of tactics needed at adapt to converging and changing landscape:

  • Raven Tools launched CRM for SEO and Social Media Marketing
  • Linkdex has made significant platform changes including launching its own site crawler
  • 360i introduced 360iTIGER – A clear sign that agencies can, and do, build their own proprietary technologies. It offers another cloud-based technology that gathers site data and social data and automates site, seo, social, and analytical audits
  • Ginzametrics launched new site and site creation platform updates
  • Searchmetrics has been focusing heavily on research on change – It has been releasing lots of data on the effects of Panda and rel=author

These are just a few recent developments that show how, in the space of four months data providers, tools, platforms and now agencies are adapting to the changes and convergence of multiple media types around SEO.

SEOMOZ, MOZ and Majestic - Investment & Innovation

Now it is very rare that you get chance to speak to the genius of Rand Fishkin and Dixon Jones in the same week, at a time that is perfect for them to speak about investment and innovation. If you're interested in Flow Metrics vs. Moz Metrics vs. PageRank…it’s very interesting.

Rand Fishkin Q&A

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Andy Betts: Earlier on this week via Skype we talked about the future of SEO and SEOmoz's plans with regard to balancing technology investment (link technology) and that of future product development around social and content. What are your thoughts on how SEOmoz aims to do this?

Rand Fishkin: Luckily, we've got a relatively sizable product and engineering team and can make investments on multiple fronts simultaneously. At the moment, there are 5 active big data projects, a bunch of UI work, product planning for 50+ new features, etc. It's one of the nice things about having ~40 engineers and product folks on the team; we can do a lot :-) Our aim is to continue to grow capacity, invest in lots of things, see what sticks with customers and the market, and iterate/improve on those pieces that are big hits.

AB: Why do you feel SEO is a good investment? What did your investors say on this matter? Is SEO investment a good investment today (right here right now) or is your VC funding more about investment in the "future of SEO"?

RF: Some of the investments firms we spoke to were more interested in pure SEO software/tools/data than any broader expansion. However, our plans are around growing into software for all inbound channels – content, SEO, social, community, links, PR, analytics, CRO, etc. I think both have great strengths. Certainly you can see a great deal of funding going to pure SEO plays like BrightEdge, Conductor, Ginzametrics, BloomReach, etc. so there's investment to be had on all sides.

AB: How has recent Panda and Penguin updates affected SEO and link technology - How has SEOmoz adapted to these changes and what opportunities (rather than negatives) do the updates bring to the SEO practitioner?

RF: Any big Google updates that make marketers and businesses think about SEO are good for practitioners and the market (generally speaking). When folks are thinking/talking about SEO, they're also thinking about their investments. In terms of SEOmoz itself, we've been working on some research around spam for a while now, but it's still a long ways off. Our hope is to have some data to present this summer and then a product potentially rolling out in the following 6-12 months, depending on how our tests go. Our goal is to have a metric of relative spamminess from both an inlink and outlink perspective, so marketers/site owners can get a better sense of how Google might view their site.

AB: How important is social media, content and CRM to SEO now? Do you think people can adapt current technologies to account for this shift or is investment (via acquisition or merger) essential due to the resource, cost, and scope of scalability in building SEO technology that converges with social, content, and CRM technology and practice?

RF: Combining these practices produces far better returns than investing in any of them individually or exclusively. We're already seeing a lot of adoption of integrated inbound marketing vs. pure SEO/social, and I strongly suspect that trend will continue.

AB: What do you say to critics of inbound media and the nomenclature issues? Is the SEO community turning on itself? How best should people cope with change in the industry (from a talent, personal development, structural point of view)?

RF: I'm pretty nomenclature agnostic personally. If another term can better describe content+SEO+social+email+community+analytics+CRO, I'll be happy to adopt it. Inbound marketing is succinct, it's understood and it's relatively pervasive in the industry, plus it saves a lot of time from the mouthful of noting all those techniques individually.

I don't see the SEO community turning on itself at all. With a few exceptions (we all have our rotten eggs), SEO is a world of incredible cooperation, support and camaraderie. It's one of the things I love best about my job.

In terms of change – thankfully, we're all in digital marketing and SEO, some of the most change-heavy practices in the professional world. I'd say we're well equipped as an industry (or should be) to handle big shifts in the landscape and practice of our craft. Just six years ago, there were three major search engines, social media marketing meant getting on the Digg homepage and the only link information available was from Yahoo. Things change incredibly fast in our world, so the growing practice of integrating multiple inbound channels shouldn't much of a challenge.

Dixon Jones Q&A

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Andy Betts: Congratulations on the launch of Flow Metrics. Tell me more about this and how (as industry initial reaction suggests) it changes the link building landscape

Dixon Jones: We certainly hope so! Now for the first time we can flow quality signals iteratively through many levels of urls through links. This gives us really quite granular metrics (from 0-100) about URL or domain’s strength.

AB: What inspired this change?

DJ: We new that whilst ACRank actually correlated with (say) PageRank reasonably well, it was never really designed to help measure quality with any degree of certainty.

AB: Tell me more about Citation and Trust Flow and why trust has become so important?

DJ: Citation flow takes our original metric – ACRank and flows ACRank through multiple links with a link value decay algorithm. Even though this is measuring something quite different to PageRank, it correlates quite effectively with that metric. We feel, though, that Citation flow is significantly more advanced than PageRank as a metric. Not surprising I guess since that metric is now rather old. Trust flow – on the other hand – uses the same iterative process but measures something different. Instead of a seed list of highly linked sites, the seed list is a set of sites that have been human curated and therefore have a relatively high trust.

AB: In terms of investment of resource, talent, and cost...how hard was this?

DJ: We have been working at this almost exclusively in combination with our partners for about seven months at the very highest levels of the business. Many sleepless nights and weekends with headaches. One of the problems is that wherever you find a bug, you need to rerun the while algorithm across the entire index. That takes a lot of time.

AB: What are your plans (or thoughts) with regard to balancing technology investment (link technology) and that of future product development around social and content?

DJ: We don’t want to ignore social – but at the same time we feel that our main focus has to remain being the ultimate custodians of the link data.

AB: Why do you feel SEO is a good investment? Is SEO investment a good investment today (right here right now) or is a better "future investment"?

DJ: I feel Internet marketing is clearly a good investment and search makes up a huge proportion of that sales funnel. It seems odd that companies enjoying good traffic from organic search are quick to forget how privileged they are and how valuable that traffic is. People are buying through search. Ignore at your peril. That said – I think that SEO is only a part of your Internet marketing mix.

AB: How has recent Panda and Penguin updates affected SEO and link technology - How has Majestic adapted to these changes and what opportunities (rather than negatives) do the updates bring to the SEO practitioner?

DJ: The new metrics really help to distinguish between quantity and quality for the first time in a very visual way. I think this will – in the long run, make us all better SEOs – and better Internet marketers.

AB: How important is social media, content and CRM to SEO now? Do you think people can adapt current technologies to account for this shift or is investment (via acquisition or merger) essential due to the resource, cost, and scope of scalability in building SEO technology that converges with social, content, and CRM technology and practice?

DJ: I don’t know about adapting technologies – but I do feel that a good SEO is extremely well equipped to deal with the advance of social marketing. A good SEO understands relationships and social is all about relationships.

AB: What do you think about the nonclementure issue? Is the SEO community turning on itself? How best should people cope with change in the industry (from a talent, personal development, structural point of view)?

DJ: Hey – you can’t fight the will of the people. I only wish we hadn’t used “SEO” in our initial domain name. 301 anyone?

AB: What more can 1. Agency partners 2. Direct users expect to see from Majestic in the near future?

DJ: Ah… the road map question. I can’t tell you much – but we have quite a bit of “cleaning up” to do to integrate Flow metrics more fully into our web interface. Our partners are already free to integrate the data into their service straight away.

Conclusion

It's great to be part of an industry that can adapt to change so rapidly. While there are many elements of this market to fix there are also sizable opportunities that we are all in a great position to take advantage of. Change is the only constant in our industry.

Leaders in space like Fishkin and Jones show us they way with investment and innovation. We have all different ideas, thoughts, opinions, and skill sets. However, data providers, platforms, and tools have begun to evolve to the changes in market as search, social, content, and marketing finally meet at the crossroads.

It’s now up to the individuals to adapt to a new way of working. From strategy to tactics to implementation – the platforms and tools are changing and so must we.