How Will SEO Evolve in 2011?

It’s that time of year again. SEO bloggers are either looking back at their predictions for 2010 and seeing how right (or wrong) they were, or making entirely new predictions for 2011 — possibly because they were so wrong last year that it wasn’t worth looking back?

I want to focus on just one prediction for 2011 and then go ahead and try to make it happen on behalf of my clients. This seems like a more simple task than coming up with five or 10 predictions, knowing that some of them were made up simply so that I could fill a blog post.

The big news in SEO recently was the revelation that social media signals affect natural search rankings, from interviews with people at both Google and Bing — although no indication was given to how much they affect rankings.

To be fair, if you were a search engine and wanted to know what brands, websites, and general content people wanted to interact with online, where would you go first? It has an added benefit for those who think that the SERPs are a bit spammy (I’m not one of them, for the record).

One way of reducing the number of arguably lower quality websites would be to look at who the popular brands are in the social media space and try to reward them with more authority.

How can SEOs take advantage of what seems to be a clear shift toward sentiment as an extra factor in achieving better rankings?

A growing number of SEO techniques can be undertaken with SEO, and specifically link building, in mind — from PR and advertorials to advertising on relevant industry websites.

In 2011, I expect this to become more closely tied with clients’ overall marketing campaigns. The best way to explain this is with an example:

Client A is a retailer, looking to boost sales of a specific range of camping equipment products. Special offers, promotions, and TV advertising is all planned and will revolve around a creative execution involving a character who will appear in their ads.

The opportunities for SEO here are endless, and need to be part of the initial planning, not an afterthought. For example:

  • TV ads to be backed up with a strong PR campaign, aimed at increasing the number of brand and URL links to the client’s site.
  • The specialist nature of the goods is such that a blogger outreach campaign can be undertaken, looking for product reviews, advertising opportunities, contextual links, or at least deep links from these relevant sites.
  • The ad campaign’s character will have a Facebook and Twitter presence. If it is an engaging campaign, they will get a lot of followers and their profile will have strong social signals, which can then add value when linking back to the site.
  • Key influencers for this market on Twitter and Facebook can be contacted and encouraged to review products, follow the main character and will retweet, “Like,” and re-post special offers or product insights.
  • A campaign to win a free camping stove can be run as an “online game” (like the “throw the penguin” game, for example) and embedded on blogger sites to increase usage. It can also contain backlinks.

This gives us a “natural” balance between followed and no-followed links, contextual versus brand and URL links, from a variety of highly relevant sources, and also leverages the social media “buzz” metrics as further opportunities.

The point is that SEO, rather than being purely an ongoing process of optimization, will be more influential as part of a campaign-led marketing strategy. In 2011, we’ll need to work with our clients to ensure this happens.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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