SEO Predictions for the New Year

At this time of year, professionals in a wide range of industries like to gaze into their crystal balls and predict what the next year will bring for their field. SEO is no exception; in fact, SEO writers started making predictions for 2011 as early as November. So before you head off to your parties, here are a few points to ponder as you prepare your campaigns for the new year.

We’ll focus on one of the biggest players in SEO, Rand Fishkin at SEOmoz. After reviewing how he did with last year’s predictions, he gave readers seven predictions for what will happen in 2011. Some were more controversial than others, of course. I’ll list just a few.

First, Fishkin predicts that someone will prove (or a search engine will confirm) that clicks/visits influence rankings. He noted that he’s "been hearing from more and more SEOs that there’s some correlation between earning clicks and moving up in the rankings." I’ve seen SEO Chat forum members asking about this as early as April of 2009, so in a sense it’s surprising that this hasn’t happened already. After all, Google and Bing both recently confirmed that they look at social factors when determining a page’s ranking in the results.

Fishkin’s fifth prediction was that mobile queries would have a negligible effect on search and SEO. He believes this will happen for two reasons: first, that mobile usage of search will NOT take off in 2011, and that mobile and desktop web browsing experiences "will continue to merge toward a single experience, thus negating much of the need for mobile-specific sites and SEO."

That prediction inspired quite a bit of controversy, with none other than Himanshu from our own SEO Chat forums firing back with a plethora of studies and figures to show just how much mobile usage has been growing — and how much is being spent on mobile advertising. While Fishkin’s arguments are compelling, I have to agree with Himanshu on this. A lot more people are using mobile today, and they’re using it for more than just checking their email and Facebook. What’s more, the most active mobile users skew young. Marketing to a twenty-something or thirty-something using a mobile device, with its small screen and other limitations, will call for a strategy that is different from marketing to a baby boomer working at their desktop or laptop. A good marketing campaign in 2011 will need to take this into account at the planning stages.

If you’re perceptive, you’ll notice that I used the phrase "marketing campaign" above, and not "SEO campaign." For his seventh prediction, Fishkin stated his belief that "We’ll start to move away from the title ‘SEO’ to something more all-inclusive." To be honest, I’ve been seeing that already, to some extent. Fishkin includes a diagram that shows how many activities fall under the heading of SEO (improve traffic metrics, diversify link/traffic sources, target the right keywords, etc.). He also notes that, "with the search engines expanding so far afield in the signals they consider and the verticals/media types they include," SEOs actually NEED to be conversant in many facets of organic web marketing.

This prediction inspired a fair bit of discussion. Some think the title itself won’t actually change; it will simply continue to become more inclusive, with more activities falling under its umbrella. One commenter noted that "An SEO for a multi channel retailer will inevitably have to understand all the sales channels to provide the best ROI…even if he is solely responsible for SEO. Although it won’t happen in 2011, I expect that eventually…there will be very little difference between an online marketer and just a marketer."

For 2011, though, I personally think we’ll see a pull in two directions: generalization and specialization. There will be a minority of SEOs that begin to specialize in specific aspects of the field (on-page optimization, link generation, or social media, perhaps), while the majority continue to generalize and evolve into what can rightfully be called "online marketers." It will take at least through the end of next year, though, to sort out what terms will be used. If you’re trying to explain it to clients, you’ll want to focus on what you do, and not your title, whether it’s SEO, online marketer, SMO, or something more exotic. Good luck!

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