Following the pace of change relating to search engine optimization — or SEO as it's often called — can be dizzying. In 2008 Google made more than 400 changes to the ranking algorithm. Luckily, you don't have to keep up with every detail. But there are some important SEO trends you should know about as we go further into 2009.
SEO used to be something akin to voodoo; the only people who understood it were the ones doing it. But now it seems everyone knows about SEO. (Heck, even Wal-Mart offers SEO services!) As more small business owners become aware of what SEO is and why you should be doing it, competition should increase and put a premium on smart decision-making when it comes to doing SEO in-house or hiring a consultant.
On that note, in-house SEO has never been more popular than it is now, and that trend should continue into 2009. The upcoming SMX West search marketing conference even has an entire day devoted to in-house SEO. Companies big and small are recognizing the need for and value of having dedicated staff to recommend and implement SEO strategies. Many of us who don't work in-house have never been busier than we are now. Because of trend No. 1 above, small business owners are hunting far and wide for SEO help. Purely anecdotal evidence, but something that many fellow SEO friends are experiencing: I usually get 2-3 emails a month from small business owners looking to hire an SEO. Last week alone I received five. There's big demand and a lot of SEOs will be booked up.
Google has dominated the SEO landscape for years, and their lead over Yahoo and Live Search is only getting bigger. There are several companies that try to track market share, and their numbers differ. But they all agree that between 60-70% of searches happen at Google. That doesn't mean you should put all your SEO eggs in Google's basket, but it does mean if you're not being found on Google, you're not being found.
Hoping to take advantage of the growing interest in SEO, and the difficulty in finding the right consultant, more companies and individuals are creating online tools that automate portions of an SEO analysis. While some of these tools offer helpful data at a basic level, what matters most is how you use the data they provide.
The downside of increased interest in SEO is that many small business owners will continue to spend money making unethical scam artists rich. $99/month for 500 directory links? $200 for search engine submission services? Don't do it. Read what several search industry leaders had to say about SEO scams, and make sure this is one trend you avoid in 2009.
Links are the currency of SEO, and content is what attracts the links you need to rank well. When you rank well, you have authority. If you run a service-based business, you must be giving away your knowledge and expertise in the form of articles, blog posts, or other unique content that will attract links. If you run a retail web site, this still applies. Follow Amazon's lead; I think they're the SEO-smartest retailer online. I mentioned Google's universal search at the start of this article, and other search engines have also been providing blended results for some time. What this means is that the Google search results page is no longer a list of 10 web page links; it now includes videos, news articles, blog posts, images, and more. In turn, this means that SEO isn't just about tweaking your web site; it's about creating and optimizing whatever forms of content make sense for your business and industry.
The numbers are astonishing. YouTube gets more searches than Yahoo. About 100 million people watched videos on YouTube in October, and the average viewer watched 92 videos that month. eMarketer just reported that video is the number one tactic that US marketers will be focusing on in 2009. If you're not doing it, chances are your competition will be.
Personalization of search results has been simmering for a couple years now, but has started going mainstream recently. Google is leading the way with things like SearchWiki and Preferred Sites. Plus, things like your location, your recent searches, and which datacenter your search gets sent to can also impact the 10 search results you see at any given moment. It will continue to become more unusual to see the same 10 results when you and a friend in another state do the same search. This renders ranking reports borderline useless. In other words, it's no longer about whether your business is ranking for a certain search term at, say #2 in Google. Traffic and conversions are what you should be tracking, not what number you rank at for a specified term.
Mobile search has been on the way for years, but it never arrived. Until now. Mobile search used to be as fun as root canal, but the growth of smartphones – fueled by the iPhone – means mobile search is more enjoyable, more productive, and more popular than ever before. If your business appeals to people who might be searching on the go, local SEO should be a high priority for you in 2009.
Social media (sites such as Facebook and Twitter) isn't going anywhere. And more of your potential customers are using it to make connections. You should be, too. By being active in online communities, you can develop an audience (look at the 38,000 followers Zappos has on Twitter!). When you do it right, that audience will help you push out your content (see No. 7 above), link to your content on occasion, tell their friends about you, and become your de facto marketing department. Few small businesses will suddenly find themselves with 38,000 Twitter followers, but don't underestimate the value of connecting with even 25, 50, or 100 people in the right online community.