It’s fair to say that 2012 was a year of seismic changes in the SEO world. Following the original Panda update in 2011, which primarily targeted poor quality websites and spammy on-page factors, it seemed likely that 2012 would be the year that Google finally started to identify and eradicate link spam more effectively. And my, didn’t they just! Article marketing was all but destroyed, blog networks were decimated and keyword anchor text links were shattered. Whilst the rest of the world were watching Olympians harvest four years-worth of blood, sweat and tears, many SEOs were in tears, frantically working to untangle a huge bowl of link spaghetti, just to undo four years of blood, sweat and spam.
It was a ruthless move by Google. Regardless of whether you think they were right or not, it put a lot of companies and individuals through a very hard time. Coupled with the privacy scandal, resentment for Google was at an all-time high, both inside and outside of the SEO industry. Are the SERPs better now than they were 12 months ago? That’s debatable. But one thing is for certain: the language of the average SEO seems to have changed.
There’s less talk of cheap tricks and quick routes to the top. There’s more talk about how we can make the sites we work with different and better than our competitors; how we can be more creative in promoting our content and acquiring links and shares. Whisper it quietly, but Matt Cutts and his team might be patting themselves on the back for having curtailed the shady and unruly clan of SEOs that have roamed the internet, cluttering it with pointless articles, blog sites and a few million bizarre blog comments. If Google wanted to motivate SEOs to push quality content, instead of just filling the web with noise, then there’s a strong argument that they have gone at least part way to achieving that. Yes, spam might still work… but it’s dangerous.
So, now the dust of 2012 has settled and we’re nearly a month into 2013, what do I think the next eleven months have in store for SEO?
1. It Won’t Be As Dramatic
Wishful thinking? Well, firstly, for clarity, I’m not saying there won’t be changes and that everybody is going to emerge unscathed. Oh no, I ain’t no fool! But, I think 2013 could be the eye of the SEO storm. We will continue to see Google becoming smarter in discounting spam. If you’re still risking that, then at least make sure you’re ready to clean it up if/when you get caught – and definitely don’t rely on spam as your sole driver of results.
2012 was the year that many hoped would never happen, and it scared the pants off them. And that’s underpants, American friends. Google all but took away article spinning and spammy anchor text, which had been unbelievably effective in pushing rankings. But I just don’t think that there are any current grey/black hat techniques that are quite so widely used (articles) and accepted (anchor text). Of course things will change and evolve, certain methods will become less effective and others will emerge. But there will be fewer tears from fewer people.
2. Responsive Will Become The Norm / Bigger Differences In Mobile Results
Responsive web design isn’t anything new. But it’s pretty cool and most websites haven’t implemented it yet. OK, a mobile site can take you so far, but the previously distinct line between computers and mobile devices has been blurred by the massive growth of tablets over the last 12-24 months. Sites now need to provide a comfortable user experience on many different screen sizes. So, a website that breaks down and resizes automatically, according to your screen size, must surely be a more attractive and useful resource for users. Currently, if you’re using your phone or tablet, there is not a great deal of bias in the SERPs for responsive / mobile sites. But with 25% of search clicks now coming from mobile devices, that must surely change. I think we can expect to see mobile search engine results becoming increasingly detached from computer results. If this happens, it will be interesting to see if Google breaks it down into two (computer / mobile) or three (computer / tablet / mobile).
3. Authorship Will Become More Important
“Boooring!” Yes, yes – I know almost everyone is saying this, but I agree, so it has to be included. If you don’t like it, feel free to skip merrily on past…
Back in March 2012, AJ Kohn suggested that Author Rank “could be more disruptive than all of the Panda updates combined.” He could be right, as high authority authors on lower authority sites begin to replace lower authority authors on high authority sites. It hasn’t had much of an impact yet, but that’s understandable as Google waits for people to jump on board.
Predictably, uptake has been strong within the online marketing community. SEOs and content marketers are really pushing the concept of authorship in blogs, conferences and Meetup events. A large percentage of bloggers also seem to have taken heed.
However, it’s interesting to note that some of the top news sites haven’t implemented authorship markup yet. At the time of writing, I have seen the New York Times with rel=”author” pointing towards an on-site profile page, but no link to Google+. Meanwhile, Sky News have the rel=”author” pointing towards a generic Sky News Google+ profile, rather than the individual author. The BBC haven’t done either.
The ego bait of having journalists’ picture in search results is likely to be a big draw for them. The impact this could have on CTR is motivation enough for the outlets themselves.
Hence, I think it is likely that we will see more influential writers and journalists being attracted to authorship markup, as well as the remaining stragglers in the blogosphere. With that, Google will have enough data to begin more accurately biasing search results towards respected authors.
4. Mid-Quality Will Be The New Poor-Quality
The decimation of article marketing and ranking-focused private blog networks has inevitably resulted in a shift from low quality content to medium quality content. On the whole, guest blogging has so far escaped unscathed (unless there was a strong weighting towards keyword anchor text, of course). However, the mid-quality market is now becoming more and more crowded. In order to stand out from the masses in 2013, it is going to become more important to concentrate on fewer pieces of higher quality content. That’s not to say that mid-quality will not have a place, especially in less competitive or content deficient niches. However, if you are operating within a competitive niche with lots of content being produced every week, getting your content onto exclusive, high trafficked and well shared sites is going to be essential.
5. Krazy Kontent
Following on from the last point, with guest blogging becoming more competitive, we are going to see a further shift towards creative content marketing. The use of that term has grown exponentially over the last two years, with the biggest period of growth coming in 2012 after Google’s big shake-up. Blogs, forums, conferences, meetups, the pub… content marketing was to 2012 what crap haircuts were to the ‘80s. Everywhere.
If nothing else, 2012 taught us that thin content is not going to work for long. It seems that ‘OK’ content might not work as powerfully as it currently does for much longer, either. All tactics have their day, and then they inevitably burn out. However, top quality, creative, funny, useful, well promoted and thus widely shared and linked-to content is as near as you can get to black-and-white-animal-proof. SEOs and content marketers that want to sleep at night are being forced to think outside of the box to create content that offers something new and unique. I think that is going to lead to a rise in really cool content in 2013 – in all kinds of niches.
6. A Shift Away From Google Analytics
Matt Cutts once said that (not provided) would likely only account for a “single-digit percentage of all Google searchers on google.com.” Well we’re now seeing between 50-60% in many cases. That makes Matt Cutts 500+% wrong! Falsch. Mal. Sbagliato. Incorrecto.
Not to open up old wounds, but it still seems strange to me that Google will not give us keyword data for organic search, but they will for paid. They also give us network and a degree of location information… surely your average user would be more worried about that!
Anyway, in 2013, as more people are signed into Google accounts and using secure browsers like Chrome and Firefox, (not provided) could grow to more than 80%. At the moment, there is nothing that can really rival Analytics in terms of interface and information. However, the rise of (not provided) is unacceptable in an industry that relies so heavily on data and tracking. There is a massive, massive gap in the market for somebody to come in and give us an Analytics package that is a) affordable and b) offers full data. Whoever gets their act together on this could become a big winner.
Another SEOmoz acquisition, anyone?
7. Social Signals Will Become Unquestionable
Hands up those of you who think social signals matter already? Hands up those that don’t? Well, as you’re not actually here as I’m writing this, I’ll have to resort to anecdotal “evidence”. Around 50% of people I talk to think that social signals have an impact on rankings already. I’m not just talking about influencing the speed of indexing, but actually having an effect on rankings.
Social signals have got to be a massive attraction to search engines. If you were Google, why would you not want to take Twitter shares into account? This year, I expect that we will see an increasing correlation between social shares and strong rankings in search results. The information is there to be used and it’s only as susceptible to spam as links and on-site optimisation are. For those simple reasons, I don’t think the search engines can ignore it for much longer.
There are tonnes more predictions that I could make. We’ve had a few debates in the Electric Dialogue office about the possibility of Bing making strides in 2013. For the record, I fall on the side of the fence that says Bing will not make any meaningful dent into Google’s market share any time soon. They will have to seriously improve their results and hope that Google do something catastrophic to alienate the ‘normal’, non-SEOs who ultimately make up the vast majority of their user base. Ben disagrees with me and cites social search possibilities as one of the primary reasons – you can only imagine his delight when Facebook Graph was announced! 11 months is a long time in search – so let’s see who is right come Christmas!
Do you agree or disagree with these predictions? We really want to hear your thoughts and tips for 2013?