Now The Dust Has Settled – SEO Predictions for 2013

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.

If Lance Armstrong was an SEO

If Lance Armstrong was an SEO (Image Source – Flickr)

 

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?

SEO 2013 Racoon

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.

*gulp*

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.

'Content Marketing' - Google Trends

Image Source: Google Trends – showing use of the word ‘Content Marketing’ on the internet over the last nine years.

 

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.

To Conclude:

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?

About Mark Hughes

Mark started life as ‘the client’, so he is acutely aware of the challenges our clients face. He brings with him many years of experience managing search campaigns for a wealth of companies, from blue chip corporations to SMEs. Outside of SEO (if that exists), he’s an avid festival goer (Glastonbury is an annual pilgrimage!) and he loves football, music, art and food (oh, and he makes a mean cuppa!). Follow Mark Hughes on Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+.

11 Responses to “Now The Dust Has Settled – SEO Predictions for 2013”

  1. Jessica Hartman January 28, 2013 6:26 pm #

    This is a great post & the predictions are right in line with what I have been feeling. One thing I wanted to mention is the possibilities of the rel=author being directly related to link juice potency in 2013. It only makes sense that if two authors right the same quality content and post on the same quality site that the author with the higher social interactions would be deemed slightly more authoritative then the author that is just starting to make a name for themselves.

    That’s just my 2 cents though :)

    Happy Marketing people!
    Jessie

  2. Mark Hughes January 28, 2013 7:00 pm #

    Hi Jessica, thanks for your comment! Totally agree with you there (as mentioned in Point 3) – we have yet to see any massive impact from authorship, but I agree with you that it’s coming this year. Have you got your author profile set up?

    • Jessica Hartman January 28, 2013 7:07 pm #

      I am trying to push it through production for the company I am working with. Just received development hours for it. Now waiting for the time slot.

      Things run slow here :)

      • Mark Hughes January 29, 2013 10:08 am #

        I’m all to familiar with that scenario, Jessica! So long as you can go through and add historical authorship markup through previous content, I suppose there’s not too much to lose. Good luck getting it sorted!

  3. Chande January 29, 2013 9:30 am #

    Great article. It points to almost every right direction. I would say you missed a part in new metadata and expansion of schema.org and probably the devaluation of guest posting if not related to strong profiles.

    Whoever gets the keyword data will have enough offers :)

    Cheers

    • Mark Hughes January 29, 2013 10:22 am #

      You make a very good point, Chande. Semantic markup is surely going to expand this year. One thing I’d like to see this year is something to help us deal with valid duplicate content.

      For example, I have a client that has an encyclopaedic section on their website with 000s of pages of unique, high quality content. However, on another part of their site, they enable users to sell the products listed in this encyclopaedia. It seems perfectly valid to want to include a large chunk of the same information on the listing pages that they have on the encyclopaedia pages. Serving users the most useful information to them on a single page is better than forcing them to click around the site to find more information. So whilst I understand that unique content is important, currently Google is too black and white about this.

      There’s an interview where Matt Cutts talks about this, using a pizza delivery service in multiple cities as an example. He claims that you should include different information on each city page, even though the product is essentially the same. I totally disagree – I want my top sales spiel on every page. Check it out: http://www.stonetemple.com/matt-cutts-and-eric-talk-about-what-makes-a-quality-site/

  4. Jessica Hartman January 29, 2013 1:52 pm #

    Ahh Schema tagging. Its the first connection I’ve been able to make with branding from an SEO perspective. I can’t wait to see this go live; especially with our events and awards sections. :)

    • Mark Hughes January 29, 2013 3:02 pm #

      Interested to know what you mean by ‘branding from an SEO perspective’, Jessica – have I missed something?!

  5. Jessica Hartman January 29, 2013 3:09 pm #

    Trying to introduce SEO to branding teams I have found to be a little more tricky then other groups. I was simply excited to see the positive feedback on sharing Schema.org search results with the branding team and explaining how using this tagging can assist in building a brand name / quality through displaying awards, reviews, etc… directly in the search engines making our brand stand out against competitors.

    • Mark Hughes January 29, 2013 3:23 pm #

      Ah I see – good to hear that from a different viewpoint. Branding and design teams can often be a barrier, particularly as a few years ago SEOs would be demanding long reams of text (in the footer!) and horrible, keyword stuffed titles & H1s etc. However I think that the evolution of how Google looks at sites is beginning to bring these disciplines closer together – rewarding quality content, well thought out design (e.g. responsive) over keyword stuffing and SEO box ticking. This can only be a good thing for us as marketers, as well as internet users in general.

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