I’ve made it pretty clear in some of my previous posts on here that part of the reason I got into SEO in the first place is my love of the internet and the background science that drives it.  It’s fascinating to me how much our society relies on this vast network, even though most people haven’t the faintest clue how it operates – and those that are “in the know” are often scrambling to make sense of search engine algorithm changes.

Given how much I love SEO, I spend a lot of time reading industry blogs and participating in SEO events.  Not only does this help to keep me on my game when it comes to helping my clients’ sites perform better in the natural search results, it also gives me some insight as to what’s coming up in the future of the industry.

So with that in mind, the following are a few of my predictions as to what we’ll see in the future of search:

SEO is more than just SEO

Go back a couple of years, SEO was nothing more than a series of steps to be completed – much like assembling Ikea furniture.  You plugged your target keywords into your meta tags, ensured high keyword density, and tossed a few links at your site from your favorite website or article directory – and boom…high rankings in the search results for your website.

SEO isn’t some standalone technique that can be applied to existing websites or completed by an external consultancy in a one-off project.  Today, good SEO relies on a number of different components, including social media marketing, branding and content marketing.  Until recently, all of these different techniques would have been considered the province of corporate marketing departments – not SEO!

As the search algorithms become more complex and refined, all of these different elements will continue to play an increasingly large role in search performance, making it imperative that website marketers step up their efforts when it comes to using these varied strategies.

As a result of this shift, SEO can’t be addressed in a bubble. Instead, it must be integrated into ongoing IT, sales and marketing priorities – making it much more than plain old, traditional SEO.

Social signals are the new link building

The jury’s still out on how exactly social signals influence natural search results rankings, but given that both Google and Bing acknowledged their role in the ranking algorithms as far back as December 2010, it’s safe to say that their impact has grown since then.

In addition, it’s important to keep in mind that, post-Penguin update, the “natural-ness” of your backlinks matters more than ever.  There’s really no better way to create these natural links than through the use of smart social media marketing.

Think about it…which of these two things sounds easier?  Emailing hundreds of prospective link partners in your industry and hoping that at least a handful of them will create a backlink to your site?  Or creating one great content marketing piece and distributing it to your social networking profile followers, with their person-to-person shares resulting in the social signals and natural backlinks needed to improve your site’s overall SEO?

The bottom line is, social signals matter more than ever from an SEO perspective.  If you aren’t already actively maximizing your social presence, make that a top priority in 2012 and beyond.

Branding is the way of the future

In the same way that the importance of social media marketing has grown in response to Google algorithm changes, branding has as well.

Google and the other search engines want to share the best results, and through extensive experience, they’ve come to find that known brands tend to provide better user experiences for their search referral visitors.  It can be frustrating for lesser-known sites to compete against mega-brands like Target, Amazon and Zappos, but instead of getting frustrated, become a recognized brand in your own vertical.

The importance of branding in SEO isn’t going to change anytime soon, so instead of complaining about it, invest your time and energy into developing your own brand.  To do this, you’ll want to:

  • Develop a consistent visual theme across all elements of your web presence (including your main website, your social networking profiles and other areas)
  • Define any taglines or marketing phrases that website visitors should associate with your brand and use them liberally across your web presence
  • Optimize your website for your chosen branded keywords and SEO keywords

Developing your brand takes time, however you should see these efforts pay off both in terms of your natural search presence and in newly-found brand loyalty between customers and your business.

Mobile growth will continue

People around the world are using and adopting mobile devices at a faster rate than ever before – and there’s no sign that this trend will turn around any time soon!

Despite this growing mobile usage, it never fails to amaze me how many webmasters and digital marketers pay no attention to their mobile strategy.  In reality, every business has a mobile strategy.  If yours is ignoring the potential importance of this new technology and usage shift, it’s not a very good one!

In my opinion, mobile is the next frontier in digital marketing.  It won’t be enough to simply have a website that auto-loads a mobile version (though this minimal effort will certainly be mandatory amongst mobile consumers).  Your mobile website – as well as your mobile commerce system, social networking profiles and other web presence elements – will all need to be both visually appealing and functional.

If you haven’t already invested in a mobile strategy for your website, get on it now!  Not only will it likely play a stronger role in the natural search algorithms, but I predict that mobile consumers will become less forgiving of poor mobile web experiences in the future.  Putting a strategy into place now will help prevent your loss of market share from these tech-savvy customers.

Algorithm changes will happen faster than ever

Finally, we’re seeing algorithm changes roll out at a faster rate than ever, with the paradigm-altering Penguin following too closely on the heels of the massive Panda change for most SEO’s comfort.

SEOMoz has a really fascinating breakdown on what some digital marketers think about Google’s recent hyperactivity, but my thoughts are as follows…

Yes, it can be frustrating to see algorithm updates roll out one after another in the way that we’ve seen over the past 16 months.  There’s been a lot of collateral damage from websites that didn’t deserve to be penalized, not to mention the challenge for professional SEOs to keep up with best practices in a changing industry.

However, I applaud Google for taking rapid, wide-reaching steps to weed out spam and poor quality results from the natural SERPs.  It’s been a messy process, but ultimately, I believe Google’s efforts will pay off when it comes to sustaining its dominance in the search industry, as well as enhancing the overall quality of the SERPs through a series of changes that SEOs can adapt to and embrace.

Now I want to hear from you.  What do you think about all of Google’s recent changes?  Do you think they’ll have the impact on search results that I described above, or do you foresee a different direction for the SEO industry?  Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

  1. personally, i think google updates changes the competition fairly. Scraping link farms and low quality content website thus providing better search results. Most marketers dont care about the quality of its content as long as traffic keeps on coming. The update is for the benefits of users to get quality search results.

  2. I read a lot about the latest updates on Google. What I see a lot of people scared/dizzy that they didn’t now how to proceed further with their website … From my point of view this is the time that Bing or maybe Facebook to enter in the search engine business. Monopole isn’t good at all … and the actual results from Google search engine aren’t so good. I’ve heard that a new major update is coming to settle things down, just curious to see it the things goes better or worse.

    Thanks for the article.

  3. I agree with the above, all marketers now are talking about the next updates from Google, the future of SEO.

    Day after day SEO becomes more difficult and even more smarter.
    I’m totally agree with ” Mobile growth will continue “, I think Google will generate a standalone algorithm for mobile search.

  4. Sujan, I agree that it is going to be an ongoing challenge for search marketers to keep up with the daily Google algorithm changes. At gShift we call this the “new normal”.

    Fresh optimized content and social signals are the future of seo. And your point on making sure that this content fits in with the overall sales, marketing and communications goals of the organization is bang on.

    Great morning read. Thanks.

  5. Great points. Also Day after day SEO becomes more difficult and even more smarter all thanks to google updates and changes in seo algos. Being a part of start-up i am finding it really difficult as i have to consider so many points at a time . What i think google will going to dominate the world in every prospect of internet user.

  6. First time I am writing here even if I read you often 🙂 The most basic tips but presented in a wonderful way, Sujan. I believe algos have nothing to do with SEO. Search engines seem to improve the search results a query returns. SEO is focusing what your audience needs and if you’re serving the needs better than others.. if it’s done, no algo should bother one. Cheers for a good post.

  7. Excellent pointers Sujan. I have been into this awesome industry since last 8 years & seen changes happening on a daily basis. Sometimes we know, sometimes we don’t.

    But, I appreciate this move by Google as this make space for talented people then the simple “Data Entry Operators” referred as “Link Builders” earlier. Only true passionate people will now able to survive in this ever changing industry.

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