In his final post of 2010, Dr Dave Chaffey predicts what he believes will be the major trends in search in 2011, including the importance of social media, understanding consumer intent, video search and local search.
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Well it’s that time of year to take stock of which marketing techniques were effective this year and plan ahead to update our investment in different marketing activities.

To help, here are my views on 11 search trends for 2011 from the big to the small which I’ve described in terms of activities that I think are essential to success. You’ll see many are updates on the main trends in 2010.

1. Investing in content

Success in SEO has really always been about the content. In the early days, success was based on relevant copy formatted the correct way to rank well; more recently, content to attract links and today to encourage social sharing and bookmarking.  This is just as true in 2011 as it’s always been. But the bar is higher now, brochureware content won’t cut it. Instead you need exceptional content to attract links. That requires investment and process and is increasingly becoming a core marketing activity.

2. Encouraging social sharing

Such is the growth in social sharing through Likes on Facebook; Retweets on Twitter and Shares through Linked-In, Google has a problem. The number of personal and company bloggers has declined as behaviour has shifted to sharing links – it’s far easier. To remain relevant, particularly for real-time content, Google has been forced to use the social graph. Through it’s data share arrangements with Facebook and Twitter it now rates posts, blogs and even individuals on their popularity. Many, including me have suspected for a long time that Google uses social sharing and bookmarking as a signal for quality to content which should be ranked more highly. This recent interview with search engine representatives now proves for the first time social mentions are used as a ranking signal: http://www.seomoz.org/blog/google-bing-confirm-twitter-facebook-influence-seo.

3. Responding to real-time search and online conversations

From the start of 2010, Google’s real time search box has featured Facebook and Twitter links. I believe overhyped since it currently only tends to feature in the search results page for major trending topics like the launch of the iPad. Still, it does point to the need to monitor online conversations and manage them.

4. Creating your social content hub

Given the trends suggested by my first point, creating quality, timely content is not a nice-to-have, it’s essential for success in SEO. I believe a blog or media centre is essential to most companies to act as a hub to distribute and share your content and offers.  This means a big challenge for many companies, because the implication is that the company needs to become a publisher or at least adopt a publisher mindset.

Of course, search marketing agencies like ClickThrough can help here in creating a content strategy and implementing it.

5. Speed matters

Another change from earlier in the year is that Google is using page download speed as a quality signal. If your platform doesn’t deliver the latency Google requires, you may have a problem ranking.

6. Microformats

Microformats are a tactical way to give you an edge in the search results page – think starred hotel reviews from Trip Advisor.  These are based on a standard called hReview used by Google, but increasingly they will use this for product information using hProduct when linked to reviews. If you’re involved in publishing, retail or travel sectors it’s worth exploring the microformat options available via Google.

7. Think Glocal

Google is getting increasingly good at offering specific content for individual countries and for providing content for local searches which often mean mobile searches. This year Google Local Business Centre was renamed to Google Places and companies with a presence on Places have started to appear more prominently. This is a great opportunity for businesses with a distribution network to boost their visibility via paid and natural search.  Read more about Google Places best practice: http://www.smartinsights.com/search-marketing-alerts/3-ways-to-optimise-for-google-places/

The new proximity marketing through the Likes of Foursquare and Gowalla also offers opportunities as we noted in our location-based marketing whitepaper: http://www.clickthrough-marketing.com/resources/reports-downloads/location-based-marketing-white-paper

8.  Don’t forget YouTube!

One stat that surprised me this year is that YouTube is now the second biggest search engine in the US. This gives opportunities in both natural and paid search. Creating engaging video for natural search is a bit of a hit and miss affair, but within paid search Promoted Videos and Adwords placements give new opportunities to create awareness outside of the text results.

9. Take advantage of new Google Adwords formats

Google innovates a lot to deliver relevance in the natural results, but it’s also keen to maximise the relevance of its ads since that equals relevance so it’s invested in that also. Our clients have seen success this year with several of the new ad formats, in particular the Ad Sitelinks which you can use to advertise specific products or campaigns in response to a brand or navigational search.

10. Advanced SEO = Analytics

I was interested in a recent discussion on seoMoz which asked “what is advanced SEO”? http://www.seomoz.org/blog/what-is-advanced-seo. This is a good question for all agencies and clients to be asking. The use of analytics is what struck a chord with me. At Clickthrough we’re increasingly mining Google Analytics and link analysis tools to identify opportunities for search. One approach which we find works well is the gap analysis segmenting and comparing paid and natural visits which I outlined earlier in the year: http://www.clickthrough-marketing.com/the-what-why-and-how-of-a-search-gap-analysis/

11. Understanding customer search journeys

In 2010 Google introduced “Search funnels” (we blogged about search funnels back in August) to tell you whether those 2 or 3 word generic category search terms contribute to conversion since they are often followed by longer product searches or brand terms. With the high cost of clicks in AdWords, understanding which traffic sources influence sale over multiple visits before purchase is important to make the best media decisions.  I say can be, because it’s particularly important in more complex, high value purchases. If the majority of you visitors convert on the first visit it’s a lot less significant. Some questions to ask via your analytics are – how many visits does it take to first purchase? What is the latency, i.e. how many days does it take to purchase?

12. Reducing dependence on Google – An Extra Trend!

Every year, the Googlization of digital marketing, all marketing even, seems to get greater. Google has driven the vast majority of searches for a long time, but with its ownership of YouTube and the Google Display Network (formerly the content network which accounts for around 30% of its revenue) this extends far beyond the search box.

So part of digital strategy has to be look for opportunities for de-googlization. Building a memorable brand and an online experience that visitors will want to visit direct helps and Google favours strong brands more and more. Let the affiliates take the costs and risks of Google; find partner sites with low-cost display placements. Try using the Google network for placement targeting or remarketing which was introduced in 2010 and has produced excellent results for some of our clients.

Here’s wishing you every success in your search marketing strategy in 2011!

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About the author:

An acknowledged expert on digital marketing, Dave was recognised in 2004 by the Chartered Institute of Marketing as one of “50 marketing ‘gurus’ worldwide who have shaped the future of Marketing“. Dave is also author of five best-selling books including Internet Marketing: Strategy, Implementation and Practice; and eMarketing eXcellence.