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It’s the final working week of 2012 for a lot of people, so it’s a great time to round up the biggest trends from the past 12 months.
And here we ask four SEO experts to look back at the most important search trends from this year, as well as doing a bit of future gazing to 2013...
1) What were the most significant trends in search this year?
Kelvin Newman, strategy director at SiteVisibility
One thing that really pleased me this year was the SEO industry's growing confidence that content is the solution to SEO problems not data entry, link building or creating some bafflingly complicated blog network.
These never worked that well in the first place, but the creative search marketers have really put their foot down this year and pushed to produce work they can really be proud of.
Some of the content coming out of in-house search teams and external agencies over the last 12 months has been outstanding; showing the invention and imagination that would make other more traditionally 'creative' agencies envious.
Will Critchlow, founder of Distilled
The most significant event has to be the Penguin update in which Google finally started acting in line with the rhetoric we have been seeing for years.
For trend though, I'm going to go with the increasing integration of G+ into everything.
I think this is significant for two reasons. Firstly, as an early adopter and heavy user for internal comms at Distilled, I am actually bullish on it as a social network. I prefer it to any other right now.
And the second reason is that it has apparently changed the internal culture at Google more significantly than anything else since the very early days.
Dave Coplin, chief envisioning officer at Microsoft
2012 finally saw the arrival of the mobile device as a platform for advertisers, meaning that brands had to revaluate their marketing spend and make some important decisions about their focus for the forthcoming year.
Top of the list was SEO for mobile and understanding how it differs from traditional search. People use search differently on a mobile device, entering far less into the query box.
For example, instead of asking for the ‘best curry in Birmingham’ they generally just write ‘curry’. This means that brands really need to be on top of their online presence.
Search has also become less about providing answers and more about providing services; for example helping consumers find the next train, the best job, which restaurant to eat at or when to see the movie.
Increasingly, search is merely acting like the middle man that brings the most relevant information to the consumer in the context of what they are doing. The Bing apps on Windows 8, for example, bring news, weather, travel and finance information right to your fingertips – you don’t feel like you’re searching any more, you’re just consuming.
Edward Cowell, SEO director at Netbooster
2012 has been a massive year in terms of changes, and with many of these continuing into 2013 I thought I’d focus on some big overriding trends from 2012 and ones that I expect to shake up the landscape in 2013.
Firstly there's been a distinct change in rhetoric from Google in its willingness to engage with webmasters and particularly the SEO community.
As I said last year, anyone not taking advantage of Google’s openness via its Google+ hangouts is really missing a trick.
Secondly, Google is making an unabated move towards a better semantic understanding of information published on the web.
In 2012 there has been an increasing importance on structured data (Schema.org markup). It still surprises me how few websites are applying these standards even though they have been available for ages, which in a way was most recently emphasised by the addition of the Google Webmaster Tools ‘Data Highlighter’ feature.
This helps Google identify structured data in a website without having to make technical changes to the website itself.
2) What will the key trends be in 2013?
The recent announcement that Google have made about trying to make structured data more accessible to the 'lay webmaster' I think is a really strong statement of intent for the coming year.
This might be bad news if it means searchers can get what they want from your site without even visiting, but as there's going to be a delay in this approach being rolled out to websites there's a huge opportunity for the rest of us in the mean time.
The safe bet in these kinds of thing is always to go with more of the same - just like weather forecasting:
- A increasing crack down on low quality and spammy activities - especially in non-English languages and markets outside the US.
- Less and less data available (e.g. 'not provided' and recent shots against search marketing toolsets using scraped data).
- Increasing integration of G+ into search and everything else - I'm waiting for a +1 button in email).
The only real new trend I'm expecting to see is a real effort expended on gaming social signals. What I've seen to date has mainly looked like amateur-hour.
As social gains momentum as a ranking signal (even if only for filter bubbles) I fully anticipate the real blackhats showing up.
In 2013 we will start to see more non-text-based searching, using a mobile device’s camera or microphone to enter a query.
This will be done either through object recognition, including QR codes, or audio recognition using apps like Shazam and simple voice recognition software.
Where the phrase ‘mobile’ grouped both phones and tablets together in 2012, in 2013 they will become different things, each uniquely valuable in their offering. Mobile means exactly that: stripped down, concise – tell me and tell me now.
Tablet on the other hand is a more casual experience. In terms of search on tablets, this will become something people do to drift around their interests rather than looking for something in particular.
The rich browser experience begs users to grab a coffee, sit back and just browse the search stream.
Trust will also become much more important in search in 2013. People are now looking to find the signal within the noise of search results – where 2012 was about reviewing everything you consumed, 2013 will be about figuring out whose recommendations you can trust or value more.
The concept of reputation and trust will become crucial to brands’ online services and results. Social platforms are a great example of this: you trust people you know more than strangers, but trust the consensus of strangers more than the words of a brand.
Another thing I’m excited to see is the evolution of apps. At the moment, apps are great if they’re done well, as they provide context to the user and ensure they stay focused on the outcome they have in mind.
However we rarely have such blinkered intent – we have travel apps, restaurant recommendation apps and movie apps, but what we’re really looking for is a great night out.
In 2013 we will start to see a new generation of ‘super’ apps that combine individual services to provide joined-up, outcome-focused experiences that match our expectations. Search is likely to be what stitches those services together.
2013 will see a continuation of Google’s move towards understanding information (facts provided or learned about something or someone: attributes about entities).
Businesses, brands, websites and people are entities and Google is getting much better at recognising them, and what is being said about them. Amit Singhal talked openly about it earlier this year, saying:
[Google is] building a huge, in-house understanding of what an entity is and a repository of what entities are in the world and what you should know about those entities.
I don’t think this statement got the recognition it deserved.
The other month, Rand Fishkin wrote a good article about a topic that interested him – co-citation – whereby websites were ranking highly for keyphrases that weren’t linking to them, but were used in discussions about them.
This was a good observation, but he didn’t make the connection that when talking about co-citation, he was actually talking about attributes and entities.
In 2013, measuring attributes and entities will become increasingly important for Google so that they can validate relevancy from an understanding of what is actually being said online and by whom, over and above standard metrics such as link data.
Another key trend will be the synergy between local and mobile.
The rapid growth in mobile traffic (globally), coincidentally puts a far greater emphasis on the importance of localised search results. Therefore local level optimisation and access to granular local data will become far more important.
Google Places has historically been one of Google's most buggy products, and even though it got migrated over the Google+ Local Pages the task feels incomplete. I expect Google to make much more of an effort to get that system working well and efficiently.
Resurgence of the high street? A little bit. In 2013, multichannel retailers with large store networks will be in a much stronger position than previous years, as they are able to start taking advantage of opportunities from mobile, locally and in present time.
I expect some interesting moves from large pure play dotcoms such as Amazon, as they start to understand the marketplace is potentially shifting back offline and how they can compete within the multichannel arena.