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I've been asking some of the UK's search experts about the most significant events of 2010, and their predictions for next year...
What were the most significant trends in search this year?
Andrew Girdwood, Bigmouthmedia:
I think some of the most significant issues in search came at the end of the year. In particular, we saw both Bing and Google confirm that social signals count as quality signals for core web ranking decisions. That'll impact search campaigns significantly in 2011.
Another trend of note has been the introduction of multiple screens into search and the engines' efforts to reward and encourage best practise there. This isn't just mobile but TV screen as well - with Google and Bing plugging into the biggest screen in the house either via web enabled TVs, set top boxes like Google TV or gaming consoles.
Google's published guidelines for optimising sites for TV viewing and search marketers are all too aware of the need for a clean and quick site for mobile search.
Kevin Gibbons, SEOptimise:
In 2010, the most significant change in search has really been Google Instant. This is clearly a big change to how Google looks to provide search results and despite some sceptical opinions early on, it actually seems to have been well adopted by searchers so far. The option to turn off may have helped too!
Other significant issues and trends in 2010 would include the roll out of Google local into organic search, social media integration/personalisation and also the fact that Google are how dominating many results with their own sites, plus with fewer organic results listed.
Teddie Cowell, Guava:
As the head of SEO, the most significant issue in 2010 has been keeping up with the unpredictability of Google. The release of Caffeine earlier in the year laid the foundations for Google to make faster updates and has been followed by some notable algorithm, user experience and results page format changes.
There have been some big wins, such as speeding up indexing speed, however not everything has been rolled out as well as one would have expected: geo-targeting went wrong, causing foreign results to rank highly in the wrong countries, and then Google actually lost their own data in the form of "Reviews from Google Users".
Also, the new "Instant Previews" still don't display screenshots correctly from websites using Flash, and keeping correct data in "Google Places" continues to be an ongoing battle.
If I was Marissa Mayer, one of the lessons I'd take from 2010 is that speeding up the release cycle for new products and user interface changes isn't necessarily a good thing if it results in substandard products and alienates users.
Horst Joepen, Searchmetrics:
The Bing/Facebook Partnership announced this year may end up being the biggest ‘game changer’ in search. But the big story isn't necessarily the part that has received most attention ie how search results delivered by Bing will be affected by your Facebook friends’ "likes". The really interesting issue is the potential for Facebook becoming people’s default social network hub and search engine.Previously, if you wanted to search for a company or name that was not on Facebook, you’d have to leave the site to conduct additional research, and you’d normally have gone to Google. But with the Bing integration, you won’t have to leave Facebook, as your Bing search results are now listed along with Facebook search results.
What will the key trends be in 2011?
When predicting search trends it's still difficult to look past Google and trying to predict what they have in-store for us next.
Obviously Google has had a huge rate of growth over the last 10 years, keeping that going is an increasingly more difficult challenge. Google needs to take some risks beyond just looking to improve market share in search to take things further.
If you look at what it has attempted to do with Google Buzz/Wave, real-time and instant search, they obviously want to ensure that they can compete with any social media threats. Social media is becoming more of a search factor in Google too, with links in Twitter now helping towards indexing and ranking content. This is only going to become more of a search ranking factor with links from Twitter and Facebook being monitored by Google.
The huge (although still unsuccessful) bid to buy Groupon may give a few more clues into what Google has lined-up next. Local search has taken a big leap forward this year and perhaps group-buying and providing local deals for searchers was intended to be integrated towards helping explore new monetisation opportunities for Google. So I'd definitely recommend looking out for how local search develops as it becomes more targeted and is rolled out further by Google.
Last year I predicted rises in visual search, privacy concerns, looking beyond the last click and real-time search for 2010. I'm pretty happy with those even if 'visual' didn't really come out in the form of Google Goggles but via Microsoft's Kinect instead. The 2011 predictions feel a lot tougher to make.
We will see a continued interest in multi-screen strategies. I think 2011 may well be the year we battle for control of the living room. As a part of that we'll see increased hardware convergence.
It is hard to imagine that Google and Bing won't make another stab or two at the lucrative social networking space. Brands might well make extra special efforts to deal with negative publicity and reviews online while trying to broadcast their CRM successes. This, in part, will be fuelled by hopes that these activities will boost SEO.
What seems certain is that rules and regulations will be closer to us all in 2011. The ASA has claimed regularity control of paid search for a good few years now. In 2011 this remit will ramp up and more search marketers will notice. I predict brands will receive more complaints and perhaps investigations from the ASA for poor PPC practises - such as shoddy to nil inventory integration with their search campaigns.
Google clearly has an eye on the vertical and meta-search markets. The release of Boutiques.com, a US based fashion portal, raised a few eyebrows. There is a looming threat to property, travel and financial aggregator and comparison sites from Google. I think this is where the most news will be in 2011 because it also relates to the EU anti-trust investigations.
Localisation is such a great filter for search results, allowing for increased relevancy, variety and increased opportunities for smaller businesses. There are some really exciting Google products coming out that will combine local search and retail in 2011 which everyone should keep an eye on.
Mobile Search and increasingly search on other non standard devices (TV's, games consoles, tablets etc) are also big opportunities. While the percentage of users on non-standard devices are still small, in most cases they are rapidly increasing.
Social media signals will be increasingly factored in but, as I've said before, it's still early days for this – Google appears to be in the trial and error phase of working out which metrics are important and how they should be used.
One of the biggest trends will revolve around social sharing and its importance in search engine optimisation. Most search specialists are already using social networks to share content – in the hope, for example, that bloggers will find it, write about it and link to it.
But in a December interview on the US Search Engine Land search news site both Google and Bing revealed that the way content is shared on Twitter and Facebook has a direct impact on search rankings. A specific example being that if a page is shared on Twitter by ‘authoritative people’ then that can help its ranking in organic search results ‘to a degree’.This will spark a frenzy of activity in 2011 surrounding social media and search - and even more than ever you’ll see social media strategies intertwined with search strategies. And whether you’re fan of acronyms or not, I bet you’ll notice Social Media Optimisation (SMO) becoming a much more common industry term.