A key trend identified in the new Econsultancy SEO Agencies Buyer’s Guide 2012 is that the boundaries of SEO as a digital discipline are continuing to blur. Historically, the responsibility for natural search has fallen to channel specialists with a deep technical knowledge, but now its importance is increasingly permeating other areas. 

As search marketing becomes an ever more critical component in the marketing mix, its relevance to business departments outside of the digital marketing sphere has grown significantly.

This trend is driven by two main changes. Firstly, SEO professionals have wider responsibilities. SEO is leaving its technical silo, and is permeating areas such as content marketing, PR and, in the context of social media, even customer service. Secondly, professionals outside of the SEO discipline are incorporating SEO techniques and insights into their work in order to improve their effectiveness.

This blurring of the discipline with other areas is being driven by business priorities rather than technical divisions. As Rand Fishkin mentioned in his blog post on the trend of growing responsibilities within SEO, “The job of ‘SEO’ has been upgraded to ‘organic web strategist’”.

The realisation of the importance of SEO to business goals has been one of the key factors in the growth of this sector. According to the report, which features profiles of 36 leading specialist natural search agencies, the UK marketplace for SEO grew by 18% during 2011 to a value of £514 million. With the recent Econsultancy / Adestra Email Census showing that 79% of companies rate SEO as providing an “excellent” or “good” return on investment, the figures are not surprising.

This valuation for the UK SEO marketplace includes not only payments to agencies, but also takes into account the money spent on staff in-house to manage SEO.

Other trends covered in the buyer’s guide include:

Google maintains and reinforces its near-monopoly in search

With over 90% of search queries in the UK being handled by Google, the search engine has maintained its status in many markets as the de facto platform on which almost all search marketing efforts are based. While optimising for one engine may have some benefits, the dominance of Google is unsettling for search marketing professionals, as small changes made by Google can have potentially adverse impacts on their business.

Social signals become more important in organic search

With the launch of Google+ and Search plus Your World, Google has made it clear that signals it considers social are an important component in search. As Eric Schmidt remarked, “The social signal, the people you ‘hang with’, is actually a ranking signal.” As Google seeks to create search results that are more personalised and relevant to the user, social signals will increasingly play a part in what results are displayed on the search engine results page.

The growth of mobile poses new challenges

With figures showing that smartphone penetration continues to increase both in the UK and in markets further afield, this creates unique challenges for organic search. Two points that should be considered are the different user experiences on mobile search engine results pages, and the different keywords used and intents that users have when searching online using their mobile device.

Client demands pushing the development of proprietary technology

As SEO’s potential to deliver returns on investment is being increasingly recognised, the business demands of clients are pushing innovation within SEO. For enterprise-level businesses in particular, this is necessitating the development of proprietary technology to help achieve (and measure) SEO and broader digital marketing goals.

Multi-language, multi-territory strategies increase in importance

As the potential markets for online companies grow internationally, there is an increasing requirement for multilingual and multinational SEO. However, content cannot simply be translated, and there are particular considerations for SEO when expanding into new markets.

Also in the SEO Agencies Buyer’s Guide

The buyer’s guide also contains a SWOT analysis of the SEO market, a discussion of the cost and pricing models, tips and pitfalls for companies looking for SEO services, and an easy-to-read supplier matrix that quickly details the services each agency is offering.

The agencies featuring in the guide are:

4Ps Marketing, Barracuda Digital, Browser Media, Caliber Interactive, ClickThrough Marketing, Distilled, dotSearch, Epiphany, Fast Web Media, Greenlight, Guava, Harvest Digital, iCrossing, iProspect, I Spy Marketing, Koozai, Lakestar Media, LBi and bigmouthmedia, Leapfrogg Digital Marketing, Make It Rain, OMD, Propellernet, Receptional Ltd, Search Laboratory, SEOptimise, SiteVisibility, Steak, Stickyeyes, Strategy Internet Marketing, Summit Media, Tamar, The Media Flow, VCCP Search, Vertical Leap, Verve Search, and White Hat Media.