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Expert Roundup on The Future of Search in 2010 and How it Will Affect Your Business

Search industry experts weigh in with search predictions for 2010 to attain higher ranking and greater visibility for your business

One of the top questions facing marketers, entrepreneurs and web masters today is what specific strategies to watch out for to increase website traffic, conversions and relevancy when people search for their products or services online.

Here we’ve put together a list of leading industry experts offering their predictions on which areas of search you should be concentrating on in 2010 and why. Whether you’re a small business owner or managing the account of a Fortune 500 company, being aware of search predictions for the year will help you stay ahead of the curve, capitalize on major developing trends and tweak your business model accordingly for optimal results.

Introduction – the Current State of the Search Industry

Although the search industry has been around since 1993 when the world’s first web search engine was launched, it has exploded in growth only in the last decade or so.

Some facts to showcase important developing trends in the search industry:

The Experts

Rand Fishkin – SEO Moz, CEO & Founder

Rand Fishkin is the CEO & Co-Founder of SEOmoz, a leader in the field of search engine optimization tools, resources & community.

Matt Cutts – Google, Head of Webspam

Matt Cutts is Google’s go-to guy for the public. He joined Google in January 2000 and is currently heading the Google Webspam team which handles search quality.

Aaron Wall – SEO Book

Aaron Wall is the CEO of SEOBook, a site that ranks #1 for the term “SEO training”. He is an expert search marketer offering tips, tools and strategies via his blog and training program.

Jill Whalen – High Rankings, CEO and Founder

Jill Whalen started her career in search in 1990 and founded High Rankings, a SEO firm, in 1995.

Danny Sullivan – Search Engine Land, Founder

Danny Sulivan is the editor-in-chief of Search Engine Land, a respected online website giving some of the best and most in-depth coverage of the search engine industry.

Steve Ballmer – Microsoft, CEO

Steve Ballmer has been Microsoft’s CEO since 2000. In 2009, he made his first ever CES (Consumer Electronics Show) keynote address since the departure of Microsoft’s founder Bill Gates.

Eric Schmidt – Google, CEO

Eric Schmidt joined Google as its CEO in 2001. Recruited by Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Eric has helped turn Google into a global company.

Marissa Mayer – Google, VP of Search and User Experience

Marissa Mayer is currently the Vice President of Search Product and User Experience at Google. She often speaks on behalf of the company, appearing in video interviews for the press.

Jeff Walters – Strategy Outfitters

Jeff Walters is a consultant at Strategy Outfitters and co-founder of two marketing firms, Clicksquared and Targetbase. His specialty is internet marketing and he advises businesses in brand building and marketing techniques.

Shashi Seth – Yahoo, Search Products

Shashi Seth has worked for several companies, working at AOL, eBay and Google before being appointed Sr. VP, Search Products at Yahoo.

The Predictions

General Search Industry

Search Engine Market Share

RAND FISHKIN believes that the search market will follow the 80/20 Pareto Principle with 80% of the data being controlled by 20% of the search engines. He gives his search engine predictions for 2010:

"The latest figures suggest that Google continues to slowly gain market share in the US, while Bing & Yahoo! compete for share that will eventually belong to them both (once the regulatory hurdles clear, which I think they will). I believe that a year from now, most webmasters will be looking at a scenario where … Binghoo! has ~25-28% market share, but those engines combine to send a little under 20% of all search traffic."

DANNY SULLIVAN seems to be psyched about Bing’s re-entry into search and believes it to be beneficial for healthy competition:

"The arrival of Bing last year really shook up some of the status quo. I feel like both Google and Bing are jumping to best each other, and that competition is great."

STEVE BALLMER, while hesitant to directly answer a question about whether Bing can be number one, does say that:

"There is no good answer to this question. If you say yes, you sound arrogant. If you say no, you sound like you have no faith. But a fair degree of realism is required. Even with Yahoo, we have a lot of work to do."

And where does Yahoo fit in the search game?

SHASHI SETH provides some perspective of Yahoo’s recent alliance with Microsoft:

"There is a great opportunity for us to change the game in search by focusing on the consumer experience and bringing things to the front end of search like real time information, shortcuts, vertical intent, query analysis, and suggestions. The deal could bring a lot of great things for us especially in focusing on the consumer experience."

Sticky Visitors

RAND FISHKIN is also excited about the user experience for both Google and Bing’s search engines and believes that they will try to keep more customers on their search sites and provide results directly on the SERPs instead of via links, thereby showing relevant results the first time round and reducing clicks away from the site.

"My perception is that the more the engines can apply “instant answers” to search queries, the more they will, and the less any other sites will see traffic from those queries. It’s a better user experience this way, and I’m certain it’s one of the biggest things that engenders loyalty and return queries – something both engines are desperately competing for."

Google’s Strategy for 2010

MATT CUTTS gives the example of Google Squared to talk about relevance and semantics in search:

"We are always looking for new types of data to search. Before Gmail came out, people didn’t really realize that email was incredibly useful to search, especially the more email that you have. We’ve had patent search, we’ve had book search, all of these are different types of data….So I would expect that we’ll continue to look for useful types of data to search."

Google_squared.jpg

MARISSA MAYER sees Google’s future search strategy expanding in four well-defined areas:

- modality (how do you search)
- media (more richness and interactivity, realtime content etc.)
- language (translation)
- personalizing search experience

Modes of communication are the different ways that you can access search, the most recent one to be unveiled by Google is Google Goggles, (see image) a service on Google’s smartphone Android which lets you take and use pictures of objects and places as search queries, delivering results about the snap.

GoogleGoggles.jpg
GoogleGoggles_2.jpg
Media search encompasses the search for images, video and other multimedia formats including real-time search streams such as those from Twitter updates.

Personalized search is about building to the specifications of each individual user. Says Marissa:

"Although we search the web right now, what we really want to do is search it as each individual user sees the web. We want Google to be the most accurate reference tool which allows people to search the web and each have an individual experience."

MATT CUTTS also believes in this universal search model, and gives an example by saying if someone were to search for "I have a dream", they should immediately get to see Dr. Martin Luther King’s video rather than just a transcript of the speech. He says search will be more personalized, so for instance if I type in "Saturn", my browser will know that I mean the car not the planet.

Local SEO Firms
JILL WHALEN believes that SEO outsourcing is a major developing trend:

"More companies interested in outsourcing their SEO are seeking out local SEO companies. We’ve definitely noticed this with clients and potential clients this year."

Vertical Search
DANNY SULLIVAN expects to have new vertical search engines emerge in 2010:

“If I were Google, I’d be worried about vertical searches…”

The Future of Search

In an interview with Michael Arrington of TechCrunch, MARISSA MAYER dispelled the notion that search is 90% done

Google CEO, ERIC SCHMIDT joked how Google’s founders wanted a search engine that would connect directly to your brain to understand what information you wanted to find and emphasized that he sees Google moving “from words to meaning”, which in turns means more contextual search and more relevancy the first time round.

In the long run, he says that Google’s aim is to give you fewer search results (perhaps even just one result) that exactly answers your question.

What This Means for Your Business

Vertical search engines such as Monster.com for job-related searches and Ticketmaster for tickets, etc are hugely popular and gaining in strength because they solve a very specific problem and usually with better results. In the end they provide a better, more satisfying user experience then a generic Google search would.

Google, Bing, et all are considered horizontal search engines, since they’re mammoths and cover everything on the net, while vertical search engines (VSEs) are niche-based, targeted and ultimately more relevant.

However, in most cases, you need thee horizontal search engines to get to the VSEs so today’s savvy marketers will need to employ more of a funneling approach—search engines will attempt to channel visitors in the right direction to find what they’re looking for.

Business owners will also need to create data in various formats (video, images, text, etc) so that their data can be found easily across channels.

SEO, SEM and Internet Marketing

Personalized Paid Search

RAND FISHKIN believes that "personalized search is here for the long haul".

"If it’s proven that you can get organic benefits by attracting PPC clickthrough, this [personalized search] may be the new “paid inclusion” for 2010, and could drive bid prices up massively as companies compete not only for paid listing clicks, but for the chance to earn ‘organic’ positioning as well.

However, he believes that personalized search is not a game-changer.

Real-time Search
According to RAND FISHKIN real time search is not too useful in its current state:

"Google has always strived to keep up with the latest ways that content is being recommended and suggested. It’s how they determined popularity and relevance with PageRank and I think Twitter’s data is merely the next evolution."

SEO Spending
RAND FISHKIN believes that in 2010 "SEO spending will rise dramatically".

"SEO trails only social media and online video as places where marketers (not just search marketers, but ALL marketers) will be shifting dollars."

These detailed graphical results from Forrester Research show the level of investment in digital marketing.

forrester-marketers-potential

Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO)
Most people in the SEO field focus very heavily on rankings and traffic. RAND FISHKIN says he won’t personally ignore that but in addition he’d pay a lot of attention to CRO. SEOMoz “more than tripled revenues” using Conversion Rate Optimization.

"It’s crucial because this is something that you can completely control. I think this [conversion rate optimization] is still the most under-utilized and highest ROI activities in the marketing department, but more awareness is on its way."

He goes on to say: "CRO isn’t just about testing; it’s about building a process for improving conversion over time. Online businesses can generate so much revenue from this, yet few invest. I think 2010 is the year, simply because it’s an inflection point for companies to assess their spend and where they derive value."

Social CRM
JEFF WALTERS while talking about the shift to digital marketing, says:

"Previously there were two legs for combining operation data of a business with the addressable data from multi-channel marketing and digital marketing…now there’s a third leg that’s emerged … that’s social media"

He goes on to say that social media needs to be understood from both the brand perspective as well as the customer perspective. Since social media has "shifted the power to the customer", the challenge for the brand marketer then becomes to link their customer’s social profiles and activities with the business’s transactional data in a way that customers then become Brand Ambassadors.

Customer Profit & Loss Statements
JEFF WALTERS also believes that businesses should maintain customer P&L statements in the same vein as financial statements. A customer P&L statement measures whether the investment in the customer (social media engagement and interaction) is worth the return (word of mouth, referral services, goodwill, etc) and whether the customer is a profitable long-term customer.

Site Speed
MATT CUTTS reiterates that “Historically, we haven’t had to use it in our search rankings, but a lot of people within Google think that the web should be fast."

"It should be a good experience, and so it’s sort of fair to say that if you’re a fast site, maybe you should get a little bit of a bonus. If you really have an awfully slow site, then maybe users don’t want that as much.&quot

What This Means for your Business
Online marketing is not just about selling a product or service online; it’s also about providing customers with information and value online so they can then make more informed purchases offline.

To increase your SEO, SEM and internet marketing efforts, you should:

- Utilize better conversion metrics such as tweak your landing page, convey pricing more clearly, have a better layout, intuitive navigation, write catchier headlines
- Have a strategy for measuring social earned-media goals (as opposed to paid media) and run estimates on what your fan base means for your sales and brand loyalty

Link Building

Tweets as Links
RAND FISHKIN is of the opinion that real time search will fade away or evolve into something more valuable in 2010. He believes that Google jumped the gun in announcing its collaboration with Twitter and the race to be the first to show real-time search but the results of that search stream are not valuable or relevant; rather they are ranked in chronological order with the last tweeted result displayed first.

He elaborates on his vision:

"I expect that algorithms/metrics like PageRank, TrustRank, etc. will find their way into how Google uses the real-time data. Today, SEOs want to turn tweets into links so they can get SEO benefit. My feeling is that tweets are going to carry their own weight in helping pages rank in the not-too-distant future."

He makes another interesting point regarding Twitter’s overwhelming weight in the web’s link graphs and says that "Twitter has been cannibalizing the web’s link graph“. Traditionally Google assigns relevance on it’s SERP via on-page optimization as well as incoming links – Twitter is shaking this up.

"A specific part of the web, namely, blogging, news reporting, sort of what’s fresh and what’s hot is getting much less attention from the blogosphere, social media sphere, forums than it used to and Twitter is getting a lot of that activity."

He gives an example of his interview receiving only a dozen or so links but thousands of tweets and reiterates that Google could be worried about the issue of core relevancy. If the way to find content changes from being through the link graph to the tweet graph or the Facebook status graph, then that "changes the playing field".

What This Means for your Business
Link builders must concern themselves with getting attention in the social media sphere and figure out strategies to get that attention. If you are a business owner or marketer, you should sign up for a variety of social media accounts (if you have not already done so) and start establishing a presence and growing your brand there.

Social Media

Social Media Optimization (SMO) is being hailed as the new SEO strategy, and there’s enough industry credence to this strategy for small and medium-sized business owners to sit up and take notice.

According to JILL WHALEN, businesses need to learn about the big bad scary world of social media pronto because:

"… Google’s index shows about 19,100,000 results for the phrase ’social media’ and approximately 1,630,000 Google results for ’social media marketing.’ It’s safe to conclude that social media and its use as an online marketing strategy are here to stay, and are growing by leaps and bounds. If you’re marketing websites, scary as it may sound, you need to learn about social media."

In a recent interview with UK’s Telegrapgh, MARISSA MAYER weighed in with social media analysis and talked about personalized social search:

"Understanding the social network structure and the permission rules around social networks status updates when they are not public – will really empower us in terms of search."

What This Mean for your Business
Business can and should ensure that they have an active an engaging social media profile on networks such as Facebook and Twitter or wherever they’re customers are likely to be found on the web.

It’s important for businesses to view social media strategy as part of their overall search optimization strategy, and not as something separate and distinct. eMarketer senior analyst Debra Aho Williamson, advises businesses that “"he voice of the consumer is only going to get louder and stronger. It will shape what social media is and what it will become. Not too long ago, a company might have made major changes to its products or services based on a few focus groups, some financial planning and a degree of gut instinct. Social media has already changed all that. And more changes will come."

This means that you need to pay attention to what people are saying about your business on social media channels and you need to start engaging with your customers and potential customers by listening to their problems and offering solutions that are in line with your offering.

You should also start identifying, tracking, reporting and analyzing social media goals – you can do that with tools like Klout, Social Mention, Twitter Grader and PostRank.

Local Search

According to AARON WALL of SEO Book:

"It’s quite clear that local SEO will be *one* of the places to be in 2010 and beyond."

And if you need some convincing, he provides some handy points to consider:

  • Google’s interest in acquiring Yelp can be seen as a move for the search giant admitting to how important local search will be. Whether it wanted to snuff out the competition or make a strategic buy-out, the failed deal shows one thing: promise in the power of local search.
  • Google offers a flat rate local AdWords pricing model for local businesses
  • Local SEO strategy is sometimes equated with appearing in search results in Google’s 10 pack and maps – therefore it’s important to optimize your business for geographic location.

local search market share_comscore.jpg

You know local search is important when RAND FISHKIN places it above real time and personalized search:

"Real time search and personalized search are nearly not as interesting as…(Google’s latest feature) Search Near Me"

He gives an example of a consumer using local search:

"You pull out your phone and you say I’m right here, now show me what’s around me (using) GPS co-ordinates that I can walk to in the next 3 blocks…And I think that’s going to have a massively dramatic impact on not just user behavior but consumer behavior, search behavior."

What This Means for your Business
Consider this: local online ad spending will increase from 12% in 2009 to 14% this year. Lisa Barone of outspoken Media has put together a great list of companies on the forefront providing local search data; amongst the contenders Twitter’s geo-location tags, Foursquare’s popular location check-in service, and Yelp’s geographical results.

Businesses should use Google AdWords: Keywords Tool to find out local search volume for the keyword phrases they’d like to rank for. Businesses can also use Google Trends, Google Insights, as well as AdWords campaigns to conduct research on local keywords and their effectiveness.

To ensure that your business is listed in Google’s local searches you can follow the 5 easy and free steps listed in the article. Just go to the Google Local Business Center and get started!

Of course, if you’re an Australian business then Start Local is here providing new, innovative ways to reach local customers as well. We’ve got a lot planned for 2010 as well to ensure that it’s easier for your potential customers to find you.

Consider looking into what other location based vertical search engines are appropriate in your industry. For instance, if you have a cafe then make sure you’re managing your business listing and reputation on appropriate cafe review sites.

Mobile Search

Mobile Search Maturity
MATT CUTTS, and indeed most of Google’s top management, are a huge proponent of the mobile revolution finally coming of age in 2010.

When Matt Cutts says "Mobile will be a big trend" people sit up and take notice. He goes on to say:

"And if you think about it, desktop computers might be, maybe a billion computers (whereas) cell phones are like 3 or 4 billion."

PPC Ads on Mobile

STEVE BALLMER further adds to the mobile discussion by talking about mobile advertising at SMXwest:

"Mobile queries are just going to keep going up and up and up. I’m not predicting we’ll see drop in the number from PCs, but we’ll see rise in total volumes. What that mix may be in 3-5 years from now is hard to predict. There will be a whole class of query for mobile specific."

Certain kinds of activities are supported more than others on a mobile platform: these include mobile banking and access to financial information as well as access to personalized and location-specific searches.

What This Means for your Business
Since most users search for location-specific information via their mobile phones, your first step is to ensure you’re listed in Google’s Local Business Center. Your next step as a small to medium-sized business is to ensure your website is optimized for viewing on a mobile unit or has a mobile-view option. If it’s appropriate in your line of business then you might need to chat to a web development firm and have this version available soon.

The mobile revolution is simple: mobile searches are just another (fast and convenient) way for users to find data about your business. As a business owner your priority is to ensure your potential customers have access to this data on their mobile phones.

Content Creation

Information Pollution
AARON WALL predicts that 2010 will be the year of "information pollution". He cites examples of Demand Studios as a content mill spewing what he calls “answer spam, scraper re-purposing spam, social media recycling tools, freelance articles for a nickel spam, machine spun articles that are textually unique, etc”

He predicts that content creators “will aim to monetize the long tail of search via freelance articles of varying quality”.

"If authors are going to get paid for performance on a freelance basis to churn out junk then they may as well spend a few months learning internet marketing, blogging, and Wordpress…if publishing is algorithm driven you don’t really need to work for someone else to make a few Dollars per article. It is VERY easy to beat that, so long as you are willing to wait 3 to 6 months for your payout."

He predicts that search results will be so polluted that:

- finding quality information will be harder
- paid niche content and private membership sites will gain popularity
- Google might be forced to change their “relevancy” algorithm

Duplicate Content is not Bad Per Se
JILL WHALEN talks about duplicate content:

"There’s no such thing as duplicate content penalty. Basically if you have two pieces of content with the same information but different URLs, chances are only one of those pages will show up in the search engine rankings for a certain keyword phrase. Doesn’t mean the other one’s penalized (or) that their site’s banned…it just means Google doesn’t want to show the same information twice in the listings."

Title Tags are Important
JILL WHALEN on title tags:

"It never ceases to amaze me that our title tag article typically receives only a third of the page views as the meta keyword article. It appears that a whole lot more education on that is still needed."

Keyword Density is going the Way of the Dinosaur
JILL WHALEN on keyword density:

"My hope is that this (lower page views for keyword density articles) means people are finally getting away from seeking out that secret-super-duper-all-encompassing keyword density formula or percentage that will magically put all their pages in the #1 spot."

Content is Still King
Well at least according to DANNY SULLIVAN that is. He predicts that quality content will reign supreme in 2010:

"I will say for search marketers, the way to win going forward in the long term will probably remain what it has been for the past 10 years – have outstanding content."

Paid Content
Asked by Michael Arrington of TechCrunch if Google would ever consider paying for content, MARISSA MAYER said:

"Difficult to say. We already help publishers with some of their monetization problems, just look at the 5 billion we paid out to publishers around the world thanks to Google AdSense. Also consider Analytics, which gives media companies certain insights, for free. We deliver technology solution that can help solve their problems."

What This Means for your Business
You should be striving to write quality content that is both search engine friendly and human-reader friendly. The smarter the search engines get, the better they are going to be at identifying and ranking excellent content.

Be sure to learn enough SEO to be able to optimize your content for the web, which is effectively about not getting things wrong as much as it’s about getting it right.

Conclusion – Top 10 Things to Watch for in 2010

According to the above experts, the top 10 areas to watch in the search industry for 2010 are:

1. Real time search
2. Personalized search
3. Local search and geo-targeting
4. Mobile search
5. Conversion rate optimization
6. Quality content
7. Social media optimization
8. Facebook & Twitter as Google challengers
9. Paid search
10. Universal search

A great succinct summary of the future of search and how you can prepare for it is available here from Charlene Li (Altimeter Group).

Conclusion – Top 10 Things to Act on in 2010

Based on the above analysis, the top 10 things businesses can do to increase visibility and rank in 2010 are:

1. Ensure excellent quality of website content that is optimized for search engines as well as human readers
2. Ensure a presence on vertical search engines by having appropriate (product and service) reviews and listings within your niche market
3. If appropriate, leverage listings on your local business directories
4. Get a mobile version of your website ready for users to access via their cell phones on-the-go
5. Put your content out in a variety of mediums (text, images, audio, video) to help you rank better for universal search results
6. Consider shifting your traditional marketing budget to online spending in targeted areas
7. Make a social profile on popular social networking sites where your customers are likely to hang out online
8. Start engaging with your customers one-on-one by listening to their concerns, praise, comments, problems and identifying how your business can help…preferably on Twitter
9. Measure, track and analyze social media goals for better targeting
10. Think about things you can do to improve your existing conversions (and SEO) such as site speed and conversion rate optimization which can cost little compared to benefits generated

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