In the world of search and social, 2012 has been a year of overwhelming change. Most years, one can look back at themes and reflect on what a past year was “about”. But, for 2012, the search and social themes are large and complex. We have seen a rise in content publication and marketing, and decrease in those seeking generic “link building”, as well as frequent updates of Google’s Panda algorithm – designed to suppress poor and thin content in its index.

Google is Watching

Your SEO Efforts Are Being Watched Carefully

We have seen a crack down from Google on unnatural backlink profiles and over-optimization, and algorithm updates to filter out older sites with stagnant “authority” that have shown negative trends for indexed pages and backlinks/referring domains.

 

Google Giveth, and Google Taketh Away

We have seen some small increase in the influence of social metrics, and even more talk about the potential for that influence. We have seen Google hide the keywords that bring visitors to our websites behind an SSL  – (not provided) – and we have seen Google crack down on its terms of use to prevent data-scraping to report client keyword rankings.

 

Bing Keeps on Fighting the Good Fight

Bing it On

We have seen Bing push back with a strong branding campaign (Bing It On) that showed more people prefer Bing’s results to Google’s, but the road to more market share for Bing still seems long. Bing has a strong partnership with the now-public Facebook, and together the two companies are working hard to provide an experience that is better than Google’s.

 

Content Marketing and Local Optimization Surge

While content has been one of the loudest conversations of the last 12 months, local has been the red-headed step child who received less attention than it deserved. Google’s monthly changes as detailed in their Inside Search blog have covered innumerable changes to the localization of search results, and refining the results provided for user queries.  At this point, turning off localization (if you care to figure out how) is too difficult to bother. Apple’s SIRI caused some disquiet as industry leaders and newcomers alike wondered if searching through an interface like SIRI would change the SEO landscape for good – possibly pondering, yet again, is SEO dead? Of course, the Mayan calendar has moved on to the next great year, and we all survived to see that SEO is, in fact, not dead.

 

Not Forever Free

Beyond search, Google has pushed some of the tools we use to SaaS models – both Google analytics and Google product feeds have become pay-for-inclusion services to some degree. Analytics is still free at the standard level, but for very large agencies or clients, more is now available – for a fee.  They have also begun using their widely used analytics interface to offer surveys (for a fee, of course) to speed up the process of loose market research.

 

Social Giants

Socially, the Facebook IPO had the most hype, and the smallest splash. Pinterest quietly took the world by storm, and continues to grow. Market trends have shown that mid-size companies nationwide are reducing money spent on social, and hiring internal social staff, as they discover the difficulty in tying its investment to real returns. While, in the local market, small- to mid-size companies are just beginning to take social media more seriously, and dip their toes into the water. The coming year will be about responsible execution of social campaigns, and tying traffic from social sites to goals – made easier with Google’s Social Analytics feature.

 

So, what is next in the intertwined worlds of search and social? We may see the Bing/Facebook partnership leverage the content sharing and connectivity of Facebook to beat Google+ at it’s own game – making Bing more appealing for users, and, therefore, companies and SEO agencies. Have you tried Bing.com lately? Give it a whirl – you may like!

I believe Pinterest will continue to evolve, and we will see some very creative campaigns in 2013.

Google+ isn’t going anywhere – Google is in too deep now. I would expect more companies and agencies to catch on to the advantages of Google+ for sharing content, and that, by default, sharing on Google+ will increase – if not actual engagement.

 

Google Facebook War

Get Down with Real Marketing

Now that content is king, Google-indexed pages need to show a positive trend, and since everyone has a blog, be expecting more and more content. It’s going to become difficult to come up with information and content that is truly unique, or that provides information that can’t be found anywhere else. This means those with the most creativity and style, and those with the most connections will get the prize (traffic, engagement and sharing). What does that sound like? Oh yeah – marketing and PR.

 

Agencies have had to update practices, and clients are seeing fewer links built, and more time going into research and development of content. The industry has become more exacting, and more sophisticated, and continues to move in the direction of data-driven, and complex marketing. The days of hiring an SEO agency for a quick and cheap turn around are gone – if they ever worked in the first place. Many of Google’s changes seem to benefit the big dogs – the sites that have been around the longest, put the most into a true marketing mix, and established a strong and credible brand. Is it still possible to be a unique startup and take the Internet by storm? With few exceptions, no, I don’t think it is.

 

Today, what you get out of SEO and social is directly proportionate to what you can put into it – SEO services simply cannot work if they are treated as a la carte items on a menu. An SEO strategy that will actually work for a small company in 2013 must include content marketing, social media marketing, local optimization and citations, news mentions, branding, and other forms of link building.  As an agency, promising results with less is doing a prospective client a disservice.