Update: want to see how these predictions played out? check out this update post. Search Engine Optimisation is a fickle business, I hear moans all the time from "seo experts" and website owners that Google did this and Bing did that and subsequently they have no visitors ... oh this is the hardest year ever to be an SEO ... etc.
Whilst not denying this year and the previous few years have been challenging for our industry I do wonder if these people expected an easy ride to high rankings ... or if more likely, they had no idea what was going to happen.
This post is about just that, predicting what will have and what to expect over the next 6 to 12 months. Both in terms of SEO, Social Media and other wise, this post is about what I think will change / occur over this period. At the end, let me know what you think of my list of trends for SEO in 2012.
Trends of SEO in 2012
Humans Make Search Rankings - in 2012 a lot of people will be upset at the end of an era of link buying, swapping and baiting. Search Engines will look more and more to humans for ranking, both in the short and long terms - this means both social media and using more human relevancy quality testers (aka someone decides which category a page belongs to or if it's spam). Google is already using such factors for more "real-time" search, this is the short term aspect to some extent, so expect to see links with long term longevity on social networks rank higher and web page links plus pagerank matter less and less. Authority in the Hands of the People!.
Quality NOT Quantity - almost all search engines have been known to at some point use quantity of pages to mean the quality is high. Most now do not, and with Google Panda 2 even more focus is on the quality and freshness of the content. This matches in with point one of social longevity being the key, as it means the quality must be pretty good.
SEO's are no longer just SEO's! - this is a prediction I made in conversation last year, and I was right, 2011 did see the expansion of what it meant to be an SEO engineer. 2012 will see a different transformation, though along the same lines. In 2012 SEO's will become more SMO's (social media optimisers), with a broader focus not just on the on-page factors of SEO but also the off-site marketing with social integration at it's heart.
SEO's will realise CRO's are better - those optimising for traffic will be upset when they get the firing from customers because for all the traffic they can drive they don't get conversions. Conversions in 2012 will be more important, if traffic doesn't convert you won't get paid as an SEO ... so become a CRO (conversion rate optimiser) and keep your clients happy - don't just drive traffic, drive conversions.
Even More Confusion! - 2011 saw lots of great SEO's crawl around on their knees picking up the pieces in confusion. Lots of this year's search updates (especially by Google) have stumped a fair few SEO's - this is where their claim it has been the hardest year yet for SEO's has come from. Well the bad news is, for those confused at least, it is only going to get worse for you in 2012. With Google now holding keys to a great social network you can expect more undercover changes in rankings and more personalisation of search, making the job of the "old style seo" much harder. Sorry you guys, get with the times.
Speech Search will be Normalised - with the iPhone now having Siri and Google long having it's own system (which incidentally I believe is far superior if they would only leverage the power of it) searching using voice will become everyday. No longer will you get an odd look for saying "Search Cats Homes" randomly to your phone. I also foresee a better QR tagging system coming along, and I don't mean Microsoft Tag! I mean something a little more intuitive and easier to use ... maybe it will be nicer barcodes or maybe something else, rumours are many so watch out for that.
Mobile Search will be Huge! - whether it's through talking to your phone, using social networks or tapping a search into your phone, in 2012 you can expect a huge expansion in the mobile search market. No longer is digital marketing for those who have a computer or tablet ... mobile search is here to stay and this will likely get to be the biggest search medium in 2012 (I believe).
It's not yet Telepathy but it's close - As both Bing and Google grow further in 2012, their links with social networks (google having its own and bing having large facebook integration) along with search histories, social profiles linked to a signed in user etc you can expect search to become much more personalised. By the end of the year I'd expect to see a lot more people worrying about personal privacy, but more website owners concerned with the fact they can't be found on social networks ... these websites will drop like stones as search becomes more personalised and timely. // http://pagead2.googlesyndication.com/pagead/show_ads.js
Trends of Social Media in 2012
Facebook continues to push but falters - in 2012 you can expect to see more privacy issues around Facebook and what it is doing. You can expect facebook to feel more like a gated community with more people having less friends, rather than the previous attitude of more friends is better. You can also expect people to have dual profiles if they are "personalities" or in essence are a business. (see Leo Laporte as a great example of a public and non-public profile. If you are interested in this kind of thing I recommend reading Public Parts, a book by Jeff Jarvis which is about living life in public and how to do it.) But because Facebook continues to push and has more issues, plus the growth of other social networks it will falter and on top of loosing 6m users in the US in 2011 it will see 2 or 3 times this in 2012. Oh and this subscribe to follow thing they have will become a part of history.
Google+ will stay small - as a Google fanboy it hurts me to say that although not another complete failure by Google, Google+ will stay pretty small ... it will grow yes but I would suggest to a maximum of 2% of the social networks area (currently at about 0.5%). The only thing which could change this prediction would be a change in the network for businesses which would make it more appealing for them to be on there, the brand pages are currently (and for the foreseeable future) the same as normal profiles, there are no vanity urls (they will come in 2012) but regardless I suspect G+ is set to stay small... for now.
Linking Social Networks will begin to die (again) - It started in 2012 as delicious and other such networks began to get smaller. Digg and Reddit are main-stayers in the arena and wills survive 2012 but other such networks like Slash.Dot may well die off completely. This will also happen to networks such as Quora. I say they will die, before they do they will get swallowed by a bigger fish, for all its worth.
Trends of Blogging in 2012
An End to Corporate Blogging? - no quite. Corporate Blogging will cease being a portal simply to tell the world (or not) about boring corporate crap. It will become an area of sharing news and behind the scenes info. It will become a more open area where companies aren't scared that if they say something a competitor will thieve an idea! A more open attitude will also begin to appear between companies sharing research and data (that isn't commercially sensitive), such as pre-trial drug information from pharmaceutical companies.
Mini Blogs Go BOOM - 2010 and 2011 has seen a huge growth in smaller "micro blogs" thanks to tumblr and other such networks. In 2012 this trend will continue as more "normal" people begin to share things in public, not just using facebook (soon to be close gated).
Companies Scrap Blogging - many companies in 2012 will cease to blog on a daily or weekly basis, favouring to spend time and money more on social networking. (if you want to know where to spend your time in social networking for business read our recent post on this). This will be the beginning of the middle bit (yes its already started) of the end of the blogging world as we know it.
More Blogs will Go Video / Audio - In what maybe an odd thing to say for someone typing this article, more blogs will turn to multimedia in 2012. We will see more networks spring up, like the TWiT.TV network. Indeed, this very site will be taking to video-blogging / netcasting / podcasting in early 2012 as we continue to grow. We will also see a huge growth in the YouTube like services, but we'll also see some audio based start-ups go big like AudioBoo. It will be an exciting time to be in the world of multimedia and blogging.
Trends of Search Analytics in 2012
Bye Bye Referrer Keywords - Google has already begun hiding keywords from Google Analytics. This is a trend that will boom across platforms in 2012, which will move the focus away from "ranking for keywords" towards "ranking for relevance and conversion" ... aka more of a concentration on quality and conversion.
Rankings Die ... but Slowly - as mentioned earlier in passing, Rankings will begin to die as Search Moves to be more "now" and "social". This means because of our human way of being lazy it will begin to get harder to get none personalised results. Already +1's are moving up search pages, latest news / blogs appear higher up, even if they are less relevant. In 2012 this will happen more and more, until eventually Search Rankings become relative to a person - this will add to the effect of concentration on conversion.
RealTime Analytics Takes Off (at last) - for years many competitors to Google Analytics have offered RealTime results, 2011 saw Google catch up somewhat. In 2012 you cane expect lots more features to be made realtime by Google as rankings matter less and keywords mean less. Will we see realtime rankings for "white searches" I doubt that, but we will get more data than ever before, and it will still be free (unlike most competitors).
Can you think of any more trends for 2012 that I have missed off the list? And what do you think of this list, will my prediction come true or not?