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February 22, 2011

SEO Factors and Trends: What happened in 2010 and what to expect in 2011

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The ever-changing landscape of search engine optimisation (SEO) is one that we thoroughly love discussing. We have recently written a report about what SEO factors changed in 2010 and our prediction of SEO trends for 2011. The objective of this report is to help you identify the key factors that could affect your SEO strategy, and ultimately your search engine rankings and includes the recommended actions to take to align your SEO strategy with the factors and trends identified.

If you would like a copy of the full report you can download it from – http://www.bruceclay.com.au/seo/report/.

The report is long, so we’ve put together this summary of some of the points covered:

Local Search

The introduction of Google Places saw local and organic search results merge, which resulted in changes to the layout and rankings. Right now, a typical search for ‘Thai Restaurants’ will bring back a couple of the highest ranking websites PLUS a list of others from your neighbourhood. If optimised correctly you can even have a picture (yay). This applies to mobile search too as Google has now started taking into account a user’s physical location.

It’s good because: In a bid to make search results more personal and relevant, Google has presented businesses with an amazing opportunity to get higher rankings. Plus, if you want Thai food you can see reviews, pictures and phone numbers all in one go!

Social Signals

In 2010 both Bing and Google confirmed that ‘social signals’ are used within their ranking algorithms. For a long time many considered the hype around social media to be just that, but now factors such as ‘likes’ on Facebook may influence rankings and could one day see them be of equal importance to links. As a result, social media optimisation (SMO) is now more important than ever.

It’s good because: It’ll improve the relevance and quality of search results while also reducing spam. And all those hours you’ve spent messing around on Facebook might not have been a waste of time after all.

Branded Search

Google has started giving more prominence to brands in the search results, which was demonstrated when they removed the restriction that would only allow for two results from a single domain to rank on the same page. Google can now return multiple results from a single domain if it thinks that the user’s intent is to look for that brand only and the website has sufficient pages relevant to the search.

It’s good because: If you’re an established brand it increases your ranking opportunities.
It’s bad because: If you’re a third party website selling branded products it will be difficult to rank for these terms.

Website Speed

In April 2010 Google announced that website speed was officially part of their ranking algorithm. There are lots of things that can make a website run slowly, including server size, hosting configuration, page content, type and quality of code, code errors and the number of Engagement Objects™ on the page. Engagement Objects™ are elements such as video, images, maps and audio that can make page load speed slower if not balanced out correctly.

It’s good because: If your page fits the speed requirements it presents an opportunity to outrank your slower competitors. And as more websites start to clean up their act you won’t find yourself waiting ages for websites to load (as much).

Rich Snippets

Across 2009 and 2010 Google has started including additional information in search results such as event details, product prices and reviews (this is why the Thai food listings I spoke about are so handy now). These richer listings are called rich snippets and can appear once a website has submitted information to Google using Microdata, Microformats or RDFa.

It’s good because: Rich snippets can lead to your website achieving a better click-through rate. And as a user it’s convenient to have all this information without even clicking.

Linking

Google has continued to enforce the message that buying links is bad. Instead you should spend your energy on useful content that is worth linking to. Every year the risk of being caught is increasing, which could cause damage to your business and reputation.

It’s good because: All the people who have been doing the right thing will eventually be rewarded and those who have sped to the top by purchasing links may be forced to re-evaluate their linking strategy.

Google Instant

Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or Google just isn’t your preferred search engine), you’ve probably noticed Google Instant. Now, instead of typing a search and then pressing ‘search’ the results are updated in real time and appear before you have a chance to press anything. The point of this feature is to offer the searcher the chance to refine their query before clicking.

It’s good because: Organic visits to your website may be more targeted, thus improving conversion rates.
It’s bad because: It could lead to less traffic from Google.

Instant Previews

Google introduced instant previews to search results, which treats users to a preview of the entire page before clicking through. It is the first time that website design has had the potential to impact click-through rate. Google offers webmasters the option to switch this feature off, but has said that a website displaying a preview is four times more likely to receive a click than those that do not.

It’s good because: With a good preview you could start receiving more clicks than those with a poor or non-existent one.
It’s bad because: You may have to re-evaluate the design of your website, e.g. make its purpose clearer and reconsider the use of non-search engine friendly elements such as flash.

Key SEO trends for 2011

The War on Spam: In 2011 we will see a continued focus from search engines on reducing spam, duplicate content, content farms and low quality websites.

Reviews and Rankings: Positive and negative reviews will begin to have an effect on rankings, particularly in local search.

Personalisation: Search results will become more tailored to the user by factoring in location, past search history and information collected from other sources such as Facebook.

Click-through: There will be an increased focus on click-through rate optimisation by factoring in rich snippets and Google Instant Preview, as well as traditional stuff such as titles and descriptions.

Social Signals: Factors such as Facebook ‘likes’ could become real algorithm influencers and have the potential to be as important as links in the future.

Linking: There will be more focus on link quality over quantity and the removal of link spam. PageRank will become less important, while more emphasis will be placed on authority, relevance and deep links.

This is a snapshot of some of the items covered in the SEO Factors and Trends Report for 2011. Download a full copy to get all the information and actions.

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