2009: The Year in Review
As 2009 comes to a close, it's time to reflect back on the underlying trends of the year and look toward SEO lessons for the future.
The United States entered the New Year knowing it was entrenched in an economic recession. The advertising industry experienced a 15 percent tumble in ad spend during the first half of 2009; however, modest economic recovery was noted in the latter part of the year. Meanwhile, the number of Internet users continued to climb into and throughout the year. At the end of 2008, Internet market research company comScore found that the Internet-using population surpassed a milestone one billion worldwide.
The growing number of Internet users wasn't enough to ward off deep employment cuts in the tech sector. For instance, Microsoft cut more than 5,000 jobs this year. In January, The Washington Post warned that the next victim of recession-related layoffs could be Silicon Valley.
The Search Landscape
At the beginning of the year, as at the end, Google dominated the search engine market share. The latest official numbers from comScore report that in October, Google had 65.4 percent, Yahoo! had 18 percent, Microsoft had 9.9 percent, Ask had 3.9 percent, and AOL had almost 3 percent of U.S. search market share.
At the end of July, Microsoft and Yahoo! announced that the two companies had inked a 10-year search and advertising deal, now awaiting federal regulatory approval. Through the deal Microsoft will be able to incorporate Yahoo! search technology into Bing, which will in turn provide search functionality to the Yahoo! properties. The companies hope they will be better positioned to compete against Google through the partnership.
The Mobile Platform
Following a long tradition of being proclaimed "the year of mobile", 2009 may actually have lived up to the name. Marketers have looked forward to the breakout year of mobile computing because of the opportunities offered by a hand-held, Internet-connected device. Internet users are now more connected than ever as they can experience the true Web wherever they are.
Smartphone applications are offering new territories for marketers to reach users. The potential for local marketing opportunities is magnified greatly by users searching on the go. Local mobile advertising may see a boost through QR codes, which Google is testing now. Google is also evolving mobile search through new and experimental features, including search by voice, search by sight and search by location or product. With more than 90 percent of searches estimated to have some kind of local intent, mobile is a powerful market waiting to be tapped into.
The customization of search results is not new. Personalization can be based on a number of factors, including a user's location, present cookies, the time, and search activity. Google has personalized the search results of registered, signed-in users for some time, but in December the search engine announced that it was now personalizing results for all users. Non-signed-in users now see custom results based on the user's last 180 days of search activity, collected through an anonymous browser cookie.
Based on the increase of SERP personalization, many more marketers now agree that search engine ranking reports as a metric are dead. SEOs can optimize for the personalized search environment by targeting audience demographics, following focused keyword strategies, improving site usability, publishing fresh, quality content, and by taking advantage of analytics intelligence.
2009 was the year Twitter took the world by storm. Last month the Global Language Monitor announced that "Twitter" is the top word of the year based on an annual survey of worldwide media. The rise of social media and real-time content didn't go unnoticed by the major search engines. Google, Yahoo! and Bing now all include the real-time content of Twitter and other social networking sites within their respective search results.
The potential for abuse is high among real-time search, raising spam concerns within the SEO community. With it comes a heightened need for online reputation monitoring. Alternately, online marketers can use Google's scrolling real-time search results as an additional opportunity for search engine visibility. Many marketers predict that Google's real time search implementation will not last in its current form.
Cloud computing is the practice of storing all data and applications in cyberspace. Due to the convenience and flexibility offered through cloud computing, it has been steadily rising in popularity. In fact, the second largest city in the U.S., Los Angeles, recently adopted cloud computing via Google's e-mail application. Expanded storage space, easier remote access, improved collaboration and heightened security were the main reasons cited for the change.
Privacy and security were the top two concerns shared by businesses as hindering the adoption of cloud computing. In July, the security risk of cloud computing was highlighted when a Twitter employee's Google Apps account was hacked, resulting in a leak of Twitter's private financial information. However, in its official statement Twitter stressed that the security breach was not due to a vulnerability of the application, but occurred because of a personal failure to follow basic security guidelines such as selecting strong passwords.
On the Horizon
Some developing trends stand out as search marketers envision the future of search and technology trends.
Search industry underdog Ask has aggressively pursued semantic search and Q&A technologies as the next frontier in search. In November the search engine announced a strategy to index the human sources of information not yet published on the Web. The solution is aimed at solving natural language question and answer queries.
In September, Google publicly launched Google Wave, a real-time communication platform that combines aspects of e-mail, instant messaging, collaborative project management and social networking. Some innovative features have not yet been made available, though functions are continuing to roll out on the platform. A Google Wave API is open to developers interested in building Wave applications.
Google Caffeine is the new indexing infrastructure for the search engine to be rolled out in full after the holidays. Google has said that Caffeine will present a minimal difference in results for the average user, but will allow for faster, more accurate, more comprehensive indexing. Potentially tied to Google's faster crawling and indexing speed, Google has been emphasizing site speed as ranking factor.
In next month's SEO Newsletter, be sure to look for Bruce Clay's annual predictions for SEO in 2010.