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2008: The Year in Preview

by Bruce Clay, January 15, 2008

We have an official saying when it comes to yearly predictions and it goes like this: 2008 will not be like the year before it. The only thing that is certain is that it will be significantly different from 2007.

I predict that we are going to see a much slower growth in Internet marketing due to what is expected to be a recession year. We all see it coming, and it will seriously impact consumers and businesses, thus slowing the spend on broad online marketing activities. This upcoming recession will be the biggest news of 2008 and will encourage serious growth in the number of online consumers in the coming year. Companies that can get online early and support international audiences will have an advantage, especially those that have developed SEO to displace PPC expenditures. Comparative price shopping and saving time and gas will be the rule and not the exception.

I predict that PPC rates will remain reasonably flat compared to the growth in years past. Perhaps more importantly, as PPC optimization becomes more refined, firms will mature to bid only on the terms proven to convert, meaning that while many bread-and-butter keyword bid prices will hold steady or slowly increase, aggregate spend will drop. We will see the pruning of poorly performing keywords, diminishing aggregate spend for most companies. Branding may become a luxury that businesses will suspend for the sake of keeping the business alive.

I predict that the demand for search engine optimization services will increase the most at the low budget price point. Firms that have recession-caused budget limitations will want professional SEO assistance, but not all will be able to afford the rates charged by the very best firms. A byproduct of the recession will be that many businesses will reduce staff, and thus there may be a significant opportunity for the newly unemployed to be trained and form work-from-home SEO companies. If this develops, by mid-year we may find many new Internet Marketing businesses able to supply adequate services for well under $1,000 per month. As a result of all of these issues, there will be a rush to SEO training, a surge of new work-from-home SEO companies, and mixed pricing signals. It will be the latter half of 2008 when this really takes off, and it will not slow until 2009.

I predict that as the recession hits and the US dollar weakens, added to increasing domestic price shopping traffic will be international online consumers wanting to purchase US high-quality products; however, increasing online sales will not be sufficient to overcome the loss of jobs as US brick-and-mortar establishments see less foot traffic. The established and branded US online stores that ship internationally will be the big winners in 2008.

Last year I predicted a rapid shift to a local search emphasis. This is already in full swing as some very large Internet firms are taking very specific action to develop geographically targeted Web sites, complete with SEO. And these local initiatives are powered by very large names indeed. These will continue as recession impacts local firms and they turn to online consumers. Early adopters will see this as life changing in 2008.

I predict that the biggest Internet marketing news of 2008 will be social networking. No surprises here. Already a big mover in 2007, this will continue to be chaotic as fickle users embrace one social networking site, then move on to the next site, and so on. We will see those firms that should have owned social networking but failed to act (such as AOL) all but fade away and be replaced by new sites that we never heard of. The emergence of these new players will be in part caused by rising gas prices that have caused socially curious consumers not aligned with any particular network to head online and form new roots. Using gross numbers, we will see visitors to social networks grow throughout the year, much more than we would have otherwise expected. Look to blogs to continue their dominance and to become a major force in corporate branding and even marketing as a result of the social growth.

Changes in other aspects of technology will take a back seat to social networking. Concepts like blended search, behavioral search, and the Wikia search offering will change many issues, and although embraced, they will not develop to be a major force in 2008.

The current hot SEO topic is "purchased links". Look for this to be resolved in 2008. There are three main reasons to get links: 1) branding, 2) traffic, and 3) ranking. The search engines have made it clear that acquiring links only for ranking is spam and they are busy removing advantages for such links. I recognize that most people want links for ranking, but such links are the center of a hunt by Google and will lead to pain and suffering by those buying ranking links. Yes, some text links are harder to detect and may appear to be under the search engine radar, but in reality they are rather easily located and the search engines are taking action.

Those link brokers that are selling high Page Rank links are committing fraud if they continue to sell links to help with ranking that they know have no ranking value (or will soon lose value) without full disclosure and appropriate consumer education. It is just a matter of time until they are out of business, perhaps even with FTC assistance; the consumer will be protected from such scams. But until then these link brokers will continue to sell no-value links because otherwise they would be out of business. We believe that selling links only for ranking that have no such contribution is unethical, and we hope others agree. Earn your links and they will occur naturally. By year's end, this discussion will be resolved.

So what does this mean to Bruce Clay, Inc. in the year to come? We are continuing our expansion into new areas and new markets by opening our Tokyo office in April. We are releasing a new version of our Web site content within a few weeks; we are also releasing a greatly expanded version of our proprietary tools by SES San Jose; we have upgraded our successful SEO training and certification programs; we are writing a book; and we are offering new and improved tailored services for large and small clients in expectation of the recession. We have formed soon to be announced strategic partnerships enabling greatly expanded offerings for Analytics, SEO Design and Branding. There's lot more in the works here too. 2008 is a year full of promise and we have a commitment to making things happen.

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