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State of Internet Marketing - 2011 Predictions

by Bruce Clay, January 18, 2011

As we entered 2010, we discussed how change is accelerating. Yes, every week, if not every day, this is a new industry. But we anticipate several changes that look to be great predictions for 2011. Yet again, it is time to dust off the crystal ball and expound on the next year.

2010 was a year of implementation in the areas of intent and behavior-based search results. We also saw the widespread implementation — and rapid change at that — of the local results influencing the search results page. Anticipating the direction that many of these changes would take, we performed a great many research projects and developed products focused on this area. Not at all surprisingly, these areas greatly broadened the focus of the company.

Fortune Teller BW
Fortune Teller by Svenstorm

We witnessed the changing attendance and needs at conferences: the diminished budgets, the greatly expanding thirst for training, and the total chaos when discussing social media and how to use it to effectively generate traffic. The total Internet marketing spend will prove to be carefully planned, but the spend needs to be distributed across more segments instead of just SEO and PPC.

In 2010, SEO became far more difficult, PPC campaigns became significantly less tolerant of waste, social media became an accepted topic for discussion across organizations, and many sites are considering redesigns. We also saw that website analytics and conversion rate optimization (CRO) evolved as disciplines in what we refer to as Internet marketing optimization - an increasingly appropriate description as cross-discipline skills increased in importance.

Internet Marketing Optimization Emerges

I predict that in 2011, the Internet marketing space will continue to grow, although not all segments will grow equally. One significantly changing segment is SEO - specifically in the areas of local search and popularity.

For SEO, local search results are currently seen on 20 percent of all search result pages and I predict that local results will grow to 50 percent by year end before settling between 70 percent and 80 percent by the end of 2012. The leading SEO firms will figure out much of the local algorithm, develop advanced tools to assist with and measure local success, and this will emerge as the most talked about SEO service for 2012. What is unique about this evolution is that there will emerge a massive registry of validated business information - the first planetary business directory and a preamble to both local and international trade for the next decade. A certified directory will be key to success at both local and international levels, especially if it is integrated as an influence in the search engine results. Local grows as a key SEO focus as it consumes more and more of the search results landscape.

The issue with popularity will be very much as I have predicted earlier - "likes" will replace "links" as a part of the TrustRank calculation and popularity will become a significant algorithm influencer. Over the next year we will see the search engines try several methods to sift through the noise from spam and low-quality link bombardment. By year end I think the solution will be clear. We are working hard to anticipate the final chosen path, and to offer tools in that area during the year.

Another area will be social media optimization (SMO), clearly an emerging discipline. Firms focusing on this area are changelings in a changing land. To say this is an evolving area is a clear understatement. The real issue is how to use it and what it contributes to Internet marketing, all becoming defined in 2011. Branding is obvious, awareness is critical, and reputation is important - all influenced in the social world. The initial focus has been, and will continue to be, as an ad serving platform, with the emergence of hundreds of new social services creating industry segment chaos. A nimble and cautious marketer can match the persona of their site and product to the correct persona and social community and successfully use this network. I predict that SMO will grow exponentially during 2011 and will be the most significant topic of the year.

Pay per click (PPC) will see raising prices, exceeding 50 percent increase during 2011. This is a significant deterrent to use, especially for the average account user, meaning that the click volume may go down and pricing will go way up. Likewise, SMO will take some budget away from PPC. I predict that Bing will become an Internet marketing force in 2011, especially if they also can manage other programs. I also predict that several PPC toolsets will emerge that can manage multiple programs easily and effectively inclusive of social ad programs. This multi-source single-point efficiency will be critical to agency success because it could cost more to manage bids than the spend across these multiple sources.

Harder Predictions

The major search engines will aggressively expand their own SEO and PPC tools and services, willingly competing with agencies. I predict that the future of agencies will depend upon their ability to efficiently manage services across multiple search programs, although I predict that in 2011, there will be enough chaos in the marketplace due to first-time uneducated and trusting businesses entering the space to keep ineffective agencies in business. Buyer beware as false promises will again be a plague on our industry.

I predict that we will finally see some progress on industry standards. I have been an advocate of standards for years, and there are standards for most marketing programs, so I believe strongly in standards for our industry. As a Board of Director member for SEMPO, I am concerned with the industry reputation and progress as a whole. I believe that the only reason someone will fight standards is that they have something to lose - screaming buyer beware. Why would any responsible industry professional not want to fight spam and deception unless that describes their own practices?

Affiliates will find that they perform poorly in search results because they cannot provide local presence. Brands will perform well, as will brick and mortar businesses, due to the trust and location of outlets. I predict that non-branded online-only businesses will suffer in the search results over the year whenever shopping is the query intent. Fortunately there is more to Internet marketing than organic search results but SEO will not be very effective for most affiliates.

I predict that YouTube will become a full content delivery network where they serve videos as a part of your website. Also, videos will be separately considered organic results where the search result content used for ranking is based upon their spoken content. This technology exists now for most of this, but the rankings have not yet appeared. I expect that this will cause YouTube video content to become a content target for SEO. Write the script before you make the video, use keywords, name it properly, and follow all other best practices. The appearance of YouTube videos in search results will increase over the year until virtually every query will have videos included in the search results pages. I also predict that websites that include videos (embedded from YouTube or otherwise) will begin to perform better in the search results as well. Engagement will become a more significant factor in ranking algorithms.

The search engines will remain secretive about their algorithms. Google will admit that while there are 200 variables in the algorithm, the weighted averages determining ranking is biased by several factors essentially creating thousands of possible algorithms. The ranking factors change based upon shopping or research intent, and, for some queries, news and freshness importance, or location, or community will change the weighting of variables. Essentially this means that the searcher determines the algorithm. I predict that only worthy SEOs will be able to wrap their minds around persona-based optimization, and the rest will struggle or turn to SMO and PPC.

I predict that there will be more conferences and training offerings in 2011 but that growth will be for the smaller local Internet marketing conferences covering many Internet marketing topics. The growth of the local Internet conference will be massive, opening sales opportunities for local agencies, and offering top-notch training for local business owners. The financial risk is lower for the organizers, the travel expenses for attendees is lowered, and local-centric agencies will all want to focus on their regions instead of nationally.

I predict that Google and perhaps other search engines will begin a multi-year stealth program to dominate news search by 2014. I think we all know that whoever dominates news significantly influences consumers. In three years, it will be time for Marissa Mayer to move from Queen of Local Search to Czar of News - we will see. Watch for some advances in the news areas, certainly low-key in 2011, but definitely changes. Be aware that the continuing changes to the search results page will continue, and that news changes will be difficult to see.

I predict that mobile search will be the same-ish as desktop search. Not because there will not be auto-localization, but rather because mobile devices seem to be turning into small desktops. Obviously, and hopefully, a million websites will not all have apps, so browser-based search will remain. It is the auto-localization influence of a GPS device that will make a difference. It is only a matter of time that computer makers offer desktop GPS on the motherboard, so convergence will make the location detection differences moot. How long until a mobile device has a holographic monitor? Then it is a desktop in disguise.

And as a final prediction I believe that in 2011, a significant change will happen in the analytics world. There will be definite technology changes to allow accuracy to increase. Unfortunately this accuracy will be counterbalanced by privacy issues that limit data collection. In effect we will have a better set of information, but also a less precise view of the persona of the visitor. This means that analytics becomes even more of an intuition-based discipline. It will be difficult for a novice analyst to understand the nuances of a fire hose flow of statistics, and to also understand the products and marketing channels leading to the traffic. Likewise, CRO becomes equally more difficult as privacy intervenes. But analytics and conversion are significant disciplines in the revenue funnel and both become major components of any Internet marketing optimization effort. Just doing SEO or PPC or SMO is not enough.

These are easy predictions when you follow a futures research approach to marketing. If we were able to look into the future and see what we all would be talking about in a year, what would we find? What do you think we will be discussing in a year? I think local, social, the demise of links, the growth of "likes", the growth of analytics and conversion, and absolutely the growth of education. I have offered my predictions, and if you have seen our prediction success rates over the past few years I would hope that you take them seriously.

We are developing services around these predictions, and they will be offered over the next year as we release them. We are investing in our future and are going in all of these areas. Stay tuned to our newsletter, blog, and @bruceclayinc if you want to see our changes early.

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