We are in the midst of the largest algorithmic changes to Google’s relevancy since the Florida Update of 2003, and perhaps even the largest change for how marketers approach search since Google and Inktomi revolutionized the concept of citation based rankings. The interesting part of this change is that it is not focused on one concept, but rather several, that mixed together change the face of search as we move into the new year.
What makes this change so important is that the future of search, whether it be Search “2.0″ or Caffeine oriented, is based on much more than the relevancy factors of content, links, queries and relevant infrastructure. This new “Search-o-morphis” brings factors into play which include site usability, site mobility, the presence of the site socially and also more and more offpage factors which go beyond traditional linking.
These concepts individually have an effect, but combined they leave search relevancy heading in a direction that will leave SERPs looking far different than they did in 2009.
Looking at the way these changes are making search as a whole move, SEOs are going to have to focus on two new concepts in their marketing plan in 2010:
1. Social Media
2. Mobile Search
Why is social media so important? Well, since social media is such an all encompassing metric, let’s look at one aspect of social media : the sharing of information.
In 1998, links were important in the Google Citation algorithm because links were the way that people shared information and gave recommendations online. In 1998, in order to link to something, you usually had to hardcode a link in the HTML of your website. Doing so could take minutes to code, and hours to FTP via dial up, and if someone put that much time into linking to a site … well, that site must be of value, wouldn’t it have?
With blogging, things changed. Blogging came into the forefront in 2003 with Google’s acquisition of Blogger.com and ultimately Google’s launch of AdSense; which monetized blogs and led to a new economic culture of self publishing. With anyone having the ability to launch a blog with the click of a button, any novice now had the ability to link. Links are easier to achieve, easier to manipulate and much more valuable, since the link is no longer the voice of few, but the voice of many.
Enter microblogging and socially networked sharing, with Twitter and more predominantly Facebook. If Twitter is to an HTML link what Facebook is to mass blog linking. This analogy means basically that in my opinion, Twitter will hit its early adopter plateau while almost anyone will join Facebook, connect with friends and share information with others.
What’s our point?
Our point is that if Google is to still work off of a citation based algorithm based on relevant conversations and suggestions of websites using keywords, then the engine is going to have to catch up to the world of social media. Because bloggers don’t just blog anymore, they share thoughts and relevant information on Twitter and Facebook. If Dave’s mom reads something interesting, he’ll share it on Facebook. If Loren’s wife runs across a great recipe, she may tweet it out. Hence, microblogging.
If blogging has become microblogging, then linking should become micro-linking(ie. URL Shorteners).
If Google fails to incorporate social media signals via Twitter & Facebook sharing, TinyURL’s and other conversations … then they would be ignoring the direction of the Internet.
How will social media effect search directly? Well these new changes are sending signals beyond search.
The signal of traffic will not come simply from SERP use. The engines will be looking for how users interact with pages beyond their search product. How do they find the site? How do they share it? This can all be monitored from the methods above. Social media sites spread a ton of traffic throughout the web every day.
But traffic is not measured in terms of shear numbers, the relevance of traffic to a site can be measured via conversions (sales, sign ups, shares), bounce rate, time on site (all hail video!), diversity of traffic, whether the user revisits the site, and how the site is viewed amongst its peers and followers.
The more users engage with a document, the more it will show up in their personalized results.
Upstream and Downstream Data
Google will look to categorize a document according to the sites a user navigates to before and after the document in question.
How is mobile going to effect these changes?
Let’s look at a quote from Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt:
It sounds like an android powered Google Phone, and it sounds like mobile has a key role to play in Google’s future personalization. This goes past the “Year of Mobile” cliché, this has to do with us as SEOs understand what role Andorid, Chrome, Chrome OS, and the 70 + search features introduced in the 60 days before the new year have to do with search marketing in terms of Google in 2010.
What does this all mean to Bing?
It means ride the wave to search user growth. If the minds at Bing are in tune to the situation they will take this time to go the opposite direction of Google, and capture a crowd of users that do not want their data collected and used against them. Improving the search product rather than narrowing its scope, and calling that advancement.
The SEO does not have the choice to go in the other direction at this time. As marketers we must figure out how to change our campaigns to meet the changes in the main search engine for our users. That means optimizing your campaigns for social and not just search, driving quality traffic from categorically related components of social sites, and enhancing the user engagement on mobile devices, especially those powered by Android.
Adapt or die.
The change is obviously not as neck breaking as the Florida Update was in 2003. People are not losing their living overnight. However, if marketers don’t take note, they may turn around in 2011 and wonder where there organic traffic and conversions went.