Google was in the news a lot last year. From Panda to Google+, I think we can come up with some reasonable predictions for the upcoming year. Let’s go out on that limb, shall we? It’s 2012 and time to jump on that “what could happen next in SEO” bandwagon.
Increased Scrutiny of the Link Graph
Google’s Panda updates and subsequent assault on content farms points to an increased focus on quality. There’s no reason to believe that this wouldn’t apply to your link profile. Yes of course, to some degree the search engines have been doing this for years. However, I think that increased use of Microdata and semantic markup will offer the search engine unprecedented information with which to make content relevance and quality decisions. For example, imagine getting a link from a blog post whose creator is using the rel=”author” tag and imagine that author having a large, circle of influence through his or her network. It’d be relatively easy for a search engine to use that data as an authority signal and apply that to a site’s overall link profile.
Social Everywhere… Or is it?
I think the basic premise of how social signal work and why they’re useful for SEO will still apply. For example, allow a visitor to +1/Like/share something on your site. Odds are that someone in that visitor’s network will be searching for similar content. Then that +1/Like/shared content appears higher in the search results for people in the sharer’s circles. This promotes the content with higher placement and, theoretically, an increase CTR by showing a trusted source within the searcher’s network has +1’d/Liked/shared this content. This, of course, doesn’t include additional content promotion driven by the inclusion of this content in social media streams.
However, I do not see 2012 as the year Google specifically overtly uses +1 signals in aggregate. “In aggregate” means that someone like Google would use +1 as a signal to influence the rankings you see across all searches for all users. Opening that Pandora’s Box would leave their ranking system open to “gaming” from any company that wants to start selling +1’s…which already happens.
The only way around this would, once again, be for Google to weight +1’s from perceived “influencers” more heavily. They’d have to look at the social graph of who is +1-ing something to determine if their sphere of influence appears organically cultivated. This is currently relatively easy to fake in Twitter. It remains to be seen how agencies will be able to create and manage large +1 farms.
SEO Services Continue Moving Toward Content or Inbound Marketing
I think that you’ll see agencies and consultants that focus solely on traditional SEO tactics providing less and less value to their clients. Don’t get me wrong, people will still need keyword research, site architecture assistance and link building/maintenance. However, I think you’ll see the most value delivered from agencies that provide additional services such as audience analysis, cultivation and outreach. More and more, a site’s audience has to be the evangelists for content. Increasing audience interaction with and sharing of content enforces brand authority signals to the search engines. As search engines become smarter and provide easier to implement tools, tags and best practices, I see the role of an SEO continuing its drift toward that of an Inbound Marketer.
Those are just a few of the things I’m thinking about for 2012. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Where do you see the big changes happening this year?