With the Apocalypse averted and 2013 beckoning we decided to bring together the big cheeses of the SEO world to find out what this new age has in store for the the future of SEO. There’s no denying that SEO has grown in both popularity and eminence over the last decade as every business owner now understands its importance with, changes in major search engine in 2012 specially in Google via updates and alterations to algorithms.
Our questions were simple, the answers complex as only a TimeLord could accurately predict the future of this 21st century phenomenon, however we believe that through experience, the analysis of trends and through a little insider knowledge, our interviewees have shared information we can all benefit from.
Just four simple questions were put to our guests, these were:
- What do you think was the single most important development for SEO in 2012?
- What’s your SEO pet hate?
- Do you think 2013 will see big changes in SEO?
- Do you have any SEO predictions for 2013? What would you like to see?
These questions were put to our top leading SEO experts in MENA region such as Amjad, Dave and Derek and before that we extended our interview to our special guest Aaron Wall – Author of SEObook.com
Aaron Wall -The author of SEOBook that launched in 2003. For a decade Aaron has worked within the SEO industry riding the waves of change and making a successful career from those three little letters that make up the most important acronym that online businesses benefit from.
Amjad P. – A die hard Search Marketer who currently works as a Search Marketing Associate Director in one of the leading digital media companies in the MENA region.
Dave Fuentes – A talented Search Marketing Manager of Dubizzle.com where he is currently focusing on optimizing Dubizzle’s properties across the Middle East.
Derek Jansen is the SEO Director at Sekari, a Dubai based specialist SEO agency. Derek has been featured in leading SEO publications, including SEOMoz, Visibility Magazine and SiteProNews, as well written a free SEO course. Derek has worked in highly competitive industries, including online gaming, finance and hospitality.
So, without further ado, here are their answers to the questions;
1. What do you think was the single most important development for SEO in 2012?
All year long Google had a relentless push on links. They killed a lot of link networks, did the link warnings, tightened anchor text filters, ran multiple iterations of their Penguin update, and launched the disavow tool.
In short, many link strategies that worked for a decade or so suddenly stopped working, or at a minimum required a more refined approach (and even with a more refined approach still have unknown background risks).
Google’s fight against spam and search quality has been there since the beginning, in 2012 we have witnessed the latest algorithm updates under the code name of penguin update, however I feel the most important development and one to keep an eye on will be Google’s emphasis Social Signals whether its introducing Google+, AuthRank, influence of Signals from social media sites, knowledge graph.
It all comes back to quality. Once and for all 2012 made an emphasis that “Content is King” (always has and always will be). With the launch of Panda, small businesses to large corporations have examined, re-examined and updated their content to avoid any hints of low quality content in the eyes of Google (or at least to those who are aware that their content is crap).
Penguin and the associated link sensitivity it has created – It’s amazing just how long it took Google to really tackle the link networks and paid linking schemes, as well as the hugely unnatural link profiles with 80% commercial anchor text. The release of Penguin really shook things up for those participating in these activities and forced everyone to relook at their link-attainment model. Combine Penguin with the “EMD Update” and it’s been a tough year for those pushing the boundaries of grey/black-hat SEO (and even some who weren’t).
2) What’s your SEO pet hate?
Whenever there is a big update & a lot of sites get trashed there are some jackasses that will make posts like “Good Riddance to Crappy Sites, My Traffic is Up & My Methodology is 100% Google-proof.”
It is very easy to be sustainable on the SEO front on a decade old site with millions of capital poured into it, dozens of employees, hundreds or thousands of customers paying recurring fees, tens or hundreds of thousands of followers, and so on. In fact, for sites with that sort of profileSEO almost becomes a side show or afterthought because there are so many established channels driving traffic (from AdWords, to affiliates, to email, to exposure at conferences, to ad retargeting, to custom cross promotional deals, to YouTube, to other social sites, and on and on).
But could those same people replicate that “success” in some of the more brutal web markets like pharma, gambling, insurance & various high margin loan areas? Likely not.
I know people who I consider to be far more talented than I am who are struggling because their niche is utterly dominated by chained redirects and hacked sites pointing millions of links at competing sites overnight. Not only that, but Google localizes many of the results (inserting the Google+ local pages) AND where sites somehow managed to be within tolerance of link anchor filters and still compete in the search results some of the competitors who hacked sites also pointed overt spammy links at competing sites to get them penalized. Just yesterday Patrick Altoft pointed out on Twitter how a Bonsai tree site was ranking for payday loan queries.
So if your site tanks, what does that mean?
It doesn’t mean that everyone who got hit was a failure at life.
They may have under-invested. Or they may have over-invested & got caught in no man’s land between the low cost spam operations & the strength of long established brands. Or maybe they were in a brutally competitive market and had a competitor do a hatchet job on them. Or maybe they use techniques that worked for them in the past which later stopped working.
There is a quote in the movie Fight Club from Tyler Durden: “on a long enough time line, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero.”
If you look at sites like CreditCardGuide.com & Bankaholic.com they were not particularly great sites, yet they managed to sell for $32 & $15 million. CCG was penalized shortly after it was purchased, but the guy who sold it for over $30 million still has more money than over 99% of SEO folks do. I am not saying that money is the only measure of success, but often when people’s sites are hit (rightly or wrongly) that doesn’t somehow make them a failure at life, an evil black hat person, or a poor SEO…many of the people who get hit have savings that they built up before they got hit.
Any form of investing has both risks and rewards, and those who succeed to a high degree lose quite often…they only need to win once in a while & then keep reinvesting in the areas they are winning.
I can’t say that I have ever lost millions of Dollars on a failed website (pretty sure my wife would put me in a choke hold long before I could spend us into the hole like that), but the people I know personally who have risked & lost millions on a project still have millions in other assets remaining.
This sort of discourse is simply lost among the noise & one-upmanship in the SEO industry…it is far more entertaining to read & write polarizing pablum with reference to “ethics” or such.
Is content farming “unethical”? Let anyone who answers that question with a “yes” explain the relationship & behavior of the leading online network that funded/fueled that “movement.”
“Keyword Ranks” - Someone saying “We need to rank # 1 for this particular keyword …”
This is not much of a hate but more of a challenge and a future opportunity. The main challenge for me right now working in this region is the lack of local Arabic content. There is more consumption and production of content.
This could mean a couple of things – one, you don’t have that same opportunity for links as much as English websites have, two, there’s a missing opportunity in knowing what MENA audience want in terms of content apart from those written on major forums and content portals.
On the other hand, this gives us an opportunity to create great (not only good) content which is the part I’m excited in working on for 2013. The kind of content that engages the user which supports your branding and local search.
Another pet hate for me this year is with small (or even large) agencies who are still selling services which have been labeled dodgy by search engines. I recently spoke to an agency based in MENA who kept pitching on their blog link-wheels and paid links strategies. These are the kinds of actions that lead SEO’s to a bad name. A client, who’s new to SEO, gets hooked for a 6-month contract into these cheap services and end up loosing (instead of keeping) their traffic and authority in the SERP’s.
Although I’ve seen really good agencies who deliver top quality optimization but they are quite costly. But you do pay for quality that yields you better ROI in the end.
Data-less rumour and opinion – Unfortunately the nature of the SEO beast lends itself to rumour spreading and the proliferation of misinformation. It’s just frustrating to watch companies invest huge amounts of time and money on outdated, misinformed strategies or techniques that add no real value to their business or brand. Oftentimes the time and money spent trying to “simulate” signals could be better spent on activities that create real signals.
3) Do you think 2013 will see big changes in SEO?
Absolutely. Google is likely to aggressively enter at least 2 or 3 more verticals with their paid inclusion product (likely including pushing autos & insurance more aggressive, and entering the education market).
Further I expect Google to fold more usage data into their relevancy algorithms.
A tricky part is that as more companies become aware of the role of usage data it will get abused in the same ways that links did. It will typically be larger companies doing the abuse (since they have so many resources to leverage) but abuse they will.
Yes and No - On one hand Google and other search engines are constantly updating and modify their ranking algorithms and search interfaces, which will cry out for smaller and bigger changes and adjustments in SEO tactics and strategies worldwide in 2013. On the other hand search engines are making these changes to better serve their ultimate stakeholder, the end user, with good, unique and relevant content, which will not change in my opinion. Thus the underlying strategies for white-hat SEO will ultimately not change in the next year. Platform based SEO (mobile and tablet SEO) will however mean a new set of view on standard SEO best practices.
The efforts to maintain quality in the SERPs will continue. We’ve somehow anticipated that something like Panda and Penguin will happen sooner or later. I still remember early 2011, I was building this blog network that I can use for link building later on and I said to myself “This tactic is way too obvious for search engines to ignore.” And I was right, Penguin did hit the low quality blog networks.
I think the big changes will be in the form of devaluing abusive content marketing like the ones Cutts has warned us about – info graphics and guest blogging. I can see people using these tactics too much that it will ruin the benefit of what they were originally intended. No one is certain how they evaluate certain types of content being published out there, but if there’s something being widely abused, then it’s something bound to be in the hot seat of the web spam team.
4) Do you have any SEO predictions for 2013? What would you like to see?
I was a big fan of the web when an independent player with the best content had a strong chance of competing and winning. As the leading ad networks corporatize their search results, that amazing era is coming to an end.
But we can’t really roll back the clock. All we can do is keep riding the wind of change ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5KcRl1p2waM ).
Moving away from search optimization to digital discovery
The nature of search marketing is fundamentally changing — from trying to capture customers using a single discovery channel (traditional search engines) to collecting users engaged in all forms of digital discovery (social search, traditional search engines, mobile app searches, image searches (pinterest and instagram) video search etc…)
The HTML 5 & Semantic Web
With the roll out HTML 5 and the semantic web SEO will become more complex and ranking factors more diverse. Web design and SEO will melt into each other and create more opportunities for SEO/Design firms to re-design or upgrade websites using the new markup language.
Site Usage Metrics as R.F.
Site usage metrics will become a more prominent set of ranking factor in 2013. CRO and web design together with copywriting and content creation will become even more important element within SEO practices.
Social shift in algorithms
The growing popularity of social networks will urge search engines to better take advantage of community networks around the web when it comes to improving their ranking algorithms. Google and Bing has already started including social factors in their algorithms to diversify them back in 2010. The obvious advantage behind diversification is that algorithms are harder to game when they are unknown, more complex and dynamic in nature.
Growing personalized search will be something the end user will have to get used to in 2013 even if it will raise privacy concerns in various circles. SEO will be obviously gradually harder whilst this process evolves. Aggressive personalization might shoot search engines in the foot by creating extra competition of “non-personalized search engines”.
Easy prediction to make. Mobile and tablet search volumes will simply take over desktop search volumes in 2013 (across all industries). This will create a huge swift towards mobile web development and mobile SEO.
Computational search engines similar to Wolfram Alpha will be more popular especially with the growth of mobile search and the integration of Siri and other intelligent personal assistant (IPA) software in mobile devices.
Would like to see -
Fields of SEO will become more specialized
General SEO will break down into sub fields within the practice even more significantly: Local SEO, International SEO, Social SEO, PR SEO, Real time SEO, Brand SEO, Web Design SEO, Content SEO, etc.
Companies will understand the importance of SEO
Firms especially in emerging markets will have more understanding of SEO and the importance of this internet marketing strategy within the online marketing mix.
We’ve heard so much buzz about how social is the way forward for a couple of years now. And the need for Social Media and SEO to work together has never been this vital. It’s not as simple as creating content and sharing it on social channels for the sake of promotion and links. It’s about creating a 360-degree effect on a piece of content that appeals to every single type of audience, whether it be on social, search, content networks and even word of mouth.
I’m a big fan of personal reviews by customers specially on e-commerce and travel sites. I would expect reviews done by my social circles to appear in search results more and more in the next coming months. It will be interesting to see how SEO’s and digital marketers break into creating content and be distributed to any digital at will organically.
I don’t want to make any predictions about mobile because every year there’s a “digital marketing expert” who will always claim that next year will be the year of mobile. Let’s accept the fact that mobile is growing and should not be missed out in your digital strategies.
The predictions games is a dangerous one in the SEO business. What we probably can expect is an increasing focus on authorship and a move away from the “anonymous web”, complimented by increased social media signal integration.
Everyone agrees that it is highly unlikely that SEO will stand still in 2013. In fact it is highly likely that the marketplace will become even more competitive, fast paced and dynamic. This may leave those who simply “play” with SEO behind while the businesses that embrace the change and move with the new algorithms will emerge as the leaders in their field.
The most common theme for the predictions seems to be an understanding that SEO will no longer be simply about websites and backlinks. Experts will be needed to keep track of the changes making it a specialised field that cannot be attempted by everyone. Experts suggest that Social Media, Videos and Mobile platforms will play a huge part in the future of SEO as Google make even more changes that ensure their algorithms are not abused.
Hopefully search engine specially Google will continue to champion organic content, placing an emphasis on quality rather than quantity however this is impossible to predict.
If you have any predictions for 2013 that haven’t been mentioned here please let us know below.