Search engine providers like Google have never been shy about their objectives: They want to provide the most relevant results to a web searcher’s query. By doing so, they prove their worth to the searcher and continue to earn their patronage.
That said, search engines haven’t always done a great job at providing truly relevant results. There have been in the past, and probably always will be, ways to game the system and influence search engine results. After all, sometimes Google needs a little help.
What this means is that search engine optimization (SEO) tactics are constantly changing. Right now, Google is moving toward a much more intense social focus in its results, as evidenced by the recent Google Search Plus Your World update.
Accordingly, here are some of the hottest SEO trends we can expect to see in the next three quarters of 2012:
1) Google+ Shares Are Now More Important than Any Other Social Media Component
The Google Search Plus Your World update has changed the rules for social media. The basic principle behind the update is this: Google believes you’re more likely to consider search results relevant if people inside your circles have also recommended, +1’d and visited a given website. If a web searcher is logged into Google, they’ll get some search results that their Google+ contacts have interacted with.
2) Quality Content Is Growing in Importance
Accordingly, shareable content is growing in importance; in particular, it needs to be content that’s sharable on Google Plus. That means keyword-stuffing or grey- and black-hat SEO are pretty much off the table at this point. Simply throwing a bunch of dull, uninteresting articles up on your website won’t get Google to send visitors your way. It has to be something you genuinely think is worth recommending to others.
3) Inbound Links Are Becoming Somewhat Less Important
As social linking rises in the search engine algorithms, website linking decreases somewhat in importance. This makes sense, in some ways. The premise is this: more value should be given to a site that is recommended by the average web surfer than should be given to a site that’s recommended by someone who runs another website.
4) Statistics and Raw Data Are Increasing in Value.
Some of the recent changes to Google’s ranking process involve fact-checking, and fact-inclusion. A site that uses hard numbers to support a thesis, for example, is likely to rank higher than a site that simply lists a bunch of opinions. Web searchers (and Google, by extension) are interested in acquiring factual data from the Internet, and the search engines are trying to help them find that data.
5) Social Shopping Matters More, Too.
Google +1s and recommendations on a given business are taking more priority as well. If you have a Google Places page, you’ll want to ask customers to review and rate your business regularly. Recommendations and ratings are playing a bigger role than ever in search engine results.
6) Local Search Is Growing in Importance
This has been true for the past year and will continue for the foreseeable future. If you do business in a specific geographic area, you need to tie your business type to that area. In many ways, this is good news for local businesses. While it’s not likely that you’ll take the top results for “carpet cleaner” away from Stanley Steemer and the other national chains, you can probably manage to get the top spot for “Saginaw carpet cleaner” a heck of a lot easier. Even for businesses that aren’t tied to a specific geographic region, local SEO can be used to drive traffic.
7) Mobile SEO Is Rising Rapidly.
Today, when a consumer is away from home and trying to locate a type of business, they’re just as likely to use Yahoo! for iPhone or Google Maps to locate you. This ties in with local search optimization as mentioned above, but it adds a twist: your website needs to also be optimized for mobile search and mobile viewing. If a customer hits your site from Yelp! but can’t read it because it’s not sized for mobile, they’re going to move on to the next result.
Search engines tweak their algorithms constantly. More and more, they’re figuring out how to determine what search results are truly useful and which are simply designed to grab the search engine’s attention. If you’re going to keep traffic flowing to your site in 2012 and in the years to come, you’ll need to take all of these factors into account. Evaluate your site today, and see how it measures up.