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The practice of SEO is constantly changing, as people try and keep up with Google's algorithm and jump to the top of the search engine results page for your given keywords. The only problem with this is that really for the first time since the advent of social media, the face of SEO is changing. There has been lots of speculation that Google is worried about the advancement of techniques such as the Like button - not least evidenced by the fact that they keep bringing out every service under the sun, including social networks.
I think we're beginning to see a shift in user behaviour, for the first time since internet search has really been established. I know that I'm turning to Google less, and going for site-specific search, through Twitter, Facebook and often One Riot. I just expect to get more targeted results from here and appreciate the fact that they will be 'real time'. Now this isn't to say that these have completely replaced Google search, as the results returned are still largely from individuals as opposed to companies and so not always applicable. If I was looking to find a list of local cinema times, I would go to Google as I expect to find the latest info on there. But I don't think it's just the case that these site-specific searches are just another way to search in addition to Google, but I really think they're starting to replace it.
Indeed, Twitter's search volume is up 33%, at approximately 24 billion search queries. That's not to be sniffed at, and is actually more than both Yahoo and Bing. This is huge. Interestingly, although Google are still retaining their hold of the search market among the big 3, traffic to google.com has shown a drop recently
Now this may just be consistent with a seasonal drop in traffic (and the Search Engine Land article shows an increase in actual searches), but a steady 3 month decrease is certainly something to take note of. Take this in conjunction with the fact that more people are seeing an increase in referral trafficÃ‚ from Facebook - 18.5% of our traffic comes from there - and we have something interesting going on.
People are the new spiders
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As much as user behaviour towards search is changing, so is the practice of search engine optimisation itself. In a fantastic article on link building
, search expert Eric Enge proclaimed the death of link building as we know it. In the post Enge discusses how SEO has always been tilted towards natural linking, which led to the practice of link buying (which Google clamped down on). Where it gets interesting is where he claims that Google now looks for other signals to judge the relevance and authority of a site, and that these signals are coming from social media. What is clear is that this weighting towards social media references is sorting out the good from the bad. You can no longer just create a load of content and spam links to it.
This is encouraging, and incredibly interesting. I for one get quite annoyed when I'm looking for something on Google and I get taken to a site that has little substance, but quite clearly includes your keyword on every single line. Content Farms. The bad content is now getting called out. Why? Not just because Google's getting more clever, but because humans are the new search engine spiders and we can't be easily fooled. And as Enge discusses, the outcome of this is that you need to invest time and money into social media efforts. This is the way that search is heading, becoming more and more social. It is also incredibly difficult (though many try) to game social media. Sure, you may be able to apply a nice programme that gets you 10,000 followers on Twitter. But if someone visits your profile and sees you had to follow 100,000 people to achieve this, they'll discount you pretty quickly.
And this is also coming straight from the horse's mouth. In the following video Matt Cutts - head of Google's webspam team- talks about editorial links and his whole argument is completely weighted towards social media marketing.
Local search - the race is on.
As much as the traditional area of SEO is changing, we need to think about completely new ways of searching. Foursquare are owning the location gaming market for now, but the race for location search is on. As well it should be. John Kennedy of Silicon Republic writes how the location and local search markets are due to hit Ã¢â€š¬420m in revenues. What will be interesting to see is how the existing players in the mobile market such as Foursquare, Gowalla et al successfully integrate search into their current offerings, or whether the one that wins out will be Google. They released their mobile local search product in Autumn last year, which integrates with Google Maps. I think this one is still for the taking though. Again, this is all weighted towards 'human search' and moves away from concepts such as link-farming and black-hat SEO.
So what's the outcome? It's two-fold. User behaviour is changing to have an increased relevance in social media. Functions such as retweets and the Facebook Like button are going from strength to strength. We're just getting more and more educated into how to search and I think this will eventually lead away from Google, where we will look for more relevant results on niche/specific search engine. The upward trend of internet access through smartphones is also going to drastically affect SEO. And where people go, the money follows. Search is going to become increasingly relevant, as we become not only consumers, but producers of content. There's just more 'stuff' to find and we need more intelligent ways to find this. The table from Forrester (July 2009) shows that search and social are 2 of the biggest areas that are growing in terms of interactive marketing spend
Search and social are starting to look increasingly similar ; the two are constantly feeding into each other. As social media grows, we need to find ways to navigate round that content, and Google also needs to adapt to incorporate social media elements, which we saw when they added Twitter feed to main SERPs. The question is just how closely can the 2 disciplines live together.