2010 seemed like one the busiest years in search that I can remember. I say seemed , mainly, because it wasn’t. Don’t get me wrong, there was a fair deal of activity from both engines last year – it’s just that I don’t think much of it had anywhere near the impact so many people thought it would.
I’m talking, of course, of things like Google Instant and Instant Preview . These were pretty significant changes as far as user experience goes, and received a huge amount of attention from both the SEO community and (especially in the former case) even the mainstream media. They were the kind of changes that would make my mum say “Ooh, Google’s changed”.
The impacts of the many interface changes in 2010 changes in 2010 were all very modest though, as far as SEO goes (not even the eventual rollout of the infrastructure related ‘caffiene’ update made a huge impact). What is easy to miss is how little these changes affect consumer behaviour – people still use a search engine to find websites and click on one of the top ones, just as they did a year ago. The only difference then, is that new distractions exist – given many distractions (think vertical search) already existed; the impact on traditional search has proved to absolutely minimal. There were some bigger changes to SEO – the heavy places integration in q4 of last year is bound to have a huge impact, but only if you’re competing for ‘local’ type searches.
Despite the hype, the caffiene update didn't provide a rush of traffic for many SEO's
Nevertheless, when these changes happened, they all provoked huge debate ranging from the usual “SEO is dead”, to predictions of more specific impacts on things like click through rates. The blogs were busy, Twitter was trending, and there were doubtlessly thousands of emails received by clients and managers about how these changes would fundamentally change search and how a new strategy was needed ASAP. And yet, if we’re honest, we’re probably entering 2011 largely unchanged.
But rather like the boy who cried wolf, I do think there could be more changes in 2011, from Google in particular. Google could have a huge impact and has the potential to catch many off guard, as we remember all the changes which didn’t change much in 2010. With Google’s algorithm still being hugely dependent on links, despite viable alternative now existing and being used in a limited capacity , Google have the potential to make a change to what really matter to marketers and (particularly) SEO’s – the way websites are ranked.
If any of the below occur to a moderate degree, 2011 would create the biggest challenge to SEO’s in many years:
- Tweets/Likes used heavily in to determine popularity (as opposed to , as I suspect currently , regency)
- User behaviour, such as bounces, folded into main algorithm
- A change to the ‘reasonable surfer’ model to how links are weighted
- A complete , or near complete disregard for Anchor text in the same way as happened with meta tags
- Prevention of duplicate “mill” content from being indexed and passing page rank
For what it’s worth, I’m expecting a least a couple of these things to happen. If they do, it’ll be the year that SEO really does change.