When we were starting 2010, eMarketer quoted an Ad-ology survey that found 46 percent of U.S. businesses didn't even have a website. With the onset of 2011, we're in a whole new ballpark.
This year, online ad spend is expected to surpass newspaper ad spending (as consumers are simultaneously turning to the web to get their news). Internet marketing is a competitive necessity and the web is an increasingly cluttered space. Brands will want to stay ahead of the latest search trends to ensure that their businesses come out on top – both in their sectors and in search results.
While some SMBs were worried about simply getting sites up in 2010, this year will likely see the rise of local, mobile and social marketing. Plus, marketers who are comfortable with Google might want to familiarize themselves with Bing to maximize their traffic.
It will pay off to prepare for these four rising search practices in 2011.
1. Local search
Google says that 20 percent of its searches are related to location, and we might expect even more consumers to search local throughout the year. Rising local search behaviors meet a deficiency that has existed in the search market – Brafton has covered reports from experts at Affiliate Summit West that suggest 90 percent of purchases (the majority of which are researched online) are made within a 20 mile radius of the buying consumer’s home.
Google and other search engines are redefining themselves to better serve people who are searching locally online. We've covered Google's claims that it wants to get into the local market, and at the end of 2010, Bing released a number of local search tools, too.
You need to ask yourself how much location matters to your sales or value propositions, but there is likely something for every brand in the local market.
• To better appeal to consumers, consider optimizing your site(s) with locally conscious queries in mind. You can create pages talking about your business’ history in the area or relationship to a neighborhood.
• Create landing pages for local contests and giveaways that will both address local searches and entice nearby consumers to try products or services.
• Local reviews on your site and other localized recognition can win the trust of community searchers.
2. Mobile search
Brafton recently reported that tablet shipments are expected to surpass desktop shipments in the near future. The proliferation of tablets, netbooks and smartphones all indicate that people are going to be accessing the web on the go, and where there is the internet, there is going to be search activity.
You may need build a mobile presence from scratch this year, or you may already have mobile campaigns in place. Regardless, there are some practices that can make sure your mobile site is a results-driven page.
• Create a mobile website. It’s important to build a site that will look pleasing to on-the-go searchers and give them the content they need. A mobile site will render smaller than it will on a desktop, so sharing tools need to be smaller so content can shine.
• Mobile landing pages should be much more concise (most things need to be). You want the information to display as simply and wholly as possible without forcing users to scroll too much.
• Optimize for mobile searches with phrases such as "direction to," "cost of," "hours of operation" and other essential information. With mobile search campaigns, you need to appreciate the practical reasons someone will click to your business site using a portable device. If you're a major grocer, it's probably because they want to find the nearest one: directions or hours. If you're a major retailer, it's probably to find the local store – not to review your corporate site. So your site structure and related content should be in-sync with this need and expectation to capitalize on it.
• Have a thoughtful information architecture. We see less mobile surfing than we would stationary. People go onto mobile web with a mission – answer a question, find a solution. With mobile web content, you need to always prioritize information, and you need to be relevant. Plus, Brafton has reported that on-the-go shoppers are more likely to look for timely information. If you’re offering timely information, put the most timely info at the forefront of your mobile page and everything will feel more timely.
2b. Mobile video search
Maybe you're just getting up to speed with mobile content, but you shouldn't ignore another rising platform for 2011 – mobile video. Brafton has reported that more mobile users are watching more videos than ever before, and we covered YouTube's recent announcement that it has more than 2 million daily mobile views.
The mobile channel isn’t a game-changer for video marketing, but it’s a facilitator that can add value to branded video content.
• Don’t stray far from the video content you would use on the web. Create videos that inform and/or entertain viewers and that maintain a brand message.
• It’s important to appropriately tag and title videos and use keywords in video transcripts so you can catch clicks from consumers searching for specific content. Brafton has covered YouTube's Topics on Search feature – and this demonstrates the need for video SEO.
• Remember the key phrases that might perform well in mobile SEO campaigns (directions to, etc), and consider building mobile video content around them.
3. Social search
I think that 2010 was the year of Facebook and Twitter unlike any before it. Twitter closed the year with a $3.7 billion valuation and was valued at only $1 billion the year before. Its posts appear in Google, Bing and Yahoo results per deals with them.
Facebook hit 500 million users in July, its CEO was Time person of the year, and there was a major motion picture about it.
This is where the world now takes its online conversation and socialization: We can therefore have the expectation that search becomes increasingly meaningful.
Brands need to compel their audiences in social spaces. This doesn’t necessarily mean engaging them in riveting new ways, but rather serving a purpose and meeting needs or goals.
• Make a real impact with the messages you deliver on Facebook, Twitter and other social sites. It’s easy to tune out extra noise on Facebook or Twitter; your message needs to be clean, clear, and useful – and it helps if Tweets and posts are conscious of search phrases without keyword stuffing or self-promotion.
• Remember that activity is important. It sounds basic, but many brands are quiet or erratic with their online conversations. People don’t sign onto social networks to be sold or marketed to, so they’re not going to come looking for you – you need to be the conversation starters, and interesting ones.
• Invest in social content. Brafton has reported that social content is key to catching clicks from social users and general searchers, and experts at Affiliate Summit West agree that social content should be a priority in 2011. Content is core to social campaigns because it gives you something useful to say, and social campaigns are about conversation. Brands should enter the social space ready to share relevant news or an ongoing thread of new insights and stories with their audiences. Industry news fulfills many of the ideals we would have here: It’s timely, relevant, interesting and unique.
4. Search goes beyond Google
The world is ready for two search engines. Google is good at what it does, but it's asking that consumers keep its brand in mind for email, online phone, maps, image search, chat, etc. Unintentionally or not, Bing doesn’t require that we make all of the same associations. We're instead watching Bing commercials about search and being told plainly it's a clearer search engine. And it delivers pretty well on the offer – it's at least a viable competitor.
Moreover, Brafton has reported that advertisers who don't optimize sites and paid search campaigns for Bing-Yahoo are missing valuable traffic.
While Google may continue to flourish (and it is proving to maintain its role as search leader as we start 2011), I think that for a variety of reasons, we’ll see a carryover into Bing usage that brings the scales to a more even position.
Blekko, which some call the Google-killer, as Brafton has reported, will not get mainstream attention in 2011. Special operators and filters can make a search more meaningful and efficient, but our world is still one of simplicity – of, "chat to my search engine and it will deliver."
Nonetheless, it's time for brands to become familiar with engines other than Google.
• Internet marketers should generally only be paying attention to top-tier engines right now: Google, Bing, Yahoo, maybe Ask. Follow the search engine ranking reports and metrics on average query length for these different search portals.
• Allocate search budgets for Google competitors. Today’s online marketing world gives the kind of analytics and data that make things a simple numbers game when determining where to spend resources. Basic testing/experience and cost/benefit comparison should drive any given marketer toward an appreciation for which engine(s) will be his or her best investments of time and money. So unless you need to for some reason, leave all doors open and ready yourself to act based on what you learn.
When considering all of these search trends and how to effectively capitalize on them, there’s a common thread: Content is always key. It's one of the fundamental value offerings that a business can provide online and the most important one toward drawing and retaining attention.
While mobile and local emphases don’t necessarily call for 'more' content, they do necessitate reconsidered content – new approaches and angles to take. With localization in mind, your content should be prepared to make a local appeal, as able. For some, this may mean reinventing the wheel and turning what was once mass appeal into a specific one, but for a mom and pop store in Anytown, USA, it may be as simple as reconsidering some AdWords spend and the way you self-describe with page text, title tags and meta data.
More mobile can mean less content in an increasingly mobile world. Readers are shorter for time, attention, screen size, typing capacity and browsing interest. Thus, the fundamental details should be emphasized – timeliness is important, succinctness as well.
Social content must be especially engaging to hold the interest of an audience that expects information in real-time.
And, of course, these rules of quality content are critical to performing well on any search engine.