As 2012 began, Google suffered slightly after a marketing mishap: including Paid Links to the Google Chrome homepage, circulating the web. Google chose to punish itself in search results, among other notable mentions.

With the close of the 2011 holiday shopping season and the onset of 2012, marketers are shifting their focus to strategic planning for the coming year. This week’s biggest internet marketing headlines suggest that Google will (no surprise) be key to search marketing this year, but they also indicate the search giant could grow to dominate social marketing.

Before looking ahead to 2012, this week’s news gives digital marketers reason to take a minute to celebrate their success during November and December. Brafton reported on Wednesday that 2011 saw a 15 percent increase in ecommerce sales compared to 2010, with more than $36 billion in goods and services sold. Social marketing and search initiatives played a large role in effective holiday marketing.

Based on marketing trends already developing for 2012, search efforts continue to be a large part of brand efforts, including SEO initiatives aimed at gaining visibility on Google SERPs. However, the company itself took a hit as the New Year kicked off after one of its marketing campaigns resulted in paid links directed at the Google Chrome homepage.

As such, the company punished itself for 60 days – dropping Chrome’s homepage page down its SERPs. (Currently, Chrome is the third most popular web browser, behind Microsoft’s Internet Explorer and Mozilla’s Firefox. In 2011, however, Chrome quickly gained substantial market share and was set to pass Firefox relatively quickly in 2012.) This should serve as a reminder to marketers that they need to make a New Year’s resolution of best-practice link building strategies via content marketing; Google will certainly punish other sites if it punishes itself.

The week’s news wasn’t all bad for Google, though, as Brafton reported on Tuesday that Google+ enjoyed its best month ever in December. Since launching in late June, it’s been difficult for Google+ to sustain much traffic, as Facebook continues to dominate. However, Google’s unofficial statician Paul Allen announced via his Google+ page that the network has surpassed 62 million users, and its current growth rate points to membership of more than 400 million people by the end of the year.

Additionally, traffic increased 55 percent in December, and more than one-quarter of the 62 million people using Google+ created their accounts last month.

Businesses using social media marketing have wondered if investing time and resources into Google+ would result in any major gains for their business. The launch of Google+ Pages in early November has given marketers the opportunity to test the waters with Google+, and now, consistent traffic to the website suggests it can become a major social marketing platform in 2012.

But whether or not businesses invest heavily in sharing content on Google+, they should remember to maintain accounts on other networks: Building an expansive social presence can provide an impetus for prospects to make purchases from a company. Brafton reported on Wednesday that social content results in a 30 percent greater purchase intent.

The study from BzzAgent found that prior to engaging with a brand online, 30 percent of consumers intended to buy from a business. Following exposure to and interaction with the same company on Facebook, Twitter or any other social network, purchase intent jumped to more than 60 percent. As social users continued to engage with the business, this intent remained fairly high with approximately 60 percent saying they were likely to purchase from the company even after a year of becoming a fan or follower.

For some businesses, though, social media marketing has not fully taken off due to struggles integrating the platforms into their operations. Brafton reported on Tuesday that just 16 percent of businesses using social consider the channel fully integrated into their marketing efforts. As such, businesses using it often struggle to see the optimum benefits of having a presence on Twitter or Facebook. In 2012, companies are likely to shift their strategies to target better integration of social throughout marketing operations.

Sixty-four percent of businesses said that they have at least one employee assigned to managing their social media marketing efforts, according to the study from InSites Consulting. This person must understand the behavior of his or her company’s target audience for 2012 and focus aggressively on delivering content with social appeal across channels. Even search marketing campaigns should consider social as social signals are increasingly playing into search rankings for logged in users. 

Another component of search that businesses must consider this year is mobile, which is becoming increasingly popular as more people use smartphones and tablets. ComScore’s most recent MobiLens report stated that mobile web access increased 2.3 percent between September and November 2011, and the trend is expected to continue.

As such, mobile should be factored into search and social campaigns in 2012. Brafton reported that mobile search techniques are especially favorable for businesses focused on attracting local shoppers and clients, as their physical locations are is factored heavily into SERPs. Similarly, on-the-go social access is rising, and Brafton reported that local business’ social media marketing budgets will hit $8 billion in 2016.

With the rise of mobile internet access in mind, it seems local SEO will continue to become a priority for brands. Another keyword-specific shift for 2012 may be the reliance on long tail terms, which Conductor defined as any term comprised of at least three words. 

Long tail terms are of a lower search volume, which often leads marketers to avoid including them in their campaigns. However, they is less competition for ranking well on these terms. Additionally, Conductor’s study said that prospects searching for long tail terms are often farther along in the conversion process. Web visitors referred by long tail search phrases are more than twice as likely to convert as those who land on a site through head terms.

With so much attention paid to Google in terms of SEO, many forget that Yahoo is still trying to reclaim some of the position it has lost in the last decade. The company took what could be a major step this week when it announced the appointment of Scott Thompson as its new CEO, months after the ousting of former chief executive Carol Bartz. Thompson’s extensive experience with payment solutions has led some to speculate that Yahoo may be planning a shift toward ecommerce in 2012. While no announcements have been made about the company’s plans, it will have to work fast to make 2012 a strong year. 

With 51 weeks remaining in 2012, the hot news week sets the stage for marketers to gear themselves up for major web developments this year. Social and SEO will play a big role in where everyone stands, and businesses are already working tirelessly to implement their new strategies and plans. Success will come for those who do it wel and keep up with the evolving web marketing industry.For more updates to stay ahead of the curve, tune in next week; we expect to be covering more on the rise (or fall) of Google+, new insights on search trends and more on the future of Yahoo under its new leadership. 

Joe Meloni is Brafton's former Executive News and Content Writer. He studied journalism at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and has written for a number of print and web-based publications.