It’s been quite a year on the web, but then again, when is it not? We’re still only 16 years or so into the era of the commercial web, so each year brings its share of upheaval, contentious issues, and new disciplines that web marketing folks like myself have to master.
2010 saw a leap forward for social media, and hints that social and search have a future together, both in tandem and in competition. If you are a business marketing yourself on the web, or if you have any marketing folks doing things for you, here’s a few things to watch for in 2011, and some key To-Do’s.
#1: Social Search – Get in the Index!
The rise of Twitter and Facebook means that people are now spending more time on social sites, and less on Google and the result pages they find through searching. However, as Facebook becomes more of a “hub” for one’s web browsing activities, users are slowly going to increase their use of search within Facebook to find product recommendations, restaurant tips, and even to answer basic informational searches.
I knew something was brewing here when a FB friend of mine posted a request for a restaurant recommendation in Boston and received about 10 replies within the first hour. Did he do better with that post than he would have if he had searched Google for “good Boston restaurant”? Probably.
The problem that Google will face in 2011 is the creeping realization that to be all things to all people, which they have done better than anyone so far, it means they may not be the BEST at any given thing. Facebook and other sites can fill the void for certain kinds of searches, where users place a premium on the experiences of people they know.
Every time you “like” something on Facebook, it goes into their database, where the item can come up in a search performed by your network or beyond. Marketers in 2011 are going to focus on collecting “likes”, as well as “followers” and “friends”, as they will see that the benefit of social media stretches way beyond the one-on-one communication of a follower seeing your latest post.
TO DO in 2011: Make a Facebook page for your business, and populate it with share-worthy content. Directly and blatantly ask your friends to go and “like” it, and re-share it. Expand your Twitter presence by providing truly interesting content to your followers, and automate your account so that you are Tweeting something out every day without fail. Try creating your own daily newspaper from Twitter and FB content using sites like http://paper.li/
#2: Push It Real Good
I remember a cover story in Wired from 1997 talking about the emergence of “push” technology on the web and how it was going to change everything about web usage. They warned we should “kiss our browswer goodbye”. Yeah, nice try.
It didn’t happen the way they had predicted, because the past decade was dominated by Search, as it became apparent that web users didn’t want to limit themselves to a few content providers “pushing” content their way. There was too much else out there, on the hundreds of millions of web pages adding increasingly interesting and high-quality content (like video), making the prospect of discovery more enticing than anything you could expect from a subscribed content stream. We used Google to “pull” the best content towards us, and it worked better than anyone could ever have imagined.
But “push” may finally have its year in 2011. We’ve now got a generation of people who have been using the web for well over a decade, many reaching a point of surf-saturation. Search results are full of spam, content aggregators, low-quality “content farm” articles, dull Wikipedia entries, and the usual SEO-dominant suspects looking to sell you something for any search query you enter.
The more surf-savvy among us are growing weary of this barrage, and are learning how to trust a small group of trusted sites, subscribing to their feeds, emails, fan pages, or social streams, to serve us our favorite content in a more predictable way that cuts down on the need to search in the first place.
Also, new browsers like RockMelt now integrate the social media experience right into the browser, giving us an easy way to chat with our friends, check in on our link streams, and even search quickly without actually visiting the URL for Google, Facebook, or Twitter. Instead of the browser as a “surfing” tool that takes you places, it’s becoming an individually designed control panel, keeping your favorite info streaming towards you just the way you like.
TO DO in 2011: Make sure your site has feeds available and use services like Feedburner to promote them. Add “follow me” links on your site for Twitter, RSS, and email subscriptions, to catch people who like your content but may not want to return. And get the RockMelt browser, it’s way cool.
#3: Influence Scoring – Are You Worth a Re-Tweet?
I started a new Twitter account recently and joined it up to one of the many Twitter-promoting services that promises to get you new followers, and within two days I had gained 870 followers on that account. Most were people who were using an automated tool like TweetBig (or any of a dozen others) to automatically “followback” anyone following them.
So I had almost 900 people signed up to an account that had only Tweeted 15 times. Does that mean that I’m on the fast track to becoming an influential opinion leader on the web, with hundreds of followers hanging on my every Tweet? Hardly.
2011 is going to be the year that marketers (and probably their customers) realize that having a large number of followers doesn’t mean you are popular, not to mention important, and doesn’t necessarily result in more attention to your brand. This social media world is going to be difficult to navigate and measure, as the concept of “influence” won’t always abide by traditional measurement tools.
To make matters more challenging, both Google and Bing confirmed that they are now using social signals in their ranking algorithms, a factoid that will no doubt cause marketers to scurry wildly for thousands of followers, although, as I proved above, aren’t necessarily worth the pixels they’re printed on.
The REAL task for SEO folks in 2011 will be to figure out what true “authority” on the web means, and how to build it. It’s likely to include some combination of the amount of followers you have, the degree to which they mention you and share your content, with a factor for how influential your followers are themselves. This is going to be the magic equation that merges SEO and social media into a measurable, provable, marketing tactic that encourages serious investment. Imagine company bloggers getting paid based on how influential their content is, not just how many people read it.
And imagine what SEO would become, if having a highly influential person re-tweet your link causes the linked page to jump up in the search rankings. At long last, success on the web can be driven more by quality than by quantity.
Cleverness should be rewarded over sheer content and link volume. It’s where the web should be, and hopefully we’ll all start to move in that direction.
Happy New Year Everyone!!