2012 – The year the social graph takes shape

by Peter Young on January 4, 2012 · 2 comments

2011 was certainly an interesting year for SEO. We saw a number of things impacting our SEO world, from the introduction of the Panda updates, to the removal of keyword data on SSL based searches. 2012 promises to be just as interesting a year, and we have already had SEO drama despite it being early days with Google appearing to fall foul of their own human assessment (call me a cynic but that smells of pure Google propoganda – however thats another post)

I asked a number of fellow SEOs about how they saw SEO in 2012, where they saw the growth areas for this year, and whether they thought 2012 would be the year of Google + – with some surprising responses.

1) 2011 saw a number of significant changes to the Google interface, as well as the continued expansion of Google into vertical specific search products. What do you think 2012 holds and what will we see the the search engines doing during this year.

Bas Van Den Beld (State of Search):
Looking into the future is difficult. I don’t think many people expected that many changes in 2011. But my gut feeling is that in 2012 that will only be even more. Google is moving swiftly towards a more social experience which will mean even further changes to the interface, though maybe not as major as in 2011. But tweaks, more verticals and maybe even more surprising products are without a doubt coming in 2012.

Nick Garner (Unibet)
I have a preamble to this answer….When I look at what Google is going to do I reference people like Arron Wall. He has always looked at where the money is and worked his way back from there. Essentially as I see it, there is a relationship between how far you go to monetize something and how much users will put up with the disruption and unpleasantness of their experience before they go elsewhere.
When Google ‘turn the screw’ they don’t need to shift the needle much to have a massive effect on their revenues. Things like increasingly integrating their own properties into search results, query deserves freshness where commercial sites are pushed out in favour of news sites, on ads; using a yellow background on the top of page and then making that yellow so transparent many monitors don’t even pick it up any longer, leading to more mistaken clicks than ever before, using search suggest to corral users around certain phrases and thus intensify the ad auctions…it goes on.
So what do i see for 2012? more of the same from Google, but probably a bigger emphasis on adding ,more +1 results into the SERPS, possibly even removing the yellow background on the top of the page ads and pushing the informational and commercial search results even further apart.
The problem for users is that there’s such a massive ‘brand halo’ around Google now, they can get away with poor search results because most Google users wont even try Bing. This point is brought home by the recent results from ‘Blind search taste test’ ( http://blindsearch.fejus.com/ where Bing is now the preferred search engine. But you don’t hear users complain of the rising commercial tide. So expect to see a worsening search engine for 2012.
PS Bing is now my default search engine! – because it’s better!

Kevin Gibbons (SEOptimise)
Good question and I wish I knew – but reading into Google’s recent algorithm changes and social integration has to be highest on the agenda. For example, having trusted authors with linked Google+ profiles is likely to become a strong ranking factor for blogs and news sites, plus I’d expect to see more in the way of freshness/real-time updates as Google will be aware of the treat social search, Twitter in particularly, brings for breaking news queries or finding more trusted results from your social circle.

Justin Parks (SEO Dojo)
Aside from messing up the results and doing everyones head in with confounded and eratic personal search results the biggest looming change is still going to be the integration of g+ and the social profiling aspect, hence, more personal search results madness. Also, brand search will most likely become more refined and accurate as the year progresses.

I think Google will continue developing (and bloody changing) the various different results and interfaces that have been proven (like video and local) and terminate any of its less used or useful tools.

2) What do you think is the biggest challenge facing SEO’s during 2012 and why?

Bas Van Den Beld (State of Search):
The biggest challenge will continue to be: integration. Making sure as an SEO that everything integrates: social, search, paid, organic, but also offline. Integration will be very important. Many SEOs who do ‘on site’ work will also be working more on the rich snippet area.

Nick Garner (Unibet)
Google+1 results in the SERPS. Winning Plus1 votes is not an SEO thing, so our community will have some challenges because you can’t go to a vote seller and buy 10,000 real votes from real people who you actually might want to business with. 2nd is Google’s ever decreasing reliance on manipulable links. Lessening reliance these links = a tough time for SEO’ers who have relied on their link buyer friends and posting links on Directories/PR distribution sites. In other words the makeup of links is changing.

Kevin Gibbons (SEOptimise)
In my opinion, although panda was a massive update for SEOs in 2011, the most significant changes in 2011 are yet to have a full impact. Most importantly, these are social integration and roll out of SSL Search – with the ICO cookie compliance directive potentially being far more harmful to analytics and the way we measure search than anything we have seen so far during the last 12 months.

Justin Parks (SEO Dojo)
Personal search is already causing headaches for me as its not a matter of looking at a universal result anymore and assuming that this is the most likely or natural results set a visitor will. My challange is bringing together all of these marketing channels and focusing them into a benefical seo result.

Actually, I’m begining to isolate these aspects and even on occasion ignore the seo impact altogether as it has become to difficult to translate the data. Its simply to fuzzy to accuratly guage and much better to allow elements to do “their thing”. It simply means I take a much broader view of SEO than before.

3) Will Google+ make the breakthrough in 2012?2) What do you think is the biggest challenge facing SEO’s during 2012 and why?

Bas Van Den Beld (State of Search):
Depends on how you look at it: as a Facebook competitor: no. As the ‘center’ of Google products and as how we can see everything connected through Google+: yes. But it is very important to look at Google+ as not just that next Social Network. It is so much more.

Nick Garner (Unibet)
Google have always asserted that the whole of the internet is a social graph. If they can socially ‘link up’ even a small amount of it whilst remaining THE place to go when doing a commercial search, then its a win for Google. Remember, Google know that bribing website owners with traffic from Plus1 sources means they will comply and thus be a lever for Google. As webmasters know, a facebook ‘like’ doesn’t really bring in commercial traffic. Users don’t go to Facebook to buy stuff, they go there as a brand touch/connection point. So with this in mind, Google will prevail in the end, only because it’s where the money and fresh traffic comes from. In short, it won’t be a breakthrough. It will be a gradual rising of the tide over the next 3 years.

Kevin Gibbons (SEOptimise)
They’ve clearly got a huge task ahead of them in terms of really making a mark in social. Despite stagerring user growth figures, Google+ is still a huge way behind Twitter and Facebook. Plus it hasn’t quite got that stickability factor yet that makes you want to log in and post every day.

That being said, social has been big on Google’s agenda for a long time now – and with Google+ they finally seem to be getting somewhere. At least in comparison to their previous attempts. Also with the roll out of social integration into search results (via +1 votes, author profiles etc) they’re tapping into an audience of billions so stand every chance of making a huge push next year.

Justin Parks (SEO Dojo)
Ha! I know google want it to and the signups and “users” figures are being bounced about if it suits google to announce them but im still dubious about the actual effect of google plus on the average user who google really want. Facebook still wins that battle and continues to win the war in that respect. I think g+ will continue to carve put its own little niche but, unless something particularly dramatic occurs (like FB gets destroyed by some privacy issue for example) then it will temain niche rather than mainstream.

This on itself worries me as I believe google are committed to making g+ a fundamental part of search and thus personal search results and I dont believe that this is realistic based on the users, useage and uptake we are currently seeing.

So then, no, I dont think google plus will make its breakthrough this year. Maybe 13 will be its lucky number.

My thanks must go out to Nick Garner, Bas van den Beld, Kevin Gibbons and Justin Parks for helping out.

Google+ Comments

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Justin Parks January 6, 2012 at 2:40 pm

Seems that we are all more or less of the same opinion on these questions across the broad. I can only say I am pleasantly surprised to see that my post-Christmas and pre-New year hangover didn’t totally destroy all of my brain cells.

Digital TV Aerials Bracknell January 25, 2012 at 10:58 pm

I think google is still bedding in with its new application. I think that whilst there is a lot of potential, it will work well and help businesses and individuals alike.

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